March 31, 2010
PEORIA, Ill. - On a warm, sunny evening at O'Brien Field, the Northern Illinois baseball team spoiled Bradley's home opener by plating seven runs in the middle innings for an 8-3 win Wednesday.
"It's good to be playing good baseball," said NIU head baseball coach Ed Mathey on his team's fifth win in its last six contests. "Today was probably our best overall effort since Cal State Bakersfield, in terms of our defense's placement in regard to our pitchers. Our bullpen didn't surrender any walks and the middle of our order was successful. It was a good day."
Trailing 2-1 after the third inning, the Huskies (8-15, 2-1 Mid-American Conference) scored two runs in the fourth, two in the fifth, and three in the sixth to put away the Braves (6-13, 0-3 Missouri Valley Conference).
A Dave Reynolds triple off the center field wall started the fourth and Troy White drove him in with a grounder to short stop. After Joe Buonavolanto doubled with two outs on a pop-up to shallow center that bounced off the second baseman's glove, Brian Riegler brought him home on a single to right-center to give NIU a 3-2 lead that the Huskies continued to build on.
"Through first few innings we were battling," Mathey said. "We didn't make a clean play on a fly ball to give them their first run. Our run in the third was important. Then, our two runs in the fourth and a zero in the bottom of it were a big momentum swing. We got more runs in the fifth and sixth, and at that point in time, we felt good about our chances after that.
"We talk to our players about winning baseball games by scoring after the opponent scores and holding them after that. We did that well today."
Alex Jones started the fifth with a double off the left-center wall and Cory Krupp scored him on a double that landed on the right field chalk. Following a one-out Reynolds walk, pitching change and a Krupp stolen base, another White grounder to short put NIU up 5-2.
In the sixth, a Riegler walk, pitching change and Jamison Wells double to right-center led to Jones' run-scoring single to left. Jones then stole second as Alex Beckmann pinch-hit for Krupp and fought off an inside fastball for a single to right, pushing the Huskie lead to an insurmountable 8-3 score and final tally.
Starter Tom Barry (1-2) earned his first win of the year by throwing five effective innings, allowing three runs on six hits and four walks. The southpaw erased a leadoff double in the first and escaped a bases-loaded one-out jam with giving up just a run on a sacrifice fly in the third before settling in for his final two frames.
"Tom did a nice job of limiting the damage out there," Mathey said. "It wasn't his cleanest outing of the year but you are going to have those days as a pitcher. You use a lot of effort to get out of those jams and it was time to get him out after the fifth. He did well by giving us a chance to win. Our bullpen did a nice job with no walks, and that's what you want in that situation."
The Huskie bullpen proved to be even stronger, surrendering only a hit over the final four with four strikeouts. Brett Frantini threw an impressive first collegiate inning with a strikeout in the sixth. Jake Hermsen had a strikeout in his perfect seventh. Brian Smith gave up the hit and had a strikeout in the eighth. Tom Zelasko finished it with a strikeout in the ninth.
"It was Brett's first outing as a pitcher at Northern," Mathey said. "We've been working with him and he definitely has arm strength. He threw strikes and challenged the hitters. He's going to continue to improve and we are going to figure out how to use him. If he can continue this, it will be a good thing for us.
"Brian has had a few rough outings because of his recovery from surgery, but hopefully he can springboard this and build some more confidence."
Bradley lefty starter Eric Holmes (0-1) took the loss after giving up five runs on eight hits and one walk with two strikeouts in 4.1 frames.
Jones led NIU with three hits in four at-bats, two runs, and two steals. Joe Etcheverry, Riegler and Jamison Wells each had two hits, as Riegler also walked and scored two runs. Beckmann, Krupp and White added two RBI apiece.
The Huskies will next host their MAC home opening series with a three-game set versus Buffalo. Games will be at 3:05 p.m. CDT Friday and 1:05 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.