Commentary: NIU almost had biggest win in Arizona last weekend

By Andrew Singer

What was the first thing NIU baseball head coach Ed Mathey asked me on Friday evening after the Huskies lost 10-9 to Arizona State?

“Did you see how fast their closer was throwing?”

I didn’t have a radar gun, but it didn’t take one to see that ASU’s Trevor Williams was special. Mathey had no doubt that Williams’ heater would have registered 95 mph on any radar gun.

The overpowering pitch perfectly encapsulates how good Arizona State is, and how big a win over the Sun Devils would have been for NIU.

At the start of the week, Baseball America had the Sun Devils ranked as the tenth best team in the nation.

Obviously, NIU didn’t beat ASU. So, why talk about it?

The reason is that few NIU students realize how close their school came to winning a game of actual substance.

ASU isn’t some scrub team from a big conference. It is a real team with real talent on it, and a currently 0-10 NIU team came within five outs of beating it. I’m not a smart man, but even I knew what a win over the Sun Devils would mean.

Following the top of the eighth inning, with the Huskies leading 9-8, I raced down from the press box to a seat next to the NIU dugout. I wanted to be front and center when the Huskies won, so I could snap a few photos with my bargain-bin camera.

Any claims of objectivity on my part were long gone. Last Friday evening, I was simply an NIU student rooting for the Huskies. Right around that time, though, is when the bottom of the eighth inning got interesting.

With one out, and Sun Devils on second and third, Riccio Torrez hit a weak ground ball to NIU first baseman Joe Etcheverry. The senior threw home to catch the charging ASU runner. The throw skipped past NIU catcher Brian Riegler, however, allowing the tying and leading run to score.

The NIU dugout fell silent for the first time in three hours. After seeing Williams pitch in the top of the eighth, the Huskies knew how tough it would be to recapture the lead they fought so hard to grab.

As expected, Williams struck out the first two Huskies that came to the plate in the ninth. Following an Alex Jones single, NIU designated hitter Jeff Zimmerman struck out swinging to end the game. Any chance of an NIU win I could truly be proud of disappeared with one unsuccessful swing of the bat.

Ten years down the road, when I’m searching for the game that made me proudest to be a Huskie, I’ll be left to choose between wins by the football team over Purdue (2009) and Minnesota (2010).

With those options, I think I’ll just tell people I went to Eastern Illinois. At least then I can lay claim to Tony Romo.