Despite some solid extended relief work from freshman Matt Williams (Geneva, Ill./Geneva), the Northern Illinois University baseball team dropped a 10-1 loss Wednesday night at Baggett Stadium against No. 11 Cal Poly.
After limiting the potent Mustang offense to four runs in the series’ lid-lifter, Cal Poly scored nine runs in the first three innings to put the Huskies in an early hole.
“It was a tough night for the Huskies,” said NIU head coach Ed Mathey. “We swung the bats tonight, but for the number of hits we got, we didn’t get enough runs. The big story tonight is that we didn’t pitch very well.”
“We’ve got to continue to work and get better. We’ve got to collect ourselves and come back tomorrow for the last game of this leg of the roadtrip and hopefully get some traction for the weekend.”
The Mustangs bats got to starter Jordan Ruckman (Kankakee, Ill./Herscher) early with three runs in the first inning. After leadoff man Tim Wise turned a single into a scoring play due to a Huskie error in the outfield, Cal Poly put two more on the board when Mark Mathias smacked a two-out, bases-loaded single into left-center field.
The Huskies threatened to trim the lead in the top of the second inning after collecting two hits and putting runners on the corners with two outs. However, Mustang starting pitcher Danny Zandonna got out of the jam by forcing a flyout to end the inning.
Cal Poly got another quick run in their half of the second when Wise batted in Chris Hoo following Hoo’s leadoff triple.
The NIU defense, though, kept the Mustangs from scoring any more in the frame. With runners on second and third with one out, third baseman Tommy Hook (Lockport, Ill./Lockport Township) fielded a grounder and fired a throw to catcher Johnny Zubek (Oak Forest, Ill./Oak Forest), who tagged the baserunner at the plate to end the scoring threat.
NIU got on the board in the third inning when Hook doubled down the rightfield line. Two batters later, Chris Divarco (Long Grove, Ill./Carmel Catholic) knocked a hit into centerfield to give the Huskies their first run of the game.
Yet, the Mustangs dealt their largest blow in the bottom of the third. With walks putting the first two batters on base, the hosts chased Ruckman in the inning after scoring four runs. Williams walked in a run on the first batter he faced, but got out of the inning with a flyout.
At that point, the Geneva, Ill., native found his rhythm on the mound and silenced the Cal Poly bats with two perfect innings. Later in the sixth and seventh, he surrendered a single and a walk, but emerged from both innings unscathed. By the time his night was finished, the freshman scattered two hits and three walks across 4.1 innings of work, in addition to three strikeouts.
The Huskie offense tried to kickstart a rally, but was unable to shorten the gap. From the fourth inning on, Zandonna – in addition to relievers Nick Suninga and Jearl Jesson – kept NIU off the board, despite the visitors leaving at least one runner on base in each of the last six frames.
The Mustangs capped off their scoring in the eighth, when John Schuknecht launched a solo home run down the left field line.
NIU wraps up their series with Cal Poly tomorrow evening with an 8 p.m. first pitch.
IN OTHER NEWS, inclement weather and field conditions in Peoria have forced this weekend’s series between NIU and Bradley to move to “The Corn Crib” at Dozer Park in Normal, Ill.
Saturday’s series opener is tentatively scheduled for a 6 p.m. start; however, the Bradley-Northern Illinois game will be the fourth event of the day at the Corn Crib. Earlier games include Illinois State’s softball doubleheader versus Drake and the Redbirds baseball game versus Western Illinois, all being moved from the Illinois State campus because of similar field condition issues.
Bradley and Northern Illinois play a doubleheader at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Corn Crib, which also serves as the home for the independent minor league Normal Cornbelters.
Admission will be free for the weekend Bradley-Northern Illinois series.
For more information on NIU baseball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.