April 17, 2009
DeKalb, Ill. - With the game tied 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh, the Northern Illinois baseball team rallied for seven runs, highlighted by an inside-the-park grand slam off the bat of Pat Minogue (Crystal Lake, Ill./Central), to surge past Mid-American Conference West Division leader Toledo 12-5 on Friday afternoon at Ralph McKinzie Field to pull within 1.5 games of the Rockets.
After Jared Hoying reached base for Toledo (14-18, 7-6 MAC) by being hit by a Chuck Lukanen (Lombard, Ill./North Iowa Area C.C.) pitch with two outs in the top of the seventh, Aaron Dudley doubled to right-centerfield and Minogue bobbled the ball to allow Hoying to score from first base to knot the game. However, the Huskies (14-21, 5-7 MAC) responded with seven runs in the bottom half of the frame for their fifth five-plus-run inning in their last three games.
Joe Buonavolanto (Willowbrook, Ill./Hinsdale South) started it out with a one-out bloop single to right and Jordin Hood (Hawthorn Woods, Ill./Lake Zurich) backed that up with a sharp single up the middle. Dave Reynolds (Orland Park, Ill./Sandburg) then snuck a grounder right by the first base bag for a two-run double. Justin Behm (Downers Grove, Ill./North) was then intentionally walked to bring up Matt Behren (Elmwood Park, Ill./Holy Cross), who had to face a new pitch in lefty Jeff Cinadr, but Cinadr threw a wild pitch to allow both runners to advance, and then intentionally walked Behren to load the bases. Troy White (Chicago, Ill./Whitney Young) then reached on a fielding error by first baseman Jim Vahalik that allowed a run to score and kept the bases loaded. After Nick Badgley (McHenry, Ill./McHenry C.C.) struck out looking for what should have been the third out, Minogue stepped to the plate and hit a sharp line drive to shallow centerfield. Chris Dudics came running in and attempted to make a diving catch, but missed, allowing the ball to roll all the way to the warning track. The speedy Minogue then raced around the bases easily for the inside-the-park grand slam that put NIU up 11-4.
"That's what you need to do when a team gives you extra outs," Mathey said. "You need to take advantage of it. The bottom of the order came through for us today on a couple big occasions. Pat Minogue hit an inside-the-park grand slam. You don't see that very often. He went after that pitch pretty well on a full count. Their centerfielder probably thought that the he had to make a play there with two outs. Pat is one of the fastest players on the team so we thought he had a good chance to get all the way around."
Lukanen (4-5) earned the win for the Huskies by throwing seven innings for the fourth time this season. He gave up three earned runs on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts to get his first win in his last four starts. He also escaped a few early jams with the most important being in the third inning when the Rockets had the bases loaded with one out, but Lukanen got the next two batters, Dudley and Hoying, to pop out.
"Chuck had his back up against the wall a couple times today and made good pitches," Mathey said. "That's what he did today. He made good pitches when he had to. He wasn't always sharp, but he got it done. It was huge to get a lot of pitches out of him with the doubleheader tomorrow. He showed a lot of moxy coming back after last week's start at Akron. His pride was hurt after that but he battled back today and gave us exactly what we needed."
Justin Collop (3-4) was tagged with the loss for the Rockets as he surrendered five earned runs on 10 hits and recorded two strikeouts in 6.1 innings.
"Toledo is coming in here as the first place team in our division so it's a big series for us. It's big for us to come out of the blocks fast here with a win," said Mathey. "We swung the bats well and Chuck Lukanen did a nice job of getting out of some big jams. This is a good win for us because it puts us in line to win the series if we can go out tomorrow and clinch it in game one, but we will see. It's definitely a good win for us."
The Huskie offense stayed hot as the team scored a run in the first inning for the 17th time and for the fourth game in a row as Reynolds doubled to right-center with two outs to score Buonavolanto from first. The offense also tallied 10 or more hits for the 20th time this season and has done so in the last six games. Additionally, the Huskies scored 10 or more runs for the ninth time this year and for the fifth time in their last six games.
"I'm really proud that our hitters answered every time after Toledo scored," said Mathey. "We talk about momentum a lot and that helped keep it on our side. We were able to get into their bullpen and see a couple of their regular arms that they use so that will be good for us as the series unfolds."
Reynolds led the way with a 3-for-5 performance as he had three doubles, scored a run and drove in career-high tying five RBI, which he did just three games ago against Akron. He has now totaled 18 RBI over his last six games.
"Dave is swinging the bat really well," said Mathey. "We made an adjustment to his swing about a week ago and it seems to be paying off. It's nice to see him there in that four spot because Jordin Hood is in front of him. Those are two big hitters for a pitcher to face and if there are runners on base it's going to be tough to get through both of them. They have been doing a good job of picking each other up."
Minogue also drove in five runs, which is a career-high, along with getting two hits and scoring a run on his inside-the-park homer. Behren reached base on a pair of hits and a walk, while he also scored a run. Hood scored a run and got hits as well. Additionally, Alex Jones (Kansas City, Kan./Piper) went 2-for-5 with a run and an RBI.
The Toledo offense was led by Josh Wierzba, who went 2-for-4 with two RBI. Jake Oester added a pair of hits, scored two runs and drove one in on his eighth inning solo homerun. Dudics added two hits as well.
The Huskies jumped out to a 2-0 lead after a gift run in the third inning as with two outs Reynolds hit a high fly ball to left field, but Wierzba never saw the ball because of the angle of the sun. The ball then dropped harmlessly about 10 feet in front of him, enabling Jones to score from second after he reached on a lead-off single up the middle.
The Rockets took a 3-2 lead in the top of the fourth after Wierzba singled with one out and the bases loaded to score two runs and Krofcheck doubled home another run with two outs.
NIU responded with a pair of runs in the bottom half to reclaim the lead 4-3 after an RBI single from Minogue and an RBI fielder's choice ground out by Jones. The teams then went scoreless for the next two innings before the decisive seventh.
The three-game series will come to a conclusion tomorrow as the teams will play a doubleheader due to a rainy forecast on Sunday. First pitch for game one is scheduled for 11:05 a.m. CT with game two starting shortly after the completion of the first game.
Fans that attend game one can take advantage of a great promotion sponsored by Papa John's as the first 75 fans will be provided free pizza.
Even though Sunday's 2009 NIU Baseball House has been cancelled, high school juniors and seniors who do not have games schedule for tomorrow are encouraged to attend the doubleheader as they will still be able to formally be introduced to the baseball program.
The second game tomorrow can be heard live through streaming radio on Huskie All-Access on www.niuhuskies.com, and both games will be available on GameTracker. The game one match up brings NIU RHP Chris Wakefield (0-3, 7.25, 22.1 IP, 23 H, 14 BB, 7 SO) against UT RHP Matt Kuna (1-1, 2.77, 26.0 IP, 27 H, 9 BB, 22 K), while game two will feature UT RHP Mike Inselmann (1-4, 9.57, 26.1 IP, 45 H, 9 BB, 15 K) versus NIU's starter that has yet to be named.
- The Huskies are 8-1 at home in 2009 and 83-43-1 overall at Ralph McKinzie Field under Mathey.
- The Huskies have had a player get multiple hits in all but three games this season, led Hood and Reynolds, who each have 16.
- Hood has an 11-game hitting streak, which is his second hitting streak of 10 or more games this season as he also had an 18-game streak.