April 14, 2010
LOVES PARK,Ill. - After coming back to knot the game twice, the Northern Illinois baseball team could not do it a third time as the Huskies fell 6-3 to Northwestern on a beautiful warm evening that ended under the lights at the Rockford RiverHawks' Road Ranger Stadium Wednesday.
"The weather was incredible," said NIU head baseball coach Ed Mathey. "It's a pro park and a night game. It was a good experience. But to come out and not swing the bats and not pitch well at the end, it was a little disappointing. The RiverHawks were very accommodating and it would have been nice to go out and show some appreciation by playing a good game."
With a 15 MPH wind blowing out to left-center field, there were three home runs hit. But it was the second and final Wildcat homer that turned out to be the difference. After Jake Hermsen locked down the sixth and seventh, striking out the side in his last frame, Tom Zelasko entered in the eighth and gave up a leadoff long-ball to right-center field. At the time, the tally put the Wildcats (10-21) up 4-3, as they would also add a pair of insurance runs in the ninth off Andy Deain.
"With the way the wind was blowing out and how this is a hitter's park, I`d say holding them to six runs would have won this game for us," said Mathey. "Scoring only three runs didn't help but our backend of the bullpen needs to do a better job at the end of the games. We left a pitch up in the eighth and the walks hurt in the ninth.
"Jake threw the ball well and had a very positive outing. He threw his fastball well and was locating his curve. It's a good combination and great to see from him."
The Huskies' (11-20) first deficit came after a first-inning two-run homer to left-center. NIU erased the setback with the bases-loaded and no outs in the second, as Brian Riegler grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, following a Troy White triple to right, Brian Smith hit-by-pitch and Joe Buonavolanto walk. Then in the third, after an Alex Jones single to right and Dave Reynolds single through the right side that moved Jones to third, Jordin Hood brought Jones in on a fielder's choice grounder to second.
In the fifth, Northwestern's soft leadoff double to the left field line scored after a sacrifice bunt and an infield single that Jones fielded to his right but was too deep in the short stop hole to make a play after the ball hopped over third baseman White's reach.
NIU tied it again, 3-3, in the sixth after Joe Etcheverry started the inning with a solo blast to center.
An inning later, the Huskies had a golden opportunity to take the lead but luck was not on their side. Jamison Wells began the frame with a pinch-hit double to left-center, and after a Wes Shryock sacrifice bunt, Alex Beckmann roped a liner to the right side. Unfortunately, it was right at the first baseman. With two down, Dave Reynolds then fouled out to third base to end the last Huskie threat.
"The seventh was played out pretty well," said Mathey. "They had the infield in and Alex got a good part of the ball, but unfortunately, it went right at a fielder. That's baseball and that's going to happen. We need to find a way to score some runs. We struggled over the weekend at times and we did it again tonight. We have to do a better job."
Jack Harvey (1-0) earned the win after throwing four innings, allowing one run on four hits with three strikeouts. Paul Snieder picked up his fourth save with one strikeout in the final frame. Starter Luke Farrell only lasted three innings, giving up two runs on three hits and two walks with four strikeouts.
Zelasko (0-1) was handed the loss, surrendering one run on two hits in the eighth inning. Smith, who started the game, threw a season-long five effective innings despite leaving the game down by one run. In his best start of the season, the sixth-year senior gave up three runs on seven hits and two walks with a season-high five strikeouts, fanning the last two batters he faced.
"After giving up two runs on three pitches to start the game, Brian settled down pretty well," Mathey said. "Even the run in the fifth was unlucky as the ball took a high-hop over our third baseman. He's throwing the baseball better. It's coming out of his hand better with a little more velocity. It bodes well for his next outing. With his experience, when's he pitching to his pre-injury ability, he's a good addition to this staff."
Reynolds led the offense with two hits in four at-bats, while Etcheverry launched his third homer of the season in NIU's second ever game in the Rockford area.
"We appreciate this opportunity from the RiverHawks to help out the Northern Illinois baseball program and we look forward to doing this again in the future," Mathey said.
On deck for the Huskies is a three-game Mid-American Conference series at home against Ohio this weekend. Games will be at 3:05 p.m. CST Friday, 1:05 p.m. Saturday and 1:05 p.m. Sunday.