A complete game, one-hit shutout by Alex Klonowski (Kearney, Mo./Kearney) – the first for NIU since April 1, 1997 at Valparaiso – served as a catalyst for a Northern Illinois (6-21-1, 3-6 MAC) victory over Toledo (12-16, 4-5 MAC) Sunday afternoon as the Huskies defeated the Rockets, 7-0. It was the first shutout in Klonowski’s career as he struck out a career-high nine batters with only one walk.
Klonowski also went 1-for-3 at the plate with a run, an RBI and walk while Justin Fletcher (Pekin, Ill./Illinois Central) was 2-for-3 with two runs and Carl Russell (Grayslake, Ill./Grayslake North) was 2-for-4 with a leadoff home run in the seventh. Brian Sisler (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb) drove in two runs.
“Klono had the full monty working for him today,” said head coach Ed Mathey. “He had his change up, his curve ball, his fastball, his slider and his flash pitch that he throws working for him and that was from the get go. It was great to see because he’s capable of performances like this and it came in a great time for us when we had a trouble getting out of the blocks yesterday. He really came through for his team today.”
The senior was dynamic on the mound as he hurled eight hitless innings on the bump, allowing the hit to Tyler Grogg in the second at-bat of the game. After Grogg’s single to left center, the Rockets only reached base three more times as Nate Langhals reached on error in the third, Dan Zuchowski walked in the fourth and Jacob Britt reached on a wild pitch in the eighth.
Entering the eighth inning, Klonowski had only struck out four batters, however, he ended the inning with four more strikeouts to tie his career-high in fanned batters. Britt swung on a spiked fast ball off the plate to reach first base on a wild pitch. The Kearney, Mo., native tossed 111 pitches in the contest, 75 for strike (.676 strike/ball ratio).
With Klonowski dealing on the mound, the NIU bats approached the Toledo hurlers with confidence, accounting for eight hits and forcing three Rocket errors. The Huskies runs came in bunches as they scored two in the first, two more in the sixth and three in the seventh.
The Northern Illinois hitters worked starting pitcher Steven Calhoun for 45 pitches in the first inning, earning three walks and one hit by Micah McCulloch (Rochelle, Ill./Rochelle township) on a nine-pitch at-bat to load the bases. NIU scored two runs on a fielder’s choice and an error as Sisler grounded out to third base. Zuchowski cleanly fielded the ball but threw it away at home to score Alex Smith (Mahomet, Ill./Parkland College) from third and Fletcher from second.
“It was good to take advantage of Toledo’s pitcher in the first inning,” Mathey added. “He hadn’t settled in yet and after a couple of walks, Micah did a nice job of running up the pitch count getting a hit on the play and that’s something we like to get fired up about in the dugout. It was probably one of the better at-bats we’ve had all year.”
Klonowski hit a one-out single in the sixth and promptly scored from first as classmate Chris Divarco (Long Grove, Ill./Carmel Catholic) hit a triple to the left centerfield gap for his first three-bagger as a Huskie. The 6-4, 225 pound first baseman showed his speed on the next at-bat as he broke for home on a squeeze bunt by Joe Battaglia (Westchester, Ill./St. Joseph) laid down the third base line to sacrifice and put NIU on top, 4-0.
The Huskies accounted for three more runs in the next inning as Russell led the frame with his first NIU homer, cracking the ball over the left field fence. After a single by Fletcher and a Toledo error to put McCulloch on first, a pair of fielder’s choice RBI by Sisler and Klonowski gave Northern Illinois its 7-0 lead.
Klonowski would record the final three outs in the ninth, striking out the first batter and fielding two groundouts to secure NIU’s third shutout of the season, the most by the Huskies since 2011 (five).
The complete game by Klonowski was the third of his career and his first of the season while his shutout was the first of his career. The win was his first of the season, improving his overall record to 1-2 in 2014.
The Huskies will host a pair of midweek contests at Ralph McKinzie Field this week as NIU welcomes Illinois State Tuesday, April 8, and UW-Milwaukee Wednesday, April 9. Both games will start at 3:05 p.m.
For more information on NIU baseball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.