The NIU Huskies (17-34-1, 11-14 MAC) scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to cut their deficit to one run, 4-3, but Ball State (36-16, 20-4 MAC) hung on to its lead to win its first Mid-American Conference regular season championship since 2001.
Joe Battaglia (Westchester, Illinois/St. Joseph) finished 2-for-3 with two RBI singles while Brandon Mallder (Bridgeview, Illinois/St. Laurence) went 3-for-4 with a double and a run. Brian Sisler (DeKalb, Illinois/DeKalb) had an RBI single in the eighth that extended his hitting streak to 14 games.
“We shot shot ourselves in the foot with a couple of base-running errors in the first and that cost us a run and some momentum,” said head coach Ed Mathey. “Eli threw all right and coming out on short rest; he hung a couple balls up there, and the Ball State hitters did a nice job of taking advantage of that. He did a nice job of settling down and keeping us in this.
“I’m proud of the way our guys battled back tonight. We had some legitimate chances out there to score more runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth; we just didn’t do enough to overcome. We have to flush this loss and come back tomorrow and win a baseball game.”
Starting pitcher Eli Anderson (Glenview, Illinois/New Trier) got out of a jam in the top of the first inning, giving the Huskies some momentum heading into the bottom of the inning. NIU put the first four batters on base in the inning, including Mallder who led the frame with a double.
Mallder would be picked off at third base for the first out but Battaglia still scored Alex Klonowski (Kearney, Missouri/Kearney) from second base to put NIU on top, 1-0.
Ball State hammered back-to-back home runs in the top of the second inning to take its first lead of the game and build a 3-1 lead in the contest. The Cardinals added more run in the third to take a 4-1 lead.
Following the scoring bursts in the first third of the game, both pitchers settled in during the middle innings as no runs were scored with only one runner reaching base for each squad in the middle third.
Matt Williams (Geneva, Illinois/Geneva) entered in the top of the seventh with one out, striking out both Cardinals he faced looking to end the inning. Williams would also shut down the BSU side in the eighth to end his day with 1.2 innings on the mound. He only allowed a walk in the contest with zero hits and two punch outs.
Northern Illinois mounted a comeback in the bottom of the eighth as Mallder picked up his third hit of the game with one out. Sisler would single to centerfield to score Mallder from second and cut the lead in half, 4-2. Sisler reached scoring position off of a wild pitch by reliever Zach Plesac and would score on Battaglia’s second RBI single of the game.
The NIU rally ended as pinch runner Connor Schomig (Darien, Illinois/Hinsdale South) attempted to steal second base to put another Huskie in scoring position, but he was thrown out at second base to end eighth, 4-3.
Justin Fletcher (Pekin, Illinois/Illinois Central) singled with one out in the bottom of the ninth but no more runners would reach base as Ball State claimed its first MAC Regular Season Championship in 13 seasons.
NIU and Ball State both finished with nine hits in the contest with the Huskies posting a .281 average, 30 points higher than the Cardinals in average.
The Huskies and BSU will continue the series today at Ralph McKinzie Field. First pitch is set for 3:05 p.m.