Northern Illinois and Minnesota played a back-and-forth baseball game for seven and a half innings, until the Golden Gophers (3-0) accounted for six runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to break a 5-5 tie with the Huskies (0-3) and take the final game of the series, 11-5.
NIU outhit UM in the game, 13-11.
“It was a tight ball game today. We were able to score some runs and build a lead, but in a game like that, it’s hard to get comfortable. We never extended our lead and we had some golden opportunities to do that,” said head coach Ed Mathey.
“I have to give some Minnesota some credit though, they did a great job of responding each time we built the lead. We were able to get a few singles in the ninth to try and comeback, but when you’re down six runs, it’s a lot tougher to do that.”
NIU started with a hot hand as it scored two runs in the top of the first inning as leadoff batter Justin Fletcher (Pekin, Ill./Illinois Central) was hit by a 1-2 pitch to reach base. Fletcher advanced to third on a series of errors as Tommy Hook (Lockport, Ill./Lockport Township) reached second base on error.
Singles by Alex Klonowski (Kearney, Mo./Kearney) and Chris Divarco (Long Grove, Ill./Carmel Catholic) pushed Fletcher and Hook home to put NIU on top. The Golden Gophers responded with one run in the bottom of the inning.
The scoring picked up from there on out as Minnesota tied the game in the bottom of the third inning on two hits and an error in the outfield, but the Huskies reclaimed their lead in the top of the fourth as Joe Battaglia (Westchester, Ill./St. Joseph), who leadoff the inning with a single, scored on a wild pitch to make it, 3-2.
UM tied the game again in the bottom of the fourth, but again NIU responded, as Klonowski and Divarco hit back-to-back singles to start the inning. Brandon Mallder (Bridgeview, Ill./St. Laurence) grounded out to push Klonowski home and put NIU back on top, 4-3. However, the Gophers scored two runs and forced NIU to the bullpen after 4.1 innings to put Minnesota on top, 5-4.
Northern Illinois tied the game in the top of the eighth with a single run as Mallder, who led the inning with a double, scored on a pinch-hit single by Micah McCulloch (Rochelle, Ill./Rochelle Township) to tie it up, 5-5. After NIU’s call, Minnesota responded with six runs in the bottom of the eighth and put the Golden Gophers back on top, 11-5.
At the plate, Klonowski finished 4-for-5 with a run scored and an RBI. On the mound, the senior pitched 4.1 innings, surrendering four earned runs, striking out three and walking four in a no decision start. Divarco was 3-of-5 with an RBI while Mallder was 2-for-5 with a run and an RBI as well. Pitchers TJ Schrader (Mackinaw, Ill./Illinois Central) and Matt Williams (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) made their debuts, combining for three innings pitched. Schrader was charged with the loss.
The Huskies will return to action Friday, Feb. 21, at the Fuddrucker’s Lobo Invite, when NIU takes on both Missouri State and New Mexico. First pitch is set for 1 p.m., Central time.