Northern Illinois’ bid at a Mid-American Conference Tournament berth fell short Saturday afternoon as the MAC Champion Ball State Cardinals (38-16, 22-4 MAC) defeated the Huskies, 10-2.
Junior Micah McCulloch (Rochelle, Illinois/Rochelle Township) finished the game one triple shy of the cycle, going 3-for-3 with a home run, a double and two RBI. Kevin Sweeney (Chicago/Fenwick) pitched one inning of work with one strikeout and zero walks and hits. Western Michigan secured the final spot in the MAC Tournament, following the Huskies loss Saturday.
“We knew what we needed to do this weekend to probably get us into the Mid-American Conference Tournament and that was to win a game at home against a tough Ball State baseball club,” said head coach Ed Mathey. “I liked our chances to take one but we just didn’t get it done. Today we lost a little momentum on the defensive side on some non-plays and miscommunications and those things led to six Ball State runs by my score sheet, and more importantly, we lost momentum.”
The Cardinals struck first blood as it scratched one run in the top of the first inning to take a 1-0 lead. NIU nearly equalized as Brandon Mallder (Bridgeview, Illinois/St. Laurence) singled to start the game and reached third base, but ended the frame stranded 90 feet from home.
Ball State would account for three more runs to take a 4-0 lead. NIU cut the deficit to three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning as Brian Sisler (DeKalb, Illinois/DeKalb) started the inning with a single to extend his hitting-streak to 16 games, the longest for NIU since Jamison Wells’ (2010-13) 19-game streak over the course of the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
With two outs for NIU, McCulloch stepped to the plate after entering as a substitute in the top of the inning, driving the first pitch to left centerfield to double and drive Sisler home to make it a 4-1 game.
BSU would add two runs in the fifth, seventh and ninth innings to take a 10-1 lead in the game. McCulloch ended the game with excitement as he again swung at the first pitch of his at-bat, this time hammering the ball off of the Ralph McKinzie Field scoreboard over left centerfield to put the Huskies second run on the board.
Northern Illinois ends the season 17-36-1 with an 11-16 record in the Mid-American Conference. “This is never an easy day,” Matey said. “It’s never an easy day to look at the seniors, who’ve been good citizens and good stewards for the program and have given some good efforts, and see them leave. That makes it difficult.”