Feb. 17, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Northern Illinois opened its baseball season at Tennessee this evening in front of 2,812 people at Lindsay Field. After stranding seven runners on base in the contest, the Huskies were unable to capitalize on their chances and fell to the Volunteers, 7-1.
Junior Jamison Wells (Combined Locks, Wis./Kimberly) started the game for NIU with a bloop single to right field, that was nearly scooped on the slide by outfielder Jared Allen. As the ball bounced past Allen, Wells rounded the bag and thought about taking second, but the backup from center field was there to stave the attempt.
After attempted pickoffs and two pitches later, Wells would steal second to put the Huskies in scoring position. With two outs sophomore Jeff Zimmerman (Tinley Park, Ill./Victor J. Andrew) singled to left field and was caught in rundown heading to second. Wells would score, but the run was null as Zimmerman was tagged out.
In the bottom of the first the Huskies allowed two runs off a walk and a balk by pitcher senior Tom Barry (Orland Park, Ill./Providence Catholic). After the slow start on the mound, Barry found his rhythm and didn’t surrender a hit until the third inning. Fortunately for Barry, the Vols didn’t account for the arm on senior catcher Brett Frantini (Minooka, Ill.), who hurled a rope to senior Alex Jones (Kansas City, Kan./Piper) at shortstop to throw the runner out. Tennessee flied out and grounded out to the shortstop for the final out of the inning.
“We saw some good things from our opening game but I know that was not a typical Tommy Barry performance today,” said Head Coach Ed Mathey. “He came out in the first inning and hit a couple guys and walked one and Tennessee took advantage of it. I thought we started out pretty well and we had a great scoring opportunity early on that ball that Zimmerman hit but I just couldn’t send Jamison home. We tell our guys to be aggressive and Zim got caught rounding the base with two outs. That’s baseball. That happens and (Tennessee) executed.
In the bottom of the fifth, Walker singled and eventually scored for Tennessee, following a double by Allen. Allen was thrown out by the cutoff man Alex Klonowski at third base for NIU’s second out of the inning.
With runners at second and third in the bottom of the six with one out, Jones fielded a screamer and fired it to home plate to secure the second out and not allow UT to score another run. A batter later, Chris Pierce would hit a three run homerun to right field to increase the Volunteers lead to 6-0.
Coach Mathey liked what he saw from Barry on the mound.
“I thought Tommy did a great job of setting down through the middle innings. We’re trying to build up pitch count, along with some of the other stuff we’re trying to do down here. He gave up a single, a double and I wanted him to get his pitches going. I left him in for one batter too long and they hit the three-run pop to separate the game.”
Barry totaled six innings on the mound (81 pitches, 48 strikes) for NIU with four strikeouts, five hits, three walks in 24 batters faced. Freshman Mike Grindstaff (Joliet, Ill./West) made his collegiate debut for Northern Illinois on the mound and quickly recorded the first two outs of his career. He then found himself in some trouble, allowing one walk and a hit with runners on second and third. Junior Jordan Rishavy (Rochester, Minn./John Marshall) saved the day on a deep fly ball to the wall on the warning track to end the inning and strand two of the Vols runners.
In the top of the eighth inning, Northern Illinois came storming back on Tennessee. Sophomore Joe Battaglia (West Chester, Ill./St. Joseph) and senior Alex Beckman (Batavia, Ill.) drew walks from Robbie Kidd to lead the inning and forced UT to use a new pitcher from the bullpen. Wells then recorded a sacrifice hit to advance the runners and sophomore Alex Klonowski (Kearney, Mo.) walked to load the bases for Jones. Jones kept a watchful eye and drew the Huskies fourth walk of the inning to break the shutout and score NIU’s only run of the contest. Zimmerman then grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
Tennessee added another run off a solo homerun by Drew Steckenrider to right centerfield to increase the lead to 7-1.
Though the team and the coaches were upset with the result of the game with Tennessee, spirits and heads were held high for the possibilities of tomorrow.
Mathey closed by saying “Our kids never gave up battling back. We got into a situation where we loaded the bases, drew a walk and we had Jeff Zimmerman up to the plate. The old adage that the pitcher’s best friend is the double play proved well for Tennessee because they got a couple of them to help them out of some innings. We look forward to the opportunity to come back here tomorrow and get after it in game two and get after it in the series.”
Northern Illinois and Tennessee will continue and close their series tomorrow with a doubleheader, beginning at 11 a.m. Central time.