After a long, harsh Winter, the historic Hyames Field was in a poor shape due to a high water table and poor positioning at the bottom of a large hill. With 7 games already cancelled or moved to other locations out of Kalamazoo, this weekend's series against Northern Illinois was looking bright to possibly be the Broncos' home opener.
However, with the infield not responding well to the treatment of the grounds crew, the Western Michigan athletic department was forced to send the series across town to Homer Stryker Field, home of the Kalamazoo Kings. With a true home game still out of the question, WMU will now have gone three full months into the season without a game at Robert J. Bobb Stadium.
Nevertheless, there was still baseball to be played, and fans were treated to excellent pitching over the weekend.
Friday - Western Michigan 7, Northern Illinois 0
Steve Laudicina continued to be on a tear in MAC play throwing his third complete game of the season and his first career shut-out in the 7-0 victory. He threw 117 pitches, but yielded just six hits and walked three batters while striking out five Huskie batters.
The Broncos first got on the board in the 4th inning, with a huge six-run outburst. Both NIU starter Anthony Andres and reliever TJ Schrader struggled with command on the day, with the 4th really showing the issues as Andres was knocked out of the game after just 3.2 innings. His final line yielded just four hits, but also included two walks, two HBP, and five runs (all earned).
Schrader didn't fair much better going 2.1 innings for three hits and a walk, but two HBP as well and a trio of wild pitches en route to yielding the other two runs.
As far as hitting went, NIU had three players do a bulk of the work, with Tommy Hook, Brian Sisler, and Jason Gasser going a combined 6-for-10 from the plate with a walk. Outside of them, the rest of the team went a combined 0-for-20.
For the Broncos, Andrew Sohn went 2-for-2 from the plate while also getting beaned twice and collecting an RBI. Stellar sophomore catcher Brett Sunde continued his on-base streak to 14 games with a 2-for-4 performance. Grant Miller had a rare line of 0-for-3 from the plate with no walks, but collected an RBI and scored twice. He reached on a fielders' choice in the 4th inning, and would get hit by a Schrader pitch in the 6th, scoring on a wild pitch later in the inning.
Saturday - Northern Illinois 2, Western Michigan 0
Not to be outdone, Eli Anderson collected his second win of the season with a stellar performance of his own in Saturday's 2-0 win by NIU. Anderson went 8 innings, forced to leave his shutout after 141 pitches, but held the Broncos to just four hits and five walks. Ben Neumann collected his first save of the season, with a sole walk keeping him from a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
Bronco starter Chad Mayle didn't have a bad game himself. In 7.1 innings, he allowed just three hits and four walks (and hit another batter), but a Justin Fletcher one-out single in the 6th inning broke a scoreless tie, and that'd be enough to earn Mayle the tough loss. Bronco reliever Monty Porter would give up a lead-off home run in the 9th to make it 2-0.
Sunday - Northern Illinois 1, Western Michigan 0
In a true pitchers' duel, Alex Klonowski and Keegan Akin faced off against each other in a crucial rubber match. Through the first 7 innings, neither pitcher yielded a run, with Klonowski only in trouble once. After the Broncos loaded the bases in the 3rd inning with just one out on the board, Sohn grounded into a rare double-play to end the inning.
However, after a lead-off single in the 8th, a sacrifice bunt moved Sisler to second with one out. Western Michigan manager Billy Gernon went to stellar reliever Gabe Berman, who quickly got a fly-out to nearly work out of the jam. But Brandon Mallder slapped a 2-1 pitch down the left-field line to bring home his Huskie teammate for the first run of the game.
But the Broncos would threaten in the 9th, with Steve Buglione knocking a lead-off double to begin the inning. After a sacrifice bunt moved him to 3rd, all Western Michigan had to do was bring him home via a single or a sacrifice fly. However, Klonowski stayed in the game for the shut-out and got Jordan Tillman on three straight pitches for his 8th strikeout of the game before getting Vinnie Booker to flyout to end the game.
The final lines for the starters were solid:
Klonowski: 9 innings, 8 Ks, 7 hits, 1 BB, 1 HBP (123 pitches) and the complete game shut-out.
Akin: 7.1 innings, 4 hits, 7 walks, 1 run (earned), 3 Ks (117 pitches)
The Broncos now sit in 10th in the MAC with a 6-12 conference record while the Huskies sit just above them with an 8-10 mark. Western Michigan will look to finally host their first series at their home stadium this coming weekend with their last scheduled home conference series against rivals Eastern Michigan, who sit below them in the MAC West. NIU will head to MAC powerhouse Kent State this weekend.