The Northern Illinois University baseball team threatened on several occasions Tuesday night at Baggett Stadium, but was unable to complete the comeback as they fell to No. 11 Cal Poly, 4-2, in the first game of the three-game set.
Justin Fletcher (Pekin, Ill./Illinois Central College) and Alex Klonowski (Kearney, Mo./Kearney) each batted in a run for the Huskies, while Kevin Sweeney (Chicago, Ill./Fenwick) tossed two innings of scoreless relief. However, NIU left a combined five runners on base in the final four frames to hurt their rally hopes.
Huskie starter Anthony Andres (Western Springs, Ill./St. Rita) handled the Mustang lineup early with a three-up-three-down first inning. Cal Poly, though, got to him in the second when Zack Zehner tripled into left center to drive home Jimmy Allen. Zehner would score himself when Mark Mathias lofted a sacrifice fly to centerfield.
“Anthony Andres made the start and it was his first start in awhile,” said NIU head coach Ed Mathey. “He went out there and kept us in the ballgame. He made a couple mistakes and Cal Poly capitalized on it.”
NIU got one run back in their half of the third courtesy of some Mustang miscues. After Carl Russell (Grayslake, Ill./Grayslake North) and Brandon Mallder (Bridgeview, Ill./St. Laurence) each got on base due to errors, Fletcher took advantage of the situation with a drive down the right field line to bring in Russell. Klonowski’s inning-ending double play, though, ended the Huskie threat.
“Justin was battling and we were close to getting him up again in that ninth inning,” Mathey said. “He’s swinging the bat well. He’s seeing the ball well and he made a heck of a play (on the) hit-and-run line drive to turn two. It’s good to see him coming into form the last couple games and hopefully he can continue that.”
The nationally ranked Mustangs got that run back in the bottom of the third when Nick Torres’ single brought in Tim Wise. Yet, Andres limited the damage, forcing a pair of groundouts to end the inning and prevent Cal Poly from building on their lead. The hosts extended their advantage to 4-1 in the fourth when Chris Hoo’s double scored Mark Mathis from third with two outs.
With a three-run deficit facing them, NIU started a rally in the top of the sixth. After Fletcher tripled down the right field line, Klonowski brought Fletcher home on a well-placed grounder that pulled the pitcher off first to cover the bag. The Huskies had another scoring chance later in the inning with Brian Sisler (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb) on first and Tommy Hook (Lockport, Ill./Lockport Township) on second following walks, but a strikeout kept the runs to a minimum.
The reliever Sweeney kept the Huskies in the game with a solid two innings of work. In the seventh, the Chicagoan forced a double play to eliminate the leadoff hit he surrendered. He produced similar results in the eighth with a scoreless frame.
Yet, NIU was unable to take advantage. After Russell was caught stealing to end the seventh, Sisler put the Huskies in position to get within one in the eighth by advancing all the way to third on a dropped fly ball by the rightfielder. Wes Sery (Bloomington, Ill./Normal West) drew a walk to put runners on the corners, but a groundout ended the comeback.
“That eighth inning, I thought we had a chance to do some things, put some runs up on the board,” Mathey said. “(We had) runners at the corners and Tommy Hook at bat, but just fell short.”
The Huskies return to the field against the Mustangs today for Game two of the series. First pitch is scheduled for 8 p.m. CT.
For more information on NIU baseball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.