NIU baseball: Huskies take 2 of 3 from Eastern Michigan Eagles

By Steve Shonder

Baseball (17-26, 7-11 MAC) took two out of three from the Eastern Michigan Eagles (17-26, 7-11 MAC) in a three-game series over the weekend in DeKalb.

The doubleheader sweep Sunday marked the first time the Huskies won two games in a row and won a series since March 28 against the Bowling Green Falcons.

“It’s huge,” said head coach Mike Kunigonis. “Our back was against the wall here for MAC play, and we needed to win this weekend to stay relevant in the league and to stay right in the mix for the playoff hunt. Our guys did a great job of responding today, especially bouncing back after Friday to do what we did today. It took a lot of focus, it took a lot of guts, and it took a lot of heart to come out and play the way we did today.”

Game one

Eagles’ starter Charlie Land stifled the Huskies’ bats, as they fell, 8-0, in the series opener Friday.

Land threw a complete game and only allowed four hits while issuing just one walk. He kept himself largely out of danger, except in the third inning as sophomore Jason Gasser and junior Johnny Zubek reached to put runners on first and second with two outs. Freshman Brad Wood then fouled out to the first baseman.

Huskies’ starter senior Ben Neumann tossed five innings and allowed six runs, five of which were earned. Freshman Matt Hoffman gave up a pair of runs in the sixth before sending the Eagles down in order in the seventh and eighth.

Game two

The Huskies snagged the walk-off win, 4-3, in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader.

With the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th, Gasser came through with a high ground ball to second baseman, John Rubino, who threw home just a little too late and failed to get junior Justin Fletcher at the plate.

The Huskies had scratched a pair of runs across the plate in the third off a two-run homer from Zubek and later came out ahead in the sixth when junior Brian Sisler scored.

“It’s always nice when your guys are getting hits,” Zubek said. “It’s something we’ve been struggling with. A lot of it is just being unlucky in the last couple games, just hitting balls right at guys. The biggest thing is sticking to your approach and seeing a lot of pitches, that leads to more walks, and the pitcher throwing more pitches and making worse pitches later on.”

Senior starter Dirk Ormsby left the game with a one-run cushion after throwing 7.2 innings and allowing just two runs and five hits. The one-run lead wouldn’t hold up.

After sophomore Andrew Frankenreider got tagged with an unearned to the tie the game in the ninth, he went on to sit down the next six Eagles hitters he faced and keep the game tied to set up the Huskies’ fireworks in the bottom of the 10th.

Game three

With eight strong innings from redshirt junior starter Seth Fuller, the Huskies piled on the runs to complete the doubleheader sweep, 12-3, Sunday.

After the Huskies scored a pair to open up the game, the Eagles bounced back with a run of their own to make it a 2-1 ballgame. The one-run lead didn’t last long because NIU’s bats erupted for a seven-run fourth inning.

Gasser led off the inning with a solo home run to left field, which was the first leadoff home run of the season for the Huskies. Later in the inning with the bases loaded, redshirt senior Micah McCulloch singled to left-center field to drive in a pair of runs. After Wood walked to load the bases again, freshman Joe Jumonville singled up the middle to score Sisler and McCulloch. In his second at-bat of the inning, Gasser doubled home Wood and Jumonville.

NIU kept padding their lead with a run in the fifth, another in the seventh and a run in the eighth. Zubek’s home run in the seventh gave him four runs scored in the game, which is the most runs scored since Jamison Wells scored four against the Western Michigan Broncos on May 20, 2011.

Fuller’s eight innings pitched was his longest outing of his career as he limited the Eagles to just two runs and allowed eight hits and one walk.

“I thought I threw OK,” Fuller said. “I thought I struggled a little bit early to find my slider, [and] then I found it late in the game. It definitely helped out. They were being aggressive hitters at the plate and looking to jump on the fastball. Keeping them off balance with the slider really helped.”