May 7, 2010
DeKALB, Ill. - Another strong mound effort from Chuck Lukanen was not enough for the Northern Illinois baseball team to eclipse Eastern Michigan in Game One of a three-game Mid-American Conference series at Ralph McKinzie Field on a brisk Friday afternoon.
While taking a hard-fought loss, Lukanen (4-8) threw his third career complete game, and second this season. The lefty surrendered four runs, three earned, on six hits and three walks with seven strikeouts. The max effort from the senior marked his eighth start in a row with at least six innings pitched and 17th straight with at least four strikeouts.
"Chuck gave us a great chance to win a baseball game today," said NIU head coach Ed Mathey. "They leadoff with the home run, so what. They did a nice job in the third, getting the sacrifice bunt down and sacrifice fly. Then the kid won the two-out battle with a hit. The run in the fifth inning was helped by a couple of errors and shouldn't have happened. All those things add up when you're not hitting out there. We had the base runners out there, we hit to get there, but we didn't hit to get them in."
In the 4-2 setback, the Huskies (18-26, 8-11 MAC) outhit the Eagles (23-23, 12-7 MAC), getting 10 hits to EMU's six, but only generated a run in each of the first two frames. With prime scoring opportunities in each of the fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth innings, the Huskies bats were unable to get the all-important "big hit" to drive in runs by leaving 11 runners on base.
After Bo Kinder led the game off with a home run to right field, NIU matched with a run in the bottom of the first. Joe Buonavolanto singled up the middle off starter Corey Chaffins' right leg and moved to third on a Dave Reynolds double to left-center field. Jordin Hood then brought Buonavolanto in with a sacrifice fly to center.
The Huskies claimed their only lead on the day in their next at-bat with help of another sacrifice fly. Alex Beckmann started the frame with a single to right and stole second before Brett Frantini's sacrifice bunt attempt turned into a single, as Chaffins slipped while trying to field it, and Beckmann moved to third. This time, it was Jake Hermsen who delivered the sac fly to left for a 2-1 Huskies advantage.
The Eagles countered quickly though, scoring two in the third to grab a lead they would not relinquish. With runners on second and third following a sacrifice bunt, Todd Graves delivered a sacrifice fly to center to score Wally Gerbus, who reached on a single. Andrew Marshall then came through with a two-out single up the middle just out of the reach of short stop Alex Jones to score Kinder, who reached on a walk.
From that point on, NIU just couldn't get a hit when they really needed one. With loaded bases and two outs in the fourth, Jones flew out to right. In another two-out opportunity with two down in the fifth and Reynolds on third, a runner was left stranded as Joe Etcheverry grounded out to third.
After the first two batters, Beckmann and Frantini, reached with singles in the fifth, all three outs were recorded on runners trying to advance to third. Beckmann was forced out on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Jake Hermsen. Frantini was caught trying to move up on a ball in the dirt as catcher Marshall recovered to throw him out. Hermsen was then hit by a high-hopping grounder off the bat of Jamison Wells for a runner's interference out.
"Clutch hitting," Mathey said. "That's what it came down to for us. I thought we had the opportunities with the right guys up, but the clutch hitting just didn't happen. That and the sixth inning, when we couldn't get a bunt down, hurt us. That sixth inning just wasn't good baseball. We got some good production from the back of our order and needed to score more runs.
"It's a shame because we wasted an outstanding pitching effort by Chuck."
In the eighth with two outs, two more singles by Beckmann and Frantini set up Hermsen. After Joe Battistelli came in to relieve Chaffins, Hermsen grounded into a fielder's choice 5-4 putout at second base on the first pitch.
To end the game, NIU had the tying run at second base and winning run at the plate for three batters but could do no better. Wells drew a leadoff walk and Jones followed with the same. A passed ball then moved both runners up for Buonavolanto, but he popped out to left, just missing a hittable 3-1 fastball. Lefty Robert Wendzicki came in to face lefty Reynolds and struck him out looking with three sweeping breaking balls. Tim Combs replaced Wendzicki to face Hood and grooved a first-pitch fastball, but Hood was too far under it, flying out to center to give Combs his fourth save of the season.
"Joe got underneath it," said Mathey. "That was about the same pitch that he popped out of the park the other day. The strikeout was tough because anything but that would have been productive and could have changed the pitcher's approach to Hood. Jordin had a good look at a pitch, took a good swing at it, and flew out to dead center. If he squares that up it's out of here.
"We have to come back tomorrow and go for it, get this series. Tomorrow is a big game for us."
Chaffins (4-4) was credited with the win by throwing 7.2 innings, giving up two runs on 10 hits and two walks with four strikeouts.
Frantini led the NIU offense with a career-best, perfect 4-for-4 day, while Beckmann was 3-for-4 with a run scored.
The teams will play Game Two tomorrow at 1:05 p.m. CST and Sunday will mark the series finale with a 1:05 p.m. first pitch as well.