Reigning MAC West Champions Open Season in Arizona versus Minnesota

GO HUSKIES 2013 First Team All-MAC pitcher Eli Anderson will start on the mound for the Huskies on Friday.
GO HUSKIES
2013 First Team All-MAC pitcher Eli Anderson will start on the mound for the Huskies on Friday.
GO HUSKIES

Feb. 13, 2014

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Week 1 - Northern Illinois (0-0) vs Minnesota (0-0)
Camelback Ranch Stadium (Glendale, Ariz.)
Friday, February 14 (2 p.m.)
Saturday, February 15 (2 p.m.)
Sunday, February 16 (2 p.m.)
Live Stats: GopherSports.com
Live Blog: GopherSports.com

NORTHERN ILLINOIS PITCHING ROTATION
Friday: RHP Eli Anderson (NR)
    2013 stats: 9-4, 2.18 ERA, 76 K, 26 BB, 6 CG, 1 SHO
Saturday: LHP Jordan Ruckman (NR)
    2013 stats: 2-10, 4.74 ERA, 47 K, 38 BB, 1 CG
Sunday: RHP Alex Klonowski (NR)
    2013 stats: 4-7, 4.97 ERA, 57 K, 28 BB, 2 CG

MINNESOTA PITCHING ROTATION
Friday: RHP Alec Crawford (NR)
    2013 stats: 4-2, 2.28 ERA, 20 K, 12 BB, 1 SV
Saturday: LHP Jordan Jess (NR)
    2013 stats: 1-1, 5.82 ERA, 14 K, 6 BB, 17.0 IP
Sunday: RHP Ben Meyer (NR)
    2013 stats: 4-7, 4.97 ERA, 57 K, 28 BB, 2 CG

LEAD OFFS
• The Huskies open their 115th season in Glendale, Ariz., at Camelback Ranch versus Minnesota.
• Northern Illinois defeated Minnesota on March 3, 2013 in the Dairy Queen Classic at the Metrodome.
• Both starting pitchers from that meeting will start on the mound this weekend.
• The Huskies are the defending MAC West Division Champions, claiming their first title in program history.
• Senior pitcher Alex Klonowski was named the No. 9 draft prospect in the MAC by Baseball America.
• The NIU Baseball Podcast returns for its second season. Visit NIUHuskies.com and listen for free on NIUTube.

LAST YEAR AT MINNESOTA
Northern Illinois played Minnesota in the Dairy Queen Classic finale at the Metrodome on March 3, 2013. Alex Klonowski stormed on to the scene against the Golden Gophers, pitching a two-hit complete game against Minnesota in a 2-1 victory. The then-junior also scored the winning run in the top of the sixth inning to break a 1-1 tie. Pitcher Jordan Jess, this Saturday’s starting pitcher, started for UM last year, lasting only five innings with five hits and two walks surrendered in 89 pitches thrown. It was the Huskies first win against a Big Ten school since March 18, 2012 against Illinois, 3-0.
 
HUSKIES PICKED TO FINISH FOURTH IN MAC WEST
The MAC released its preseason coaches poll Wednesday morning and the Northern Illinois baseball team, the defending MAC West Champions, were selected to finish fourth in the division. The Huskies tallied 43 points and one first place vote in the poll. Ball State was picked to finish first in the division with 57 points. Complete poll results are on page 3 of the notes.

CAMELBACK RANCH TO THE RESCUE
Originally when the series was scheduled, the Huskies and Golden Gophers were supposed to play at the Metrodome. After it was announced that demolition of the dome would begin in early 2014, Head NIU Baseball Coach Ed Mathey reached out to his contacts with the Chicago White Sox to see about playing at Camelback Ranch, the spring training facility of the White Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Gophers and NIU will play its three game series at Camelback Ranch Stadium, with NIU players receiving clubhouse access for the series.

THE PIECES ARE INTACT
The Huskies return a lot of the pieces from last year’s division championship team this season, only losing three full-time starters. NIU’s weekend pitching rotation, including first team All-MAC pitcher Eli Anderson returns, and three-fourths of the infield. Second baseman Alex Klonowski, a first team All-MAC, bolsters the defense and offense as the top-returning fielder and RBI supplier. Of last season’s regular starters, Northern Illinois does not return Jeff Zimmerman (MLB draft), Jamison Wells (graduation) and Nate Ruzich (injury).

THE LINEUP
Three of NIU’s top-five hitters return this season in Tommy Hook (.298), Alex Klonowski (.292) and Micah McCulloch (.269). However, where they bat in the lineup will be different this season. Northern Illinois leadoff man from 2011-13, Jamison Wells, is gone this season, as is cleanup hitter Jeff Zimmerman and predominant six-hole hitter Nate Ruzich.

AROUND THE HORN
Defensively, NIU had one of its best seasons in program history as the Huskies posted a fielding percentage of .966 to tie the Huskies single-season record set in 2011. Northern Illinois turned 41 double-plays last season and returns its second and third basemen, along with its shortstop in hopes of increasing that number in 2014. Left and right fielders Landon Tenhagen and Micah McCulloch also return to patrol the NIU outfield.

THE ROTATION
NIU’s starting pitching rotation of Eli Anderson (Friday), Jordan Ruckman (Saturday) and Alex Klonowski (Sunday) all worked together in 2013 to combine for 291.1 innings (nine complete games) pitched last season and an earned run average of 3.80. Anderson led the group and the MAC with 115.1 innings and an ERA of 2.18, which ranked second in the conference. While Ruckman finished 2-10, predominantly as a Friday starter, he only allowed opponents to hit .266 off of him and carried an ERA of 4.74 as a freshman.

THE RELIEVERS
The Huskies top-two relievers last season - seniors Anthony Andres and Kevin Sweeney - both return this season, having combined for 50 appearances and 50.2 innings last season. Andres accumulated three saves a year ago and had a 4-3 record, while Sweeney only allowed opponents to hit .256 off of him and combined for a shutout with Eli Anderson at Toledo.

PRESEASON HONORS
College Sports Madness announced its Preseason All-Mid American Conference baseball team Friday February 7 and three Huskies were named to this year’s list. Eli Anderson was named to the preseason first team, while Tommy Hook and Alex Klonowski were named to the second team. NIU was one of three teams to have three players named to the preseason all-conference team.

THE FEW, THE PROUD... TWO-WAY PLAYERS
Senior Alex Klonowski, listed as Baseball America’s No. 9 Major League Draft Prospect in the Mid-American Conference this season, is one of 28 two-way players in the country to be in the weekend pitching rotation. Sunday’s starting pitcher, Klonowski, also starts at second base for NIU and was an All-MAC infielder in 2013.

SCOUTING THE GOLDEN GOPHERS
Minnesota finished last season 32-22 with a 13-8 mark in the Big Ten to finish fourth in the conference and just on the cusp of an NCAA Regional appearance. The Golden Gophers were selected to finish outside of the top-six in the Big Ten this season with their strength this season being found in their pitching. Alec Crawford and Ben Meyer started nine and eight games, respectively, last season with Crawford posting a 2.28 ERA in 51.1 innings, while Meyer carried a 2.92 ERA in 64.1 innings. Lance Thronvold (2.92) and Ty McDevitt (2.92) return in the bullpen this season as well. Connor Shaefbauer is the top-returning hitter at a clip of .279, while senior catcher Matt Halloran returns with a team-best 26 RBI.

NEXT UP
The Huskies will head back out West for the Fuddruckers Lobo Invite at the University of New Mexico February 21-23. NIU will take on both Missouri State and New Mexico and will play a double-header on the 21st.

The Last Meeting
Northern Illinois2
Minnesota1
March 3, 2013
Minneapolis, Minn. (Metrodome)
Klonowski Scores Winning Run; Pitches Complete Game at Minnesota
Junior Alex Klonowski (Kearney, Mo./Kearney) pitched a two-hit complete game versus Big-10 foe Minnesota as he struck out eight and led Northern Illinois over the Golden Gophers, 2-1. Klonowski also finished 2-for-4 at the plate and scored the winning run in the Huskies first ever win over Minnesota ...


 

 

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