In a pitchers’ duel featuring two of the Mid-American Conference’s top hurlers, Northern Illinois (21-31, 15-10 MAC) fell to Ball State (27-22, 14-11 MAC) in Game One of this week’s series, 3-2.
Eli Anderson (Glenview/New Trier) tossed his sixth complete game of the season in the loss. BSU pitcher Scott Baker also tossed a complete game.
“That was a good college baseball game with two, high-quality pitchers going at it,” said head coach Ed Mathey.
“There was a lot of stuff on the line, and it’s a lot of fun to be in situations and games like this. It simply came down to us not executing the short game the way that we needed to to get us the win. I thought we had plenty of runners in scoring position but we didn’t get the big hits we needed; but when you face a good pitcher on the mound, that’s going to happen.”
Northern Illinois struck first blood in the duel as the Huskies rattled off three-straight hits with one out in the top of the second inning, started by Micah McCulloch’s (Rochelle/Rochelle Township) single to right field. Connor Duckhorn (Darien/Cowley County CC) followed with a double down the left field line and Nate Ruzich (Joliet/South Suburban College) finished the deal with a line drive single through the left side to put NIU ahead, 1-0, with runners on first and third. The Huskies would strand Duckhorn on third as they grounded into a double play to end their half of the frame.
Ball State responded in the bottom of the fifth inning with one run to tie the game, 1-1, as Elbert DeVarie singled to right field with a runner on second. NIU retook the lead in the top of the sixth on a great series of plays by Jamison Wells (Combined Locks, Wis./Kimberly), Tommy Hook (Lockport/Lockport Township) and Alex Klonowski (Kearney, Mo./Kearney).
Wells singled on the first pitch of his at-bat and put the pressure on Baker. With Baker checking him at first, Wells promptly stole second base for his 23rd of the season on the second pitch of Hook’s at bat. Baker checked Wells at second and threw the ball away to center field and put Wells on third base with no outs. Though Hook grounded out to first on the play, Klonowski sacrificed himself on a fly ball to center field to put NIU back on top after six, 2-1.
Both pitchers began to labor in the seventh inning as pitch counts ran high and runners reached base on balls.
Northern Illinois left two runners on in the top of the seventh as McCulloch led the inning with a walk and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Duckhorn. Ruzich walked to put a second runner on but pinch-hitter Landon Tenhagen (Burlington, Wis./Madison Area TC) and shortstop Brian Sisler (DeKalb/DeKalb) were unable to push the runners forward and create separation for the Huskies.
BSU tied the game in the bottom of the seventh as two singles created a sacrifice situation for leadoff man Tyler Winkle, who executed a bunt down the first line to tie it up in the frame, 2-2. The Cardinals would take the lead in the next inning as they put three runners on base on two hits and a walk. Pinch hitter Kevin Schlotter drove in the game-winning run as he singled to right field to score pinch-runner Cole Griesinger.
Though the Huskies put up a valiant effort in the top of the ninth, with pinch runner Danny Seiton (Batavia/Batavia) stealing second base, Northern Illinois would end the game on a groundout back to Baker who threw the ball to first to end the game, 3-2.
“We’re still trying to win the series so tomorrow is very important, we have to come out and just execute the game. I was proud of our effort. We had the will to win. Everybody’s on board to win this series and win the division title and keep us in good stead heading into this tournament,” closed Mathey.
Ruzich finished the game 2-for-3 at the plate with an RBI and walk in the contest. McCulloch and Wells accounted for both of the Huskies runs.
Anderson completed the game with eight hits surrendered, three runs, three walks and three strikeouts in his first loss of the Mid-American Conference season. He closes the MAC season with a 1.17 earned run average and the regular season with a 2.01 clip. His sixth complete is the most by an NIU pitcher since Joe Piekarz in 2004.
Anderson also became only the third NIU pitcher in history to surpass 100 innings pitched in a season, putting him at 107.2 innings pitched this season, just 8.2 innings shy of the all-time mark of Piekarz (116.1).
For more information on NIU baseball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.