DeKALB —The baseball season ended when the Huskies fell in the loser’s bracket final of the Mid-American Conference tournament 8-7 to Ball State on Saturday.
The teams traded the lead several times over and needed extra innings to decide a winner, with the Cardinals winning in 11 innings thanks to a walk-off RBI single from Ball State sophomore outfielder Nick Powell.
Entering the tournament as the fifth seed, the Huskies were among the final three in the tournament with a final overall record of 20-36. Head Coach Mike Kunigonis said he’s proud of what the team accomplished this year.
“I’m extremely proud of this group and of what they have accomplished this year on and off the field,” said head coach Mike Kunigonis. “I can’t thank our three seniors enough for all they’ve done for this program. Will Anderson, Josh Mutter, and Ty Jandrowski gave us everything they had every day while in a Huskie uniform. They have left a legacy behind they can be proud of.”
NIU led early, scoring a pair of runs in the top of the first with an RBI single by junior catcher Jake Dunham and a fielder’s choice RBI for first-year outfielder Nick Drobushevich.
The Huskies lead didn’t last to the end of the first, with a three-run homer by senior first baseman John Ricotta giving the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.
Drobushevich tied the game in the third with another RBI, scoring junior infielder Tommy Szczasny on a sacrifice fly.
Once again, Ball State responded with a score of their own. A fielder’s choice RBI by senior catcher Chase Sebby put the Cardinals ahead 4-3 after three.
NIU matched the Cardinals again in the top of the fourth, with an RBI double by junior outfielder Brendan Joyce tying the game at 4-4.
Szczasny hit the go-ahead RBI double two pitches later, which was immediately followed by a single by junior infielder Dylan Lonteen scoring another run to make it a 6-4 lead for NIU.
The Cardinals made it a one run game in the fifth with a fielder’s choice RBI by senior outfielder Griffin Hulecki, but it was a two-run homer by junior outfielder Aaron Simpson to take a 7-6 lead in the sixth.
Behind Ball State again, the Huskies tied the game again in the eighth with an RBI single down the middle of the field by junior infielder Dylan Lonteen.
The bullpen came up big for the Huskies near the end of regulation. With one out in the bottom of the eighth and the bases loaded, junior pitcher Nate Thomas strikes out two batters to retain the tie.
Sophomore pitcher Kyle Seebach came in relief with one out in the ninth and didn’t allow a run despite walking two, sending the game into two extra innings.
In the bottom of the eleventh, the Cardinals got a leadoff double from first-year outfielder Mack Murphy.
With one out, Powell hit a single into centerfield for junior outfielder Josh Mutter. Mutter struggled to handle the ball, allowing Murphy to score the winning run.
Despite the loss, NIU’s 14-12 conference record is a six-game improvement from their 2018 campaign and matches the most conference wins for Kunigonis in a season since taking over in 2015.