DeKALB — The baseball team fell victim to a pair of walk-off losses to start a series with the University of Miami of Ohio RedHawks before splitting the final two games in Oxford, Ohio.
In the Friday opener, NIU blew a 3-0 lead entering the bottom of the eighth and lost 4-3 on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth. In its first game of a Saturday doubleheader, Miami redshirt first-year outfielder Nate Stone hit a two-run homer in extra innings to win 3-1.
After a 7-6 loss in the second half of the Saturday doubleheader, NIU rebounded with a 10-7 win Sunday to wrap up the series. Head Coach Mike Kunigonis said he was happy the team continued to battle to the end of the series.
“[Sunday] was a great bounce back win after three extremely tough losses,” Kunigonis said in an NIU Athletics news release Sunday. “This team has toughness and showed its resilience today. They never quit and never say die. We need to have a good week of practice this week and be ready for our home opener next weekend.”
Redshirt junior outfielder Kam Smith had the breakout performance of the series for NIU batters, hitting six-for-17 including six RBIs and two home runs.
Friday: RedHawks 4, Huskies 3
A fielding error by the RedHawks gave the Huskies a run in fourth that would prove to be the only run of the first seven innings. Junior pitcher Michael Lasiewicz pitched seven shutout innings for NIU, striking out seven batters.
Miami redshirt senior pitcher Grant Hartwig dueled well with Lasiewicz as he struckout 11 batters in his seven and two-thirds innings of work. Hartwig was ultimately pulled after a sacrifice fly senior infielder Dylan Lonteen scored two runs to make it 3-0.
The first RedHawk runs came on a two-RBI single by Stone in the eighth inning to score first-year infielders Benji Brokemond and Jacob Hansor, making it 3-2.
Junior pitcher Paul Turelli took the mound in the ninth, striking out one batter before loading up the bases. Turelli walked redshirt sophomore infielder Stephen Krause to tie the game at 3-3. The very next batter, a wild pitch by Turelli allowed senior infielder Tyler Wardwell to score the winning run.
Saturday Game One: RedHawks 3, Huskies 1 (11 innings)
NIU had to contend with a red-hot start by Miami junior pitcher Sam Bachman. Bachman only pitched three innings total, but struckout all nine batters he faced before ultimately coming off the mound.
Both teams scored their first runs in the sixth inning. At the top of the frame, Smith singled to score Lonteen from second. Miami graduate student Will Vogelgesang tied the game in the bottom half with an RBI triple.
In the top of the 11th inning, the Huskies were able to put redshirt senior catcher Jake Dunham on third with one out. Miami sophomore pitcher Lawson Blackmore buckled up and struckout the next two Huskies to allow the RedHawks a chance to win.
After Miami first-year catcher Dalton Back singled to lead off the bottom half of the 11th, Stone connected on a 2-2 pitch and hit a walk-off homer to win it 3-1.
Saturday Game Two: RedHawks 7, Huskies 6 (seven innings)
Smith took out his frustration on the first pitch he saw in game two, homering to score three Huskie runs in the top of the first. NIU added another run in the third on a flyout by first-year catcher Jacob Schroeder, his fourth RBI of the season.
Miami senior first baseman Michael Morissette started a RedHawks rally in the bottom of the third with an RBI double. Morissette would hit a perfect three-for-three at the plate. A wild pitch and score on an error shrunk NIU’s lead to 4-3.
A Lonteen single scored two NIU runs in the top of the fourth, but Miami pulled the game within one with RBIs from Back and Stone in the bottom half of the inning.
In the sixth inning, the RedHawks finally tied the game on an RBI single by Brokemond. Stone once again delivered for Miami, hitting a bases-loaded groundout to bring home the go-ahead and inevitable game-winning run.
The Huskies had a shot to force extra innings in the seventh, with sophomore infielder Malik Peters pinch running at second with two outs. Junior catcher Morgan Holmes doubled to left center, allowing Peters a chance to score. A relay home was in time for Miami, tagging out Peters and ending the game 7-6.
Sunday: Huskies 10, RedHawks 7
NIU’s success Sunday came down to finally achieving what they had struggled with in the first three contests; finishing.
The Huskies jumped to a four-run lead again thanks to a wild pitch in the second, a Lonteen groundout RBI in the third and another Smith homer in the same inning. Smith’s home run was his fifth of the year. He’s now one homer shy of matching his collegiate home runs in one season.
A home run by Stone cut the Huskies lead in half, but Lonteen extended it in the top of the fifth on a fielder’s choice. Lonteen’s RBI marked his sixth of the series and his fourth two-RBI game in the last five.
The bottom of the fifth felt again like the Huskies letting a lead slip, with Miami scoring five runs to take a 7-5 lead. Sophomore infielder Billy Kopicki brought home three with his RBI double.
This time, NIU didn’t fade, tying the game in the sixth off a double by senior infielder Wade Rankin and a sacrifice bunt by sophomore infielder Paddy McKermitt. The Huskies took the lead in the eighth on a fielding error and added on RBI singles by senior first baseman Jordan Larson and Dunham.
The Huskies pitching staff rallied in the final four innings, allowing only two hits to Miami batters. Sophomore pitcher Nick Bonk was credited with the win after an inning of relief work and junior pitcher Kyle Seebach recorded the save for his four strikeouts in the closing two frames.
NIU now stands at 5-14 overall with an even 4-4 record in Mid-American Conference play. The Huskies’ next game will be their home opener, the first of a four-game series against the Central Michigan University Chippewas. The first game starts 2 p.m. Friday at Ralph McKinzie Field in DeKalb.