Missed opportunities doom NIU

By Todd McMahon

Thursday’s home twin bill was a perfect example why NIU’s baseball team has been struggling of late.

The Huskies had their chances in both games to take two from Wisconsin-Milwaukee, but those missed opportunities enabled the Panthers to sweep the nonconference doubleheader, 8-6 and 6-5, at McKinzie Field.

NIU (8-20) now finds itself in a five-game tailspin and losers of seven of its last nine games.

“Our confidence is shot right now,” NIU coach Joe “Spanky” McFarland said. “If we could get on a little roll, things could be different. We’re getting close, but we’re still not doing the things that need to be done to be successful.”

Close was how much of the day was for both games. But Wisconsin-Milwaukee (6-14) held the edge for all but one-half of an inning as the Huskies had to play catch up.

The Panthers greeted first-time Huskie starter Jeff Schmitt (0-1) with three runs in the first inning of the opener. Randy Wilke provided the big blow with a towering two-run homer to left.

The Huskies bounced back with two runs in their half of the second on a single to right by Mark Mershon.

After Wisconsin-Milwaukee tallied three runs in the fourth and a single run in the fifth on a Joel Welder home run, NIU used two hits, two walks and two wild pitches to score four runs and cut the deficit to 7-6 after five innings.

The Huskies, however, had only one baserunner the last two innings, while the Panthers added an insurance run in the sixth.

In the nightcap, the Panthers again jumped ahead early with two runs each in the first and third.

NIU came right back with one run in the third and four in the fourth to take its first and only lead of the day, 5-4. Shortstop Joel Schmitz had two hits (triple) and two runs in the rally, while second baseman Tom O’Neill put the Huskies ahead with a two-run homer to left.

But Wisconsin-Milwaukee scored single runs in the fifth and sixth innings for the winning margin on two two-out errors by third baseman John Ryan.

The Huskies had runners at first and second in the sixth but an attempted double-steal with one out went for naught as Schmitz was cut down at third.