NIU baseball: Huskies swept by Kent State

By Steve Shonder

Baseball suffered its first series loss since losing the rubber match of a three-game series against the Purdue Boilermakers on March 15.

The Huskies (13-17, 4-5 MAC) were swept by the Kent State Golden Flashes (17-11, 6-3 MAC) in three games over the weekend at Ralph McKenzie Field.

The Huskies were kept off balance at the plate by the Kent State pitching staff, mustering just 11 runs over the course of the series. NIU left 31 runners on base in the three games. Comparatively, they scored 11 runs in a loss against the UW-Milwaukee Panthers on Tuesday.

“That’s baseball; it’s part of the game,” said head coach Mike Kunigonis. “Those guys [Kent State] did a good job; they’re a good [pitching] staff. Anytime you don’t score when you have opportunities it’s frustrating. That’s how the game is, and we’ll get better at it.”

After having two errors in their last five games, the Huskies totaled eight against Kent State, which hurt on the scoreboards. Of the Golden Flashes’ 33 runs scored in the series, just 23 of them were earned runs. In fairness to the Huskies, the wind played a significant factor in the series. Shifting winds sent the ball all over the field.

“Again, that’s baseball,” Kunigonis said. “That stuff happens. You can’t be perfect all the time. We’ll get better at that, too. I can guarantee that.”

Game one

The Huskies had their chances to make a comeback after trailing by two runs through six innings, but a three-run seventh and seven-run eighth inning by the Golden Flashes left NIU on the wrong end of a 16-4 final.

Down by four in the sixth inning, the Huskies tried to battle their way back into the game with two runs in the inning. Junior Stephen Letz scored on a sacrifice fly from Jason Gasser, while freshman Joe Jumonville scored on an error that allowed junior Johnny Zubek to get to second base. Junior Brian Sisler was hit by a pitch to put the tying run on base, but the rally faltered there as redshirt senior Nate Ruzich struck out for the final out.

“When we make the first outs quick in the inning we always try to see more pitches, maybe draw a walk and start to get a rally,” Jumonville said. “Usually, once one person gets a hit it ignites it.”

After senior pitcher Ben Neumann was driven from the game by a three-run homer from Conner Simonetti in the seventh inning, the Golden Flashes iced the game in the eighth. Kent State scored seven runs off redshirt senior Micah McCulloch, none of which were earned.

“We gave them a lot,” said freshman Brad Wood. “Micah threw great, actually. He struck out the first guy and almost had a strikeout on the second guy. We didn’t really help Micah at all. That was our own doing.”

Game two

Kent State powered its way to a 7-4 win over the Huskies on Saturday thanks to a pair of home runs.

The Golden Flashes scraped together five runs in the middle innings, which was jumpstarted by a two-run homer in the fourth courtesy of Tommy Monnot. The Huskies bounced back from the deficit by grinding out three runs in the sixth. After Sisler and Ruzich walked to open the inning, Sisler came around on a passed ball, while Ruzich and McCulloch, who reached on a single to center field, scored on an error by Kent State first basemen Zarley Zalewski. That was the most the Huskies could muster despite threatening a few more times in the later innings.

Senior pitcher Dirk Ormsby struck out a career-high seven batters while allowing six-runs across five innings.

Game three

The Huskies dropped the series finale, 10-3, Sunday.

The Golden Flashes once again got ahead early with two runs in the second inning before tacking on three runs in the fourth and another three in the fifth. Monnot hit two home runs, including a two-run blast in the fifth inning.

NIU tried to close the gap in the seventh, scoring a pair, but it left the bases loaded.