Baseball starts new season against Minnesota


Northern Star File Photo

Senior pitcher Alex Klonowski pitches during a game in April, 2013 against Miami University.

By Brian Earle

Coming off a historic season, baseball is ready to get the ball rolling this weekend when it plays a three-game series against Big Ten opponent Minnesota in Glendale, Ariz.

The Huskies won the MAC West Division title for the first time in school history before losing to Bowling Green and Buffalo in the MAC tournament.

“Looking into this year, I think you’ve got some things that are positives from last year,” said coach Ed Mathey. “The number of guys returning, the number of guys who went through that trial and tribulation to get that MAC West title and also some guys that are returning who have a little bit of a bad taste in their mouth because of the tournament.”

From that historic team, the Huskies will be without the services of outfielder Jamison Wells and first baseman Jeff Zimmerman.

Wells was a strong defensive player for the Huskies in centerfield who set the all-time record for steals in NIU history with 87, while Zimmerman, the Huskies’ cleanup hitter, led the Huskies with a .321 batting average on 70 hits and 17 doubles.

Mathey expects players such as Connor Schomig and Micah McCulloch to step up in the outfield and Chris Divarco and Alex Klonowski to step up at first base. He sees Brandon Mallder stepping up at both positions.

As far as this year’s team goes, the Huskies added nine freshmen to an already solid core group of returning players as well as returning the entire starting pitching rotation from a season ago, led by Eli Anderson, Jordan Ruckman and Klonowski.

“To have your three starting pitchers back from a West Division Champion team is huge, and in the game of baseball that’s huge,” Mathey said. “Those guys filled a lot of innings for us.”

Anderson led the Huskies in just about every pitching category with nine wins, a 2.19 ERA, 115.1 innings pitched and 76 strikeouts. He also tossed six complete games.

Going up against the Golden Gophers will be a good challenge for the Huskies in their first action of the season and will allow them to see where they’re at as a team.

“Minnesota is a good opponent,” Mathey said. “They’re a well-coached program, coach [John] Anderson and his staff have been doing it for years up there, and they’ve done it at a high level. They were a 34-win team last year and a lot of people felt they should have been invited to the NCAA tournament, didn’t happen for them but they’re that caliber of a team…. They’re going to play the game the right way, they’re going to execute the fundamentals.”