Winning streak short-lived as Redbirds take victory


One day after NIU’s baseball team enjoyed a doubleheader sweep of Chicago State on a glorious afternoon in DeKalb, the Huskies were stopped cold by the Illinois State Redbirds (4-10) by a final tally of 10-3 in ISU territory.

The loss dropped head coach Joe “Spanky” McFarland’s squad to 4-8-1 on the season.

Brian Schmack (1-2) took the loss.

Greg Gargani and Joel Schmitz both had two hits on the afternoon to help boost their batting averages. Gargani is now hitting .244 while Schmitz raised his average better than 33 points.

Mike Birsa had a 27-game hitting streak snapped in the game, but is still hitting .441 on the season.

NIU seemed to be headed in the right direction when Greg Gargani ripped a two-run double that scored Tom Steel and Jason Schwab to give the Huskies a 2-1 lead.

The Redbirds battled back for two more in their half of the fourth and after the Huskies scored one of their own in the top of the fifth to knot the contest at three, things began to get ugly.

Three errors committed by the Huskie defense helped ISU put five runs on the board.

The key moment came with the bases loaded and Paul Popovich at the plate. The Redbirds’ first baseman smacked a double that cleared the bases and sank NIU’s hope of a first game victory.

“We still don’t have the ability to stop the big inning,” coach McFarland said after the game. “As soon as things go bad for us, we just can’t seem to put the brakes on. You look at all of our losses (and) they’re all the result of a big inning.”

Cases in point:

‘Last week, Arkansas ran up eight runs in the bottom of the second inning after the Huskies had taken a 4-0 lead.

‘Mercer University exploded for six runs in the bottom of the fifth just after NIU had a 2-1 lead.

McFarland knows he’ll have to make better decisions as to when the pitcher on the mound should come out.

“Maybe I’ll have to start being more like Captain Hook,” McFarland said.

After a season in which McFarland’s defense was one of the best in the conference, the .940 fielding percentage and three errors in one inning concerns the coach. However, he does know there is a reason for some of the early season sloppiness.

“It’s a lot different this year because we haven’t had the practice time (outside). In the fieldhouse you can work on hitting and pitching, but it’s tough to work on fielding,” McFarland said.

In game two the Huskies jumped out to a 2-0 lead courtesy of a Birsa double and a Zach Zavac base hit, but the game was called after the second inning because of a relentless downpour.

Up next for McFarland’s squad is the defending Mid-Continent Conference champion Wright State Raiders. The doubleheader gets underway at 12 p.m. in Dayton, Ohio, on Saturday.