May 10, 2009
DeKALB, Ill. - For the third game in a row, the Northern Illinois baseball team dropped a decision to Ball State 8-6 on Sunday afternoon in the last game at Ralph McKinzie Field in 2009 to complete the weekend sweep for the Cardinals (24-21, 12-10 Mid-American Conference) as BSU scored four early runs and four late runs, nullifying a comeback effort by the Huskies (17-32, 8-15 MAC) on senior day.
The Cardinals jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead after two innings, getting three runs in the first off an RBI double by Kolbrin Vitek and a two-run homer by Zach Dygert, and an RBI infield single by Cody Elliot in the second.
The Huskies closed within a run after a solo lead-off homerun to left field by Alex Jones (Kansas City, Kan./Piper) in the third and a two-run homer to left in the fourth by Joe Etcheverry (Bakersfield, Calif./Centennial) that narrowed the Cardinal advantage to 4-3.
NIU senior starter Brandon Copp (Aurora, Ill./West) then settled in on senior day by retiring nine straight batters, starting with the third out of the second inning and ending with two outs in the fifth before he surrendered a solo homer to Tim Issler in the seventh that gave Ball State a 5-3 lead. Overall, he recorded his best outing of the year despite taking a tough loss (0-4) after throwing a season-high seven innings with a season-best four strikeouts, giving up five earned runs on six hits and two walks.
"Ball State came out strong today," said NIU head coach Ed Mathey. "They started that first inning swinging the bats well on some good pitches. They had the right guys up that did some good things. I thought Brandon Copp made some great adjustments. It was his best outing of the year today. I wish we could have got him the win, but their pitcher Vitek did a nice job early. We fought ourselves back in it and if we got a couple more timely hits in the middle of the game, it could have been different."
However, the Huskies would get that seventh inning run back in the bottom of the frame, and had a chance to take the lead. With two outs and Aaron Hammons pitching in relief, Jordin Hood (Hawthorn Woods, Ill./Lake Zurich) reached second base on a dropped fly ball by right fielder Elliot and Dave Reynolds (Orland Park, Ill./Sandburg) drove him in with a single to right. Then Justin Behm (Downers Grove, Ill./North) doubled down the left field line and Matt Behren (Elmwood Park, Ill./Holy Cross) was hit by an errant Hammons pitch to load the bases for Nick Badgley (McHenry, Ill./McHenry C.C.), but he popped out to second base, ending the rally.
The seventh inning error was the only one of four BSU miscues that NIU was able to take advantage of, which helped keep momentum on Ball State's side, allowing the Cardinals to rally once again in the eighth with three runs that started with a lead-off walk by Vitek from NIU reliever Zach Oates (Wheaton, Ill./North). Dygert followed with a single and then the Huskies avoided a run on Ian Nielsen's grounder to third that Troy White (Chicago, Ill./Whitney Young) fielded and threw home for the tag-out. However, Kory Benbow walked to load the bases on the next sequence. Tom Zelasko (Lansing, Ill./Mt. Carmel) then came in to pitch, but gave up a two-run double to T.J. Baumet and after he struck out Issler he threw a wild pitch that allowed another run to score to give BSU an 8-4 advantage before he fanned Elliot to end the frame.
"Then all of a sudden that eighth inning happens on mistakes that we have been making all year," Mathey said. "We have got to figure out a way to get better at it. We walked some guys. We cannot be afraid of the ball hitting the bat. It's a tough way to lose baseball games. Our kids were battling, but we just have to cut down on the mistakes."
With one out in the ninth, Reynolds drew a walk from BSU closer Morgan Coombs and Behm followed with a towering homer to left to pull NIU within two, 8-6, but that was all the Huskies could manage off Coombs as he earned his sixth save of the season by finishing the final 2.1 innings, allowing two earned runs on two hits and a walk with one strikeout.
Cardinal starter Vitek (4-2) earned the win after pitching five innings with five strikeouts, surrendering three earned runs on six hits and a walk. Additionally, he went 1-for-3 at the plate with a double, a run scored, two walks, a steal, and an RBI.
Dygert, who scored two runs, and Baumet, who scored one run, led the Ball State offense with two hits and two RBI apiece. Dygert also hit his eighth homer of the season, while Issler homered for the first time in his career as well.
Jones led the Huskies with a 3-for-4 performance with an RBI and a run coming on his third homer of the season. Behm went 2-for-5 with two RBI, a double and his eighth homer of the year, tying him for the team lead. Etcheverry went 1-for-2 with a walk, a run and two RBI on his fifth long ball of the year.
"I thought Alex Jones had a nice game," said Mathey. "He swung the bat well. I certainly wish we would have won this ball game though. We came into this weekend with control of our postseason opportunity, but now we have to rely on other teams, and we have to win no matter what."
The Huskies play their last non-conference game of the season on Tuesday with their fourth game of the year against UW-Milwaukee (22-25, 11-9 Horizon League) as the Huskies will host the Panthers at Road Ranger Stadium in Rockford, Ill., home of the Frontier League's Rockford RiverHawks, at 7:30 p.m. CT. Live stats via GameTracker and free streaming radio will be available for the game on www.niuhuskies.com.
- Reynolds has 34 RBI in his last 20 games.
- Jones has four multi-hit games in his last seven, 16 overall.
- NIU finished its season at home with an 8-7 record.
- Etcheverry has three homers in last games five games.
- Behm's 25th career homer puts him in a tie for second all-time at NIU.
- The Huskies have tallied 10-plus hits 27 times this season.