NIU baseball: Huskies lose to Illinois State, drop 6th straight game

By Steve Shonder

What happened

Baseball (13-18) wasn’t able to overcome an eight-run deficit as it fell, 8-4, to the Illinois State Redbirds (14-15) on Tuesday in Normal.

The loss extends the Huskies’ losing streak to six games.

“We had another tough day for us,” said head coach Mike Kunigonis. “We didn’t get the start we were hoping for on the mound. We had some opportunities early that we didn’t take advantage of. We didn’t play Huskieball today, and we’re in a little bit of a slump.”

How it happened

NIU freshman pitcher Donovin Sims ran into trouble in the third inning, giving up three runs after cruising through the first two innings. Freshman Kevin Jones, who came on in relief of Sims, got tagged for two more runs before being able to navigate his way out of the inning.

The Redbirds’ bats were quiet again until the fifth when they went after Jones, getting three runners across the plate. Two of Illinois State’s three runs were unearned and came before the Huskies could get the first out of the inning.

“It’s not just a pitching thing; it’s a team thing,” Kunigonis said. “A couple times in the few weeks, those big innings have been created by defense and few different things. The simple factor is we’ve been giving up too many of those big innings. Like I always say, ‘It’s not going to be all rainbows and sunshine. We have to weather the storm.’ We haven’t been doing those things.”

The Huskies found their stroke at the plate in the sixth inning. With one run already in on a fielder’s choice by redshirt senior Micah McCulloch and two outs, junior Justin Fletcher doubled to left-center field to drive in freshman Brad Wood and McCulloch. Freshman Joe Jumonville followed up with a double down the right field line to drive in Fletcher. That was all the offense NIU could muster as the Redbirds’ bullpen recorded 10-straight outs to end the game.

At the plate

Fletcher went 1-3 with a two-run double, one walk and one run scored. Junior Johnny Zubek went 2-4 with a double and strikeout.

On the mound

Redshirt senior Kevin Sweeney, who came on in the sixth inning, kept Illinois State off the board in the final three frames. He scattered three hits and a pair of walks over three innings and also recorded three strikeouts.

Up next

The Huskies will head back out on the road this weekend to face the Akron Zips (13-16, 5-4 MAC) in a three-game series in Akron, Ohio. First pitch for game one is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday. Games two and three will begin at noon Saturday and Sunday.

The Huskies will try to snap a six-game losing streak against an Akron team that’s been slowly improving throughout the season. In the Zips’ four games in April they’ve hit .296 as a team and are averaging five runs scored per game. In March, Akron hit .282 and averaged 4.7 runs per game.

On the mound, the Zips are led by junior John Valek III. Valek has given up just seven runs over his last three starts and is averaging just over eight innings pitched per game over the same time period. The Zips’ No. 2 starter, junior JT Brubaker, boasts a 2.66 ERA and leads the Zips in strikeouts with 35.

For the Huskies, the key will be to get on the board early and take advantage of having men on base. Over the losing streak, the Huskies have left 50 runners on base, including six against the Redbirds on Tuesday.

“Our confidence has been shaken a little bit,” Kunigonis said. “Usually, when your confidence is down it shows on the scoreboard, specifically hitting with runners in scoring position, which we haven’t done all that well with recently. When things are going good you’re not feeling the pressure. The best hitters are even-keel all the time. They don’t allow situations to dictate if they’re feeling good or not feeling good. Those guys are going to show up and get the big hits because that’s what they’re going to do.”