NIU baseball: Huskies’ MAC Tournament hopes dwindling


Sophomore pitcher Andrew Frankenreider delivers a pitch in the game against the Eastern Michigan Eagles on April 26. The Huskies are currently tied for ninth in the MAC, and the top eight teams make the MAC Tournament.

By Steve Shonder

Baseball has just seven games left to make up a lot of ground in its hunt for a playoff spot.

After seeing a four-game winning streak come to a halt in a 14-2 blowout loss to the Central Michigan Chippewas on Friday, the Huskies managed to get a win Saturday, but the margin for error is getting slimmer with each game. A repeat of Friday’s performance in the series finale Sunday made the odds even slimmer. The Huskies are tied for ninth place, and the top eight teams make the postseason.

“I expect these guys to be able to come back out and be ready to play,” said head coach Mike Kunigonis. “Unfortunately, we put ourselves in a really tough position. We need a really good weekend this weekend to get a shot at the playoffs. But they know what we need to do to get out of this hole we dug. I anticipate us bouncing back again like we did yesterday.”

Luckily for the Huskies, they’ll be the dealers in their next conference matchup when they face the Western Michigan Broncos (19-23, 11-10 MAC) at Ralph McKinzie Field. More fortuitously, the Broncos happen to be just slightly ahead of the Huskies in the race for the eighth seed, giving the series a lot more significance. The Huskies will hit the road for one last conference series with the Ball State Cardinals (26-18, 11-9 MAC) beginning May 14 after a midweek game May 12 with the Milwaukee Panthers,


Excluding their most recent series, the Huskies’ pitching has turned into a big strength, despite pitchers like senior Ben Neumann struggling to regain their early-season form and others being unable to build on their own work; however, the Huskies have gotten some strong outings from the bulk of their pitchers lately. Senior Dirk Ormsby has turned in back-to-back solid outings, and strong midweek outings have given Kunigonis confidence in his depth.

“It’s huge,” Kungionis said. “Tuesday, we were hoping to get four innings out of [freshman Kevin] Jones, and he ends up going six and a third, doing a great job there. And [Wednesday], we were hoping to get two or three out of [redshirt senior] Micah [McCulloch], and he gives us four. It’s huge, especially since we’re a little thin on the mound as everybody is this time of the year.”

The pitching depth has shown in the bullpen as pitchers who have struggled early have come out to make solid appearances and keep the Huskies in games late. It’s something the pitching staff believes it can build on to finish the season strong.

“There’s a lot of confidence for all of us,” McCulloch said. “If we know if we can pitch well then we have a really good chance. Hitters need to hit, but pitching will be big because pitching can take you a long way. And pitching will really help us to win a championship.”


After enduring a prolonged team-wide slump that contributed to an 11-game losing streak, the Huskies appeared to have things turned offensively during their recent four-game win streak. However, their bats were quieted in key situations against the Chippewas. They managed to plate six runs Saturday, but the 17 stranded runners on Friday and Sunday hurt. But, it shows they’re able to get on base. Once the Huskies start to get the key base hits they need consistently like they have in the past, they’ll be in a good place going forward.

“The coaches harp on having a plan a lot, and I think we’ve continued to have a plan and have stuck to that plan,” said redshirt junior Alex Smith. “I think as long as we continue to stick to that plan at the plate we’re going to continue to be successful.”

The Huskies have gotten contributions at the plate from just about every spot in the lineup, which could bode well for them down the stretch. But the hitting has come in spurts. While the Huskies can boast three players — junior Stephen Letz, junior Brian Sisler and redshirt junior Tony Brandner — hitting over .300, they’re going to need more players to step up consistently in clutch situations.

Until someone steps up for them on a regular basis, NIU will end up wasting more bases-loaded situations, and that’s not a recipe for success.