Northern Illinois baseball (5-21-1, 2-6 MAC) started slow against Toledo (12-15, 4-3 MAC) in its first two games at the Ralph McKinzie Field, mounting two late rallies on the Rockets.
A pinch-hit grand slam by Micah McCulloch (Rochelle, Ill./Rochelle Township) in game one and a four run seventh in game two opened the door for the Huskies but NIU dropped the doubleheader, 10-4, 6-4.
“Toledo deserved these games and I hate to say that. We created a spread for Toledo in game one and their pitcher Ryan Wilkinson doesn’t need a spread like that, he’s a good first pitch for strike hurler and he does what you expect out of a Friday guy,” said head coach Ed Mathey.
“I thought we did a nice job in the ninth inning (of game one) to build some momentum for game two but we weren’t able to sustain that. Micah did a nice job of staying back on a breaking ball to put the barrel on the pitch and hit it over the left field fence,” Mathey added.
“We need to go back to work tomorrow, starting with batting practice, and make the adjustments that we saw out here on the field. Maybe we were too excited and too emotional for our first games at home and not focused the way we should be. We need to defend our home field tomorrow and set the tone for the rest of the week.”
Tommy Hook (Lockport, Ill./Lockport Township) finished 3-for-8 (.375) with a double while McCulloch finished 2-for-5 (.400) with a pinch-hit grand slam, a run and four RBI in the doubleheader.
Toledo jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the top of the first inning as the Huskies committed three errors in the frame to scratch across five unearned runs on starting pitcher Anthony Andres (Western Springs, Ill./St. Rita). The Rockets added a sixth unearned run on an NIU error in the second inning to give UT a 6-0 lead, forcing Andres to labor in the first two frames with 47 pitches in the opening two stanzas.
In the next five innings, Andres was steady as he recorded four strikeouts and only allowed two earned runs. The senior hurler finished with a career-high seven innings and 127 pitches, 88 for strike. After tossing 47 pitches in the first two innings, Andres only threw 80 pitches in his final five innings on the mound.
After surrendering two more runs in the eighth inning, Ryan Olson (Sterling, Ill./Newman Central Catholic), who tossed 2.1 innings Wednesday afternoon at Valparaiso to pick up his first win of the season, fought off Toledo in the final 1.2 innings as he only allowed one hit while striking out one and not allowing a run in his time on the mound.
With Olson grounding the Rockets in the ninth inning, the Huskies bats awoke in the bottom of the frame as Carl Russell (Grayslake, Ill./Grayslake North), Hook and Justin Fletcher (Pekin, Ill./Illinois Central) singled to leadoff the inning and load the bases with no outs.
After a strikeout by Chris Divarco (Long Grove, Ill./Carmel Catholic) forced the first out, McCulloch pinch-hit for Brandon Mallder (Bridgeview, Ill./St. Laurence). After a called first strike, McCulloch roped a ball sky-high toward the left field foul pole and over the wall to break the Toledo shutout and force Toledo to its bullpen to close the game, 10-4.
McCulloch’s grand slam was the first for NIU since Troy White beamed one versus Ohio on April 17, 2011.
Toledo again jumped out to an early lead as they scored in the top of the first inning, bringing one run home to lead the Huskies, 1-0.
NIU carried momentum from game one at the plate into game two as they recorded a double in the first and second innings, however, Hook would end the first inning stranded on second while Brian Sisler (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb) ended the second frame 180 feet from home.
After scoring two more runs in the fourth, the Rockets added three more runs in the top of the seventh inning to take a 6-0 lead and force Northern Illinois to its bullpen. Eli Anderson (Glenview, Ill./New Trier) closed his day with 6.1 innings of work with four strikeouts and one walk while surrendering six runs. Freshman Andrew Frankenreider (Peoria, Ill./Dunlap) closed the door on the seventh inning for Anderson as he struck out one batter in the frame.
Northern Illinois charged in the bottom of the seventh as McCulloch hit a single to third base to leadoff the inning and rattle pitcher Sam Shutes. After Mallder earned a full count walk, the Huskies had runners on second and third on a wild pitch and Sisler at the plate. The Huskie shortstop then walked to load the bases for Johnny Zubek (Oak Forest, Ill./Oak Forest).
Andrew Marra stepped onto the mound for Shutes and proceeded to walk Zubek and pinch-hitter Wes Sery (Bloomington, Ill./Normal West) to give the Huskies two runs, 6-2. A wild pitch by Marra and a throwing error by the catcher James Miglin would allow Zubek and Sisler to score and bring Northern Illinois back within two runs, 6-4. With pinch-runner Connor Schomig (Darien, Ill./Hinsdale South) on third base, Hook worked the count full but struck out looking on a high and tight pitch to end the Huskies chance at squaring the game. NIU was retired in order in the final two innings.
The Huskies will close the series with Toledo tomorrow afternoon with first pitch set for 1 p.m. Senior Alex Klonowski (Kearney, Mo./Kearney) will pitch game three of the series for NIU.
For more information on NIU baseball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.