Baseball sweeps MAC opponent

By Eddie Garcia

DeKALB — Baseball began Mid-American Conference play with a three-game sweep against the University of Toledo Rockets.

NIU (7-16, 3-0 MAC) came into the game losing eight of its last 10 games played, but its offense came alive in the series as they scored 32 combined runs, defeating the Rockets (5-18, 0-3 MAC) 16-2 on Friday, 7-4 on Saturday and 9-3 in the final game on Sunday.

“This was a tremendous start to MAC play,” said Head Coach Mike Kunigonis. “We showed up and played a complete 27-plus innings this weekend.”

Friday — NIU 16, Toledo 2

The Huskies were seeing the ball well in the first game of the series as all nine hitters in the batting order scored at least one run with all but two hitters recording at least two hits.

Four Huskies finished with two or more runs batted in as junior-designated hitter Jesus Tovar III led the team with four RBIs on the day, off of two hits, including a two-run home run to left field in the top of the ninth.

Freshman third baseman Tommy Szczansy and junior second baseman Samuel Vega finished the game with three hits each, as the infield duo combined for five RBIs, three runs scored and a home run.

Senior starting pitcher Joe Hawks earned his second consecutive win as he pitched seven quality innings for the Huskies, allowing two runs on nine hits, while striking out five batters in the game.

Saturday — NIU 7, Toledo 4

After being down 4-0 in the first inning of game two, NIU activated its bats to score seven unanswered runs for a 7-4 extra-inning victory.

Freshman pitcher Nathan Thomas was a key component in the win against the Rockets as he tossed seven scoreless innings in relief as sophomore pitcher William Anderson was removed after allowing four earned runs in the first inning of play.

Thomas allowed just one walk, on three hits, while striking out five players on the mound.

The Huskies put a run on the board in the sixth inning and scored three runs in the eighth inning with doubles from Szczansy and junior outfielder Joe Jummonville, followed by a two-out single by junior catcher Mike Roberson to tie the game.

The game went into extra innings when NIU went ahead on a ground ball by Samuel Vega to third that scored junior shortstop Brad Wood for the first lead of the game.

The Huskies added two more runs in the inning as senior pitcher Ryan Blanton came into the game in the bottom half of the 11th inning to shut down Toledo and record his first win of the season.

Sunday — NIU 9, Toledo 3

The Huskies won their final game of the series with another big win from junior starting pitcher Donovin Sims, who threw six innings and allowed one earned run and improved his record to 3-0 on the season.

Sims lowered his season ERA to 3.16 after Sunday’s performance.

“We had great performances on the mound, at the plate and in the field all weekend, and that’s the key to success,” Kunigonis said.

NIU went ahead in the third inning of the ballgame and never looked back as they scored four runs on four hits in the inning, including a double by Roberson that scored three Huskies.

The Huskies added five more insurance runs in the ninth to complete the three-game sweep.

“We will enjoy this win for the day on the bus ride back home and get back to work tomorrow,” Kunigonis said.

NIU will play at University of Illinois at Chicago Tuesday.