Back-to-back doubles and consecutive sacrifices rallied Northern Illinois University (7-21-1) back from a a 6-5 deficit in the bottom of the ninth versus Illinois State (19-11) as the Huskies defeated the Redbirds on a sacrifice fly by Chris Divarco (Long Grove, Ill./Carmel Catholic), 7-6.
It was NIU’s first walk off victory since April 27, 2013, versus Miami (Ohio) at Ralph McKinzie Field.
The victory over Illinois State was NIU’s first since 2011 and the first at home since 2009. Carl Russell (Grayslake, Ill./Grayslake North) finished the game 4-for-6 from the leadoff position while Brian Sisler (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb) was a flawless 3-for-3 with two RBI, a double, a run and two walks to his credit. Joe Battaglia (Westchester, Ill./St. Joseph) had a sacrifice hit and drove in two runs. Pitcher Ben Neumann (Verona, Wis./Verona Area) improved to 2-0, surrendering one hit and one walk with one strikeout in 2.0 innings.
“I’m really happy with the things we’re starting to see from our hitters and its good because Illinois State is a good ball club,” said head coach Ed Mathey. “To be able to sustain and grind this one out was a great thing. Alex’s and Brian’s hits in the gaps were big for us and with Brian pressing the action making it a double was the difference and I was really happy with that.”
Huskie pitcher Jordan Ruckman (Kankakee, Ill./Herscher) started the game with two-straight strikeouts until Paul Dejong hit a solo home run to left centerfield to put Illinois State up, 1-0.
NIU would not be down for long as it overthrew the lead with three runs in the bottom of the first inning as Russell led the frame with a single to right field and scurried to third on a ground out and a wild pitch. Justin Fletcher (Pekin, Ill./Illinois Central) singled to tie the game, 1-1.
With two outs on them, the Huskies then executed two successful hit and runs with Alex Klonowski (Kearney, Mo./Kearney) and Sisler executing the plays. Sisler drove in a run on his attempt and pushed Klonowski to third, who would score on a failed pick-off attempt by the catcher.
Klonowski and Sisler struck again in the third inning as they reached base to start the frame. After moving to third and second on a wild pitch, Battaglia scored Klonowski on a ground out to shortstop to make it 4-1 NIU.
ISU rallied back with a run in the fourth and another in the fifth to cut its deficit to one run through the first six innings, 4-3.
In the final three stanzas, the Huskies and the Redbirds combined for six runs each with Illinois State starting the flurry of runs in the seventh. After a one out walk by pitcher Matt Williams (Geneva, Ill./Geneva), ISU’s Logan Leverett hit a homer over the scoreboard in the left center to put ISU on top, 6-5.
The Redbirds lead was short-lived however as Fletcher led the inning with a single off of relief pitcher Ben Hecht, who entered the game with a 0.83 ERA in 11 innings of work. The Huskies would load the bases on two-straight walks and tie the game on another groundout RBI by Battaglia.
In the top of the eighth, ISU reclaimed the lead on a sacrifice fly by Mike Hollenbeck to give the Redbirds a 6-5 advantage over the Huskies. NIU responded in the bottom of the eighth with a runner on third and first, thanks to a Russell single and pinch-hit single by Wes Sery (Bloomington,Ill./Normal West). However, NIU was unable to scratch across a run at that point in time.
Defensively, NIU was proficient in the ninth inning as they regained some momentum on a 6-4-3 double play to end the frame. Back-to-back doubles by Klonowski and Sisler tied the game, 6-6, and a sacrifice bunt by Battaglia pushed Sisler to third with one out. After an intentional walk to pinch-hitter Landon Tenhagen (Burlington, Wis./Madison Area TC), pinch-hitter Divarco stepped to the plate. Down 0-2 in the count, Divarco sent a pop-up to right field that allowed Sisler to tag and score the winning run, 7-6.
The victory was almost not however, as ISU Head Coach Mark Kingston appealed the play saying the Redbirds doubled up the runner on first base before the run scored. After a meeting between the umpires, it was decided that the run scored before a tag was made and the runner was not in a force situation as the batter Divarco was out on the play.
NIU will return to action today when it welcomes UW-Milwaukee to Ralph McKinzie Field. First pitch is set for 3:05 p.m.