Having ended its seemingly endless journey around the Midwest, the NIU baseball team (5-13, 1-1) finally gets to play a game on its home turf when the University of Northern Iowa (9-14) comes to DeKalb at 1 p.m. today.
Head coach Joe “Spanky” McFarland knows both teams have faced some stiff competition thus far in the season, including No. 1 ranked Wichita State University. WSU outscored the Panthers 39-1 over three games.
“They have a new coach and he brought in some new kids (this year). Both teams come in with similar records and I think both teams will be thinking of this is a chance to get some wins,” McFarland said.
Before McFarland’s team is able to chalk up the wins, the Huskies will need to prevent the Panthers from putting the dreaded big inning together. This is an area that the squad has had trouble avoiding in the first part of the season.
McFarland attributed part of the problem to his young pitching staff not getting out of the jams.
However, McFarland does have a plan that may help his young team avoid the big-inning killer.
“Nine of our losses have come when we’ve allowed four or more runs in one inning. Jim Gurney, who has been a fairly good starter, will come in at mid-game when it looks like there could be a possible big inning,” McFarland said.
Western Illinois University was one of the teams to take advantage of the young Huskie staff. Their seven run eruption in the second game Saturday was the main reason for the 9-4 final.
The loss sent McFarland and his team home with an attitude to win.
“We’re disappointed. I think we know we’ve got a pretty good ball club. The young pitchers are still inconsistent. Sometimes they’ll do well and other times they’ll go out and lay an egg,” McFarland said.
The area in which McFarland gave his team the highest marks on was defense.
“This is the best part of our game. We’ve fielded around .970 as a team, which is outstanding in college,” McFarland said.
So, if Chip Paulsen (.328), Zach Zavac (.316), Tom O’Neill (.268, 3 HR’s) and Mike Birsa (.259, 2 HR’s, 15 RBI’s) keep up their hitting prowess, and the Huskies don’t allow the big inning, they should open up with a doubleheader sweep.