NIU Baseball: Huskies improved ahead of Saturday Bulls game

By Steve Shonder

Baseball’s (9-10) matchup Saturday against Buffalo marks the team entering the conference play portion of its season.

The Huskies are much improved from where they were at this point last season, when they only had two wins. But, they are still trying to build consistency.

“We’ve done all right up to this point,” said head coach Mike Kunigonis. “Obviously, we’d like to be a little bit better. I think we’ve had some games we should have won, but we definitely won a lot of games that previously would have been given away. It’s a give and a take. … I feel pretty strong about our team right now. We are talented, and we have some really good players in this league. I think we have guys that can compete to win a MAC title.”

The Huskies have made some improvements at the plate from last season, and that has helped them get on base at an improved rate. NIU has an on-base percentage of .359. Junior Brian Sisler has been solid offensively and is tied for the team-lead in hits, 25, and runs batted in, 14.

Pitching-wise, the Huskies have had to stretch their relief pitchers for starting roles after their top three starters from last season graduated. There have been positive results in that regard, but the rotation is still a work in progress.

Senior Ben Neumann, who was NIU’s top reliever last season, has made the most of the transition to the starting role. Neumann boasts an earned run average of 3.38 and opposing batters are hitting just .237 against him. Senior Dirk Ormbsy has also helped to shore up the rotation with an ERA of 3.71.

Buffalo Breakdown

The Huskies will open MAC play against the Buffalo Bulls (3-10) in a three-game set beginning noon Saturday with a doubleheader and concluding 11 a.m. Sunday at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

The Bulls have struggled in the early parts of the season and haven’t been able to do anything going at the plate. They’re only hitting .227 as a team, with only sophomore Chris Kwitzer and junior Bobby Sheppard hitting above .280.

The Bulls’ pitching staff has been unable to shake off the early season rust with a staff ERA of 7.17, which is the worst in the MAC.

Kunigonis doesn’t think this game, the season-opener, is more important than any other series the Huskies have played or will play.

“We treat every weekend the same,” Kunigonis said. “It’s important to win the weekends. That’s what you need to do. … I think you have to approach it and play it the same. Play to win every weekend you can.”

Kunigonis said he expects the Huskies to use Neumann and Ormbsy as the starters for the first two games. He’s still undecided on the third starter.