Huskies Baseball set to open season in warmer weather

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James Krause

While the weather in DeKalb may not be ideal, the baseball season is right around the corner and NIU is gearing up for their first series this weekend.

Head Coach Mike Kunigonis is looking to build off of the 20-36 record from last year, a three-win improvement from 2017. The key for them, he said, is to pace themselves to success.

“The biggest thing is to just trust the process,” Kunigonis said. “It’s a marathon. It’s a 56 game season and we want to be in the playoffs playing in postseason games. We want to be fighting for the Mid-American Conference title and we have a team that can do that.”

The team will work to replace Samuel Vega and Brad Wood, graduating seniors infielders who combined for 48 RBIs last season.  

Junior catcher Jake Dunham, one of the returning starters for the Huskies, said the team chemistry is forming at a fast pace.

“I thought it would be more difficult than it was honestly,” Dunham said. “To this point, the chemistry is as good as it’s ever been on this team. The new guys have acclimated really quickly.”

Dunham and junior infielder Tommy Szczasny will step up in the place of Vega and Wood as the most relied upon batters, with the duo combining for 47 RBIs last season. Junior outfielder Kam Smith, the team leader in RBIs last season with 27, is also returning.

The team will have help with several players transferring from 2-year or community colleges.

Junior first baseman Jordan Larson transfers to NIU from College of DuPage, where he had 56 RBIs in 2018. Fellow junior infielder Dylan Lonteen, previously of Illinois Central College, where he had a .351 batting average with five home runs and 35 RBIs.

Kunigonis said the transfer class has made the adjustment to the pressures and responsibility of Division One baseball.

“I think those guys have made a great adjustment since they got here,” Kunigonis said. “We got some really talented guys and we’re excited about all our players.”

The team enters the season with only two seniors, pitchers William Anderson and Ty Jandrowski. Anderson said the team, to this point, has made his job as a leader easy.

“It’s taken pressure off of me and Ty to lead,” Anderson said. “They’ve kind of known their role since day one and done what needs to be done. I think we have a lot of new guys who give us depth on this staff.

Anderson will be part of a starting core of pitchers that include sophomore Michael Lasiewicz. Lasiewicz led the team in innings pitched, 82 innings in 14 starts, finishing with a 3.83 earned run average. Junior reliever Nathan Jones will also be returning, with the most relief appearances among returning pitchers this season

The team opens their season this weekend against the Cal Baptist Lancers for a four-game non-conference road series.

While NIU won’t play a home or conference game until mid-March, Dunham says these series are highly valuable in getting reps.

“The main thing is confidence,” Dunham said. “We know we’re a good team but we’re unproven. So the main thing is building up these guys confidence, especially the new guys who haven’t been around the block of D1 baseball before.”

First pitch for the opening game for the Huskies comes at 8:00 p.m. Friday night at James W. Totman Stadium in Riverside, California.