The NIU Huskies (12-29-1, 7-10 MAC) picked up their fourth shutout of the season Saturday afternoon behind an eight inning, 141 pitch effort by Eli Anderson (Glenview, Illinois/New Trier) to defeat Western Michigan, 2-0.
Fletcher drove in the game winning run in the sixth inning on a bases loaded RBI single while McCulloch towered a ball onto the berm outside of Homer Stryker Field to cement the NIU victory in the eighth. The pitching staff and the NIU defense did not allow a WMU runner on third base the entire game.
In the first time through the Western Michigan lineup, Anderson threw his first pitch for strike six times in nine attempts. That strike efficiency kept the NIU hurler in control through the first three innings as he did not surrender a hit until Brett Sunde led off the fourth with a single up the middle. In his first at-bat, Sunde fouled off six pitches and worked 11 pitches off of Anderson before grounding into a 4-3 double play.
“It was a good ball game today, both teams were in here battling and I thought their No. 4 hitter in the first inning worked what seemed like 20 pitches off of Eli and I thought that was indicative of how the game was going to be,” said head coach Ed Mathey. “Their pitcher did a pretty good job as well. It was a hard fought win for us and I was happy for Fletch. I know he’s been a struggling a bit lately and it was good to see him bear down. Micah made a nice adjustment at the plate and that extra run really helped us out.”
The hit allowed off of Anderson in the fourth did not rattle the senior as he forced Hunter Prince to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to usher in the fifth inning. Both teams combined for four hits through five with Carl Russell and Brian Sisler doing the honors in the second and third, respectively. NIU and WMU combined for only three runners reaching second base through five frames as well with no runners reaching third.
Patience at the plate was the name of the game in the sixth inning as the Huskies worked pitcher Chad Mayle for three walks to load the bases with one out. On an 2-0 pitch, Fletcher drove the ball through the right side to score Jason Gasser from third base and put the Huskies on top of the Broncos, 1-0.
NIU attempted to double its lead in the top of the eighth inning as Johnny Zubek was hit by a pitch to lead the inning. The catcher advanced to third on two groundouts and attempted to steal home as Fletcher was a decoy for a pick off, however, the WMU defense caught Zubek at home on a 1-3-6-2 play at the plate to end the frame.
The Huskies’ insurance run came in the top of the ninth inning from McCulloch who led the stanza with a solo homer, his second bomb of the season, over the fence in left centerfield to put NIU on top, 2-0. The leadoff homer was the Huskies fourth leadoff homer of the season.
Anderson did not return to the bump in the ninth inning, closing his day after a career-high 141 pitches, the second pitcher on the Huskies’ staff to accomplish the feat this season. Anderson struck out three batters and scattered four hits in the outing and allowed five walks.
Ben Neumann (Verona, Wisconsin/Verona Area) stepped onto the mound for his first career save attempt and shined in the effort as he extended his MAC scoreless streak to 6.1 innings as he fanned two Broncos in the three batters he faced.
The win by Anderson snapped a six-start winless streak as the senior hurler improved to 2-6 on the year. He entered the game with no decisions in his last two starts on the mound.
The Huskies and Broncos will close the series at noon (CT) Sunday. NIU will look to give Western Michigan its fifth-straight series lost.