NIU Baseball Uses Strong Pitching To Beat Western Michigan 4-2

GO HUSKIES Sophomore Zach Oates picked up his first career win with his longest outing of five innings.
GO HUSKIES
Sophomore Zach Oates picked up his first career win with his longest outing of five innings.
GO HUSKIES

May 15, 2009

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. - Trailing 2-1 in the sixth inning with two outs, Northern Illinois catcher Matt Behren (Elmwood Park, Ill./Holy Cross) stepped up to the plate with two runners on base and hit a three-run homer to left field to give the Huskies a 4-2 win as he backed up Chris Wakefield (Canton, Ga./Cherokee) and Zach Oates' (Wheaton, Ill./North) solid pitching performance.

The decisive sixth for NIU (19-33, 10-15 Mid-American Conference) started with a two-out double by Dave Reynolds (Orland Park, Ill./Sandburg) and a Justin Behm (Downers Grove, Ill./North) walk that allowed Behren to have his big opportunity.

"Matt has been getting clutch hits all year for us," said NIU head coach Ed Mathey. "Dave and Justin did a great job getting on base in front of him with two outs. He got a fastball and hit it well, driving it to the opposite field. It was great piece of hitting and it held up, which is a testament to our defense and pitching."

Even though Wakefield did not figure in the decision, he was able to pitch around six walks in four innings, giving up only two earned runs and two hits with two strikeouts. Three of those walks helped WMU (13-35, 8-18 MAC) score two runs in the second as the Broncos loaded the bases with the help of his first walk to Tim Cross and scored their second run because of the third walk to Kyle Galbraith after an RBI sacrifice fly by Jamie Simpson and the second walk to Brent Gerlach.

"I guess I call that effectively wild," Mathey said. "Chris wasn't the sharpest today, but made pitches when he had to. The wind kept a couple balls in, unlike yesterday when it helped a few out. "He battled out there."

Oates (1-4) then came in to start the fifth inning and he finished the game with a career-long five-inning appearance in which he only surrendered four hits and had three strikeouts to earn his first win in a Huskie uniform that kept NIU's postseason hopes alive. But for only about 30 minutes as shortly after completion of the game Akron beat Bowling Green 15-4 in Bowling Green, Ohio to eliminate the Huskies from qualifying for the MAC Tournament.

"The walks were key for Zach," Mathey said. "He was able to stay away from walks. I'm real happy for him. He has been working real hard in this program. He has had a couple tough days this season and he did a great job of finishing off this game. I'm very proud of him.

"We gave up control of our postseason over the last few weekends, but our job coming in here was to win as many games as we could. Obviously the Akron win is not the result we were hoping for, but we still have some goals left. We want to get to the 20 win mark."

Despite a strong effort by WMU starter Brian Stroud (3-9), he took the loss after striking out eight batters in 7.1 innings, allowing three earned runs on two walks and three hits.

Behren led the Huskie offense with his career-high eighth homer that gave him new single season high totals of 52 hits, 35 RBI and 32 runs.

Troy White (Chicago, Ill./Whitney Young) drove in the first NIU run in the second inning with a two-out double that was his only hit of the game, and gave NIU a brief 1-0 lead. Reynolds was the only other Huskie to tally a hit with his sixth inning double. Additionally, Behm scored two runs, reaching base on a walk and an error.

Simpson led the Bronco offense with two hits and a run, while Galbraith and Ryan McMillin each had an RBI without getting a hit.

The Huskies and Broncos will finish the regular season tomorrow at 12 p.m. CT as NIU LHP Brandon Copp (0-4, 10.50, 24 IP, 36 H, 14 BB, 17 SO) will face-off against WMU RHP Eric Heckaman (3-3, 6.33, 54 IP, 61 H, 22 BB, 31 SO). Live stats for NIU's final game of the season will be available on www.niuhuskies.com.

-NIU-

Huskie Notes

- Reynolds hitting streak has a nine-game hitting streak.