Baseball off to strong start in MAC play

NIU sits second in MAC after Kent State series

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James Krause, Sports Editor

DeKALB — After only one win in non-conference play, the baseball team nearly swept the Kent State University Golden Flashes in its Mid-American Conference-opening four-game series in Kent, Ohio.

The Huskies took Friday’s game 6-3 and both ends of a Saturday doubleheader before dropping the series finale Sunday 8-4. The series is their first of 10 four-game conference series organized to avoid additional traveling due to COVID-19, a tall task that Head Coach Mike Kunigonis said is hard to overcome.

“Winning a weekend series is difficult during a normal three-game series,” Kunigonis said in a Sunday NIU Athletics news release. “To win a four-game series over a team like Kent State with their tradition is extremely difficult. I’m very happy with how we competed all weekend.”

Senior outfielder Brendan Joyce had the best performance of the weekend, hitting six-for-11.

 

Friday: Huskies 6, Golden Flashes 3

After KSU got a first inning run, NIU senior catcher Jake Dunham tied the game in the third with an RBI double. Senior first-baseman Jordan Larson hit a sacrifice fly to score Dunham two batters later, taking a 2-1 lead.

Golden Flashes junior outfielder Justin Kirby bunted for an RBI in the bottom of the fourth to tie, only for Joyce to single up the middle and score two in the next half inning. Joyce went a perfect four-for-four hitting on the day. A bases-loaded walk of senior outfielder Matt Barnes made it 5-2 after five innings.

Junior pitcher Michael Lasiewicz gave the Huskies a quality start, striking out six over eight innings for his first win of the season. He gave up the final KSU run in the eight on an RBI single.

First-year infielder Eric Erato hit into a bases-loaded double play for NIU’s last run. Junior pitcher Paul Turelli struckout two in the ninth to record the save, his first of the season.

 

Saturday Game 1: Huskies 2, Golden Flashes 1 (seven innings) 

KSU again scored in the first, this time an RBI off a double play by senior catcher Michael Turner. It would be the only run allowed by sophomore pitcher Brandon McPherson in a six-inning start.

McPherson was nearly outdone by his opposing pitcher, Golden Flashes junior pitcher Luke Albright. Albright allowed only two unearned runs and struck out eight in a complete, albeit short, seven-inning start. 

In the second, NIU scored those two runs and registered their only two hits. First-year outfielder Brandon Johnson hit a double to score Larson, followed by a single by first-year infielder Jack Blazevich to score Johnson.

The Huskies struckout six times in their last nine at-bats while Kent State managed to get a runner on third with one out in the bottom of the seventh. Senior pitcher Nate Thomas recorded the save by getting the final two outs.

 

Saturday Game 2: Huskies 3, Golden Flashes 0 (seven innings)

For as great of a pitching performance the Huskies saw in game one of the doubleheader, first-year Connor Langreder blew it all out of the water with a complete game shutout of the Golden Flashes.

Langreder recorded seven strikeouts, allowed three hits and no walks in what coach Kunigonis said was worthy of conference weekly honors.

“Connor gave us a Pitcher of the Week performance in game two,” Kunigonis said in an NIU Athletics release Saturday. “He was nothing less than masterful.”

A solo-home run by Dunham in the first gave NIU the early advantage. Redshirt senior infielder Kam Smith singled in the third for two more runs. From there, Langreder did the rest and capped the game for his second win of the season.

 

Sunday: Golden Flashes 8, Huskies 4

Kent State made up early for its poor offensive weekend, scoring two runs in the first. Sophomore catcher Justin Miknis scored the first with a triple, sophomore infielder Mack Touchette scored the other with a double.

After another Golden Flashes run in the second, Dunham got the Huskies on the board with a double to score Erato in the top of the third. NIU pitching halted any sort of rebound the Huskies got by giving up two more runs in the third. 

Starting pitcher Paul Truelli was relieved after Turner homered in the first at-bat of the third. In relief, junior pitcher Kyle Seebach allowed another run off a balk. Seebach would only give up a home run by redshirt senior outfielder Ben Carew in the fourth before being pulled after the sixth.

Turner and Minkis added two more runs in the seventh before NIU homered twice in the top of the eighth. Senior infielder Dylan Lonteen hit a two-run blast while Smith hit a solo shot, making the final 8-4 for Kent State.

While their overall record only improves to 4-10, the Huskies now sit second in the MAC standings at 3-1. The leaders, the University of Miami–Ohio RedHawks, are their next opponents.

The Huskies will head to Miami, Ohio, for another four-game series with the opener scheduled to start at 4 p.m. Friday CST.