WHEATON, IL – 11 men left on base by Northern Illinois University (3-17-1), and strong pitching from Buffalo (10-7) starting pitcher — senior RHP Mike Burke — resulted in the Huskies dropping the rubber game of their opening weekend series in Mid-American Conference play to the Bulls 3-1, Sunday at Lee Pfund Field in Wheaton Illinois. NIU failed to plate a run with the bases loaded on three separate instances, and UB senior LHP Cory Folk sewed up the last two frames to convert his second save of the season.
“It’s what’s been going on with us this year,” NIU head coach Ed Mathey admits. “We have pitched the ball well enough to win some baseball games, and our defense has played well enough, but it’s about taking advantage of the opportunities that we present ourselves with in games. Eleven guys on base is good news bad news. If you get them on there you just got to get them in. Right now we have to come through in those situations.”
NIU hitters jumped on Burke early in the first inning managing to load the bases with two outs; however, a fly ball to left cancelled the opportunity to score.
The contest was scoreless through the first three frames, until the Bulls put two runs on the board in the fourth when Nick Sinay led off the inning with a double, and then stole second. Huskie starting pitcher Alex Klonowski, bean-balled Matt Pollock to place runners on the corners with no outs. UB first baseman Tyler Mautner batted in Sinay, and Pollock scored on an RBI groundout from Chris Kwitzer.
A sacrifice fly from Jimmy Topps in the top of the fifth gave the Bulls a 3-0 lead.
The Huskies got on the board in the sixth when a walk a base hit and an error would send RF Tommy Hook across the plate and pack the sacks for NIU a second time with only one out recorded. Burke then induced a check-swing strikeout, at that juncture, a controversial foul pop-up to first base, after NIU catcher Johnny Zubek was seemingly hit by a pitch — only to have the pitch ruled a dead-ball by home plate umpire Don Umland — ended the frame along with the threat.
“The interpretation on that was that the pitch itself was between the batter’s box and the plate,” Mathey explained. “It wasn’t inside the batter’s box, and that our hitter’s movement initiated the contact with that pitch.”
Back-to-back base hits in the seventh inning, along with an HBP would yet again jam the bases for the Huskies with one out on the board, Nevertheless, Burke would prompt a low fly ball that would halt the runner on third, and secure a dominating tenth strikeout to shut down the frame. The eighth inning saw Burke get the hook and reliever Folk to the mound, as he recorded two text book innings of relief, permitting only one base runner and fanning two.
Huskie batters in point of fact, put more hits on the board than UB (5-4). Nonetheless, failure to get the big hit with runners in scoring position led to NIU’s demise in the end.
“Buffalo did a very good job this weekend of executing the opportunities they had,” Mathey added. “We played a good opponent tight, didn’t do enough to win, but it’s a nine week season so hopefully our bats will heat up.”