Senior Alex Klonowski (Kearney, Missouri/Kearney) threw his second complete game shutout of the season Sunday over Western Michigan (15-23, 6-12 MAC) to lead the NIU Huskies (13-29-1 8-10 MAC) over the Broncos and clinch the series, 1-0.
Klonowski fanned eight batters and surrendered one walk in 123 pitches. The victory was NIU’s second-straight win via shutout, the first time since the program was reinstated in 1991.
The shutout by Klonowski tied the single season school record for shutouts in a season, set by Pat Griffin in 1981. The shutout was also the Huskies fifth of the season, the most by NIU since 2011 and only shy of tying the school record for most shutouts in a season set in 1964.
At the plate, Brandon Mallder (Bridgeview, Illinois/St. Laurence) led Northern Illinois collecting two hits in four at-bats, including the game-winning RBI double in the top of the eighth inning. Shortstop Brian Sisler (DeKalb, Illinois/DeKalb), who scored the winning run, finished 1-for-3 with two walks.
“It’s a good win for us, no doubt about it. When you win a series, it’s always a positive,” said head coach Ed Mathey. “It gives you tiebreaker over the team and give you momentum. All those things are good to have.
“Alex Klonowski was awesome again. He was phenomenal and did a nice job pitching through some trouble. He held steady and did a great job. I’m just glad that Alex was one run better than their guy today. Brandon got the big hit and it was good to see him swinging the bat. When our defense plays well, we show that we’re able to give ourselves a chance to win ball games and that’s something we have to do moving forward.”
Klonowski was solid in the opening two frames, striking out four of the seven Broncos he faced. The hurler got an early out in the third inning, followed by three-straight singles to load the bases for the Broncos top-hitter Andrew Sohn, whom Klonowski forced into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. He continued that type of strong pitching through sixth, striking out seven batters and allowing the defense behind him to make plays in the field.
Defensively, both teams were up to the task through seven as each team snuffed out any chances as the two teams did not scratch across any runs and stranded 18 totals runners on base in the game.
While both teams sprinkled base runners throughout ball game, Sisler led the eighth inning with a single to right field and was pushed to second on a sacrifice bunt by Tommy Hook (Lockport, Illnois/Lockport Township). Western Michigan conceded first base to Justin Fletcher (Pekin, Illinois/Illinois Central) to put the force out at third base with Micah McCulloch (Rochelle, Illinois/Rochelle Township) stepping to the plate with one out.
After McCulloch muscled a jammed pitch and popped out to centerfield for the second out of the inning, Mallder doubled down the left field line on a 2-1 pitch to score Sisler and score the only run of the game. Northern Illinois was close to adding two insurance runs as the WMU shortstop Sohn grabbed a hard liner up the middle by Carl Russell (Grayslake, Illinois/Grayslake North) to end the inning.
Entering the ninth inning with 110 pitches thrown, Klonowski was on the hunt for his third complete game of the season and his second shutout.
It wasn’t easy, however, as he surrendered a leadoff double and sacrifice bunt to push the runner over and record the first out. Pinch hitter Jordan Tillman attempted a squeeze bunt with an 0-1 count to tie the game, but the ball bounced off his foot to end the squeeze opportunity. After Tillman struck out looking on outside pitch, Vinnie Booker popped out to Hook in right field to preserve NIU’s 1-0 victory.
The complete game, shutout effort by Klonowski was the 17th all-time in program history and the seniors second of the season. He is now tied for second all-time with former Huskie Mark Skrukrud (2002-03) for career shutouts at two). Griffin (1980-82) finished his career with three.
NIU will return to the diamond Tuesday, April 29, when it plays at UIC at Curtis Granderson Stadium. First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. The Huskies will follow up with a game against Northwestern at Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood at Standard Bank Stadium, starting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 30.
For more information on NIU baseball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.