Tied 8-8 in the bottom of the ninth with runners on first and second and two outs Sunday, junior Nate Ruzich (Joliet/South Suburban College) drove in classmate Landon Tenhagen (Burlington, Wis./Madison Area TC) from second base to give Northern Illinois (14-19, 9-3 MAC) a series sweep over Western Michigan (11-24, 5-7 MAC) on a walk-off win, 9-8.
The Huskies stand atop the Mid-American Conference with Kent State with a 9-3 league register.
Entering the bottom of the third, the Huskies trailed the Broncos, 5-0, following a four run stanza in the top half of the inning. NIU bounced back to score two runs in the bottom of the third to make it a 5-2 game on bases loaded single up the middle by Alex Klonowski (Kearney, Mo./Kearney).
On the first pitch of the fourth inning, Tenhagen jacked a ball into the head wind and down the left field line to put the Huskies within two runs, 5-3. Following a one run top of the fifth by WMU, Northern Illinois tacked on four runs in the bottom of the frame to put the Huskies on top, 7-6. Ruzich had a two-run double down the left field line to give the Huskies their first lead.
Western Michigan went on to tie the game in the top of the seventh on Jared Kujawa’s blast over right field, 7-7. NIU regained the lead with runners on first and second as Ruzich curved a ball past the pitcher and off second base to escape the infielders and allow Tenhagen to score, 8-7.
In true essence of the ball game, the Broncos rallied back to tie the contest on a pair of singles by Andrew Sohn and Hunter Prince in the top of the ninth inning to force the Huskies to bat in the bottom of the ninth.
After a popout by Jeff Zimmerman (Tinley Park/Andrew), Tenhagen worked a full count at the plate with one out and took the next pitch off his side to put the winning run on first. A strikeout by Brian Sisler (DeKalb/DeKalb)after hit-and-run attempts put the Huskies backs against the wall with two outs. A single by Tommy Hook (Lockport/Lockport Township) right back at the mound put two runners on base for Ruzich, who hit a ball to third base that swept past the fielder and into the outfield.
With the left fielder charging the ball as Tenhagen rounded third, Patrick Duncan was unable to field the ball cleanly, over running the ball to allow the Huskie to score and win in walkoff fashion, 9-8.
“From our stand point, it was good to see our hitters bounce back,” said head coach Ed Mathey. “As Coach (Tom) Carcione pointed out, in just about every inning (WMU) scored, we scored runs. We talk a lot about momentum and those are the things you have to do. We stood up and took advantage of the situations that they gave us. We were productive in run scoring opportunities.”
Ruzich finished the day 2-for-5 with four RBI to lead the Huskies to two different leads in the ball game while four other players, Klonowski (2), Connor Schomig (1) (Darien/Hinsdale South), Tenhagen (1) and Zimmerman (1), all registered RBI in the game. Anthony Andres (Western Springs/St. Rita) pitched 1.1 relief innings to earn his third win of the season, allowing three hits and one earned run.
The Huskies will return to Ralph McKinzie Field for a midweek showdown with Bradley, starting at 3:05 p.m. Tuesday.