April 28, 2010
DeKALB, Ill. - Scoring three runs in the eighth inning to break a 3-3 tie, the Northern Illinois baseball team pulled off a 6-3 win over Bradley on a warm and sunny afternoon at Ralph McKinzie Field in its lone midweek contest. With their second consecutive victory, the Huskies (16-24) started their season-long, seven-game home stand on a good note.
"We are in a position where we are trying to chase wins," said NIU head coach Ed Mathey. "That's what we are after. We have to keep some momentum going into this weekend, and I know the guys have a lot going on with finals being next week, but we need to be ready to play this weekend. Hopefully, this leads us into it."
The eight-inning opportunity for NIU started in the top half with reliever Tom Zelasko. After easily getting the first two outs, the lefty surrendered a triple to right field and got help from third baseman Joe Buonavolanto to end the frame. On a hard hit grounder to his right, Buonavolanto moved right, dropping to his knees, backhanded the ball and popped up to deliver a strike to Joe Etcheverry at first base.
In the bottom half after a leadoff, opposite-field single through the left side from Alex Jones, Buonavolanto impacted the game again. This time, he drew a walk after showing sacrifice bunt attempts on every pitch, moving the go-ahead run to second. Reynolds moved both runners up with a sacrifice bunt to set up Jordin Hood. However, Hood never got anything to hit from the first three offerings and was intentionally walked on the fourth pitch. Like Hood, Etcheverry took a similarly patient approach in the next at-bat, forcing in the winning run in Jones with a walk on a 3-1 count. Then following an Alex Beckmann fielder's choice force out at home, Brett Frantini delivered the two-out backbreaker. With a full count, Frantini drove an outside pitch through the right side for a two-run single.
"Alex Jones' at-bat was really big right there," said Mathey. "He got down 0-2 in the count, fought off a decent pitch, and got a single between short and third. That started everything for the rest of the inning.
"Joe Etcheverry, as he's done all year, had a good eye up there. He's not afraid to see a pitch and got the calls. Brett Frantini had a great two-strike approach, driving one through the opposite hole. Those two runs were important because Andy walked the leadoff guy, but settled the ship after that."
Closer Andy Deain came in to lock the game down for NIU in the ninth, and did just that. En route to his seventh save of the season, Deain surrendered a leadoff walk but that was all the Braves could manage.
Zelasko (1-1) earned his first win of the year as part of the four-man scoreless effort from the Huskies bullpen. After Jake Hermsen put together a solid five innings of work, surrendering three runs on six hits and two walks with two strikeouts, Frantini was the first to enter. After giving up back-to-back singles to start the sixth, Frantini got a strikeout on a two-strike sacrifice bunt attempt and 4-6-3 double play ball to end the threat. Zach Oates then pitched around an error and walk in the seventh before Zelasko and Deain wrapped the final two frames.
"Jake hung in there and made some pitches when he had to," Mathey said. "He did a good job out there. They had an aggressive approach and made some adjustments to their line-up since the last time we saw them. They came out, swung the bats, and did a nice job. I think the ball park helped us today, but give Jake some credit. He threw the ball pretty well today.
"It's about execution. Brett threw strikes in a bunting situation and their batter didn't get it done. In the eighth inning, we had a bunting situation and their pitcher didn't throw strikes. It was important that Brett threw the groundball to get out of it. Then, the rest of the bullpen guys were solid and effective."
BU (12-25) reliever Kori Jensen (4-3) took the loss after giving up three runs on one hit and three walks in 1.1 innings. With Bradley's three-run third inning, Brad Altbach had a lead to work with but did not factor in the decision as he gave up three runs on five hits and two walks with three strikeouts in six innings.
Etcheverry, who gave NIU a 2-0 first-inning advantage with a two-run double to left-center field, led the offense by driving in half the runs. Jones went 3-for-4, scored a run, stole a base, and drove in the tying run with an opposite-field single through the left side in the fifth. Jamison Wells walked twice, stole two bags, and scored the tying run. Hood went 1-for-3 with two runs scored and a walk, while Buonavolanto went 1-for-3 as well, scoring a run and drawing a walk.
"Jamison can be a very dangerous baseball player if he's on first base," said Mathey. "He fouled off some tough pitches with two strikes. Maybe earlier in the year he wouldn't have been able to do that. It's good for him to see firsthand the value of a walk. He's fast and walks can be a double for him.
"Alex Jones hit the ball well today, too. It's good to see him swinging like that at the top of the order. When the top-of-the-order guys are getting on, it's a good thing for us."
Coupled with NIU's 8-3 win in Bradley's home opener March 31st, NIU has swept the season series against the Braves, improving to 6-3 in midweek contests in 2010 and 5-3 against Illinois foes.
NIU next hosts Central Michigan for a three-game Mid-American Conference series. Games will be at 3:05 p.m. CST Friday, 1:05 p.m. Saturday and 1:05 p.m. Sunday.