NIU baseball: Huskies salvage series final against Toledo

By Steve Shonder

Baseball finally came to life in this weekend’s series finale against the Toledo Rockets.

The Rockets (15-24, 8-7 MAC) took two out of three games from the Huskies (15-24, 5-10 MAC) over the weekend in Toledo, Ohio. NIU was held scoreless in the first two games of the series; it didn’t break through until the second inning of the series finale Saturday. The win ended what had been an 11-game losing streak in conference games.

“Those guys did a good job on the mound, but we had multiple … opportunities to score, but we just couldn’t get it done,” said head coach Mike Kunigonis. “I don’t know if those guys were just that good or we just struggling. It’s a little of both.”

Game One

The Huskies squandered a few chances at the plate as the Rockets came out on top, 5-0, in the series opener Friday.

Senior Ben Neumann held the Rockets scoreless through the first four innings before Toledo built up a four-run lead in Neumann’s final three innings of work. Toledo’s Dalton Bollinger and A.J. Montoya each homered, with Bollinger hitting a solo shot in the sixth and Montoya hitting a two-run blast just one inning later.

The Huskies’ best chance came in the fourth inning, when they loaded the bases with two outs, but nothing came of it.

Game Two

Toledo’s pitching kept the Huskies off the board again as the Rockets came out on top, 4-0, in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader.

The Huskies scratched together eight hits with junior Brian Sisler going 4-4, but the Toledo pitching staff managed to prevent any damage. NIU went 0-11 with runners in scoring position.

Once again, the Huskies put together a big opportunity in the ninth inning as they loaded the bases, but freshman Brad Wood’s line out was caught to end the game.

Game Three

The Huskies finally came through in the ninth inning, when freshman Malique Ziegler scored the game-winning run in the ninth off a single by junior Justin Fletcher to give the Huskies a 4-3 win Saturday.

“It was the first time we’ve done that all year and found a way to win,” Kunigonis said. “Now, our guys know we can do it, and it’s great for us heading into the home stretch of the MAC.

“We’ve been doing that all year for the most. We just haven’t got that big hit to put us out in front like we did today. We found a way to win today, which was great.”

After Toledo took a 1-0 lead to open the game, the Huskies rallied back in the second. Sophomore Carl Russell stole home on a delayed steal — while redshirt junior Alex Smith was caught in a rundown — to give NIU its first run of the series. Fletcher followed that up with a base hit that scored Smith to give the Huskies the lead.

The Huskies tacked another run in the seventh. The Rockets came back to the tie the game in the bottom of the eighth, setting up the Huskies for some late game heroics and the win.

Redshirt junior Seth Fuller threw six and two-thirds innings, allowing just three runs and seven hits. Sophomore Andrew Frankenreider came out of the pen to shut down the Rockets over the final three frames and pick up his first career win.