Toledo suffered a 4-0 setback to Mid-American Conference West Division frontrunner Northern Illinois in Friday's series opener at sunny Scott Park. With the loss, the Rockets fall to 17-26 overall, 8-11 in the league.
The Huskies' (20-24, 14-5 MAC) took advantage of an outstanding pitching performance from RHP Eli Anderson (8-3) to hand UT its fourth blanking of the spring. Anderson allowed only seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in 8.0 innings to collect his team-best eighth victory.
The 2012 MAC West Division champions also received a quality start from senior LHP Kyle Shaw (4-6) despite the loss. The crafty southpaw pitcher gave up two runs (one earned) on six hits with no walks and four punchouts in 7.0 frames. Shaw has now worked at least 7.0 innings on six occasions in 2013.
The other storyline in today's series opener was Toledo's inability to get the clutch hit. UT had runners in scoring position in four different innings but was not able to produce the timely hit. The Midnight Blue & Gold left nine runners stranded on base.
Offensively, senior CF Ben Hammer (2-for-3) and freshman DH Tyler Baar led Toledo with two hits each. Hammer has now recorded multiple hits in five of the last eight contests. In total, six different players posted a hit against a pair of NIU pitchers.
The Huskies struck first on a sacrifice fly off the bat of C Nate Ruzich (0-for-2, RBI) in the second frame. First baseman Jeff Zimmerman (1-for-4, RS) started the inning with a two-base hit and advanced to third on a passed ball. He then came around to score the eventual game-winning tally on Ruzich's 10th RBI of the spring on a fly ball down the left field line.
NIU added to its lead an inning later on a run-scoring single by 3B Tommy Hook (2-for-5, 3 RBI). The visitors once again benefited from a leadoff double by Connor Schomig (1-for-4, RS) to help make the score 2-0. Hook promptly followed with a single to right-center field to bring Schomig home and collect his 17th RBI of the season.
The Rockets threatened in the bottom of the second, putting runners on first and second base with two outs. Unfortunately for the home team, NIU's Anderson recorded a punchout to stall the potential rally.
UT had another opportunity to cut into the deficit in the fifth frame, getting a runner to third base with only one out. One more time though, the Huskies' Anderson posted a groundout to the left side and a strikeout to keep it a two-run difference.
After dodging a couple of bullets the previous innings, Northern Illinois was presented with a chance to increase its margin in the seventh. The Huskies put runners on first and second base with one out and had the top of the order coming to bat, but UT's Shaw tallied consecutive punchouts to keep it a two-run contest.
Toledo was presented with one other legitimate scoring chance in the eighth frame. The Midnight Blue & Gold had runners on first and second base with two outs, but NIU's Anderson recorded a fly out to preserve the blanking.
The Huskies then finished off the scoring in the ninth inning on a two-out, two-run triple off the bat of Hook. UT freshman RHP Kyle Slack issued a leadoff walk but retired the next two batters and looked to be in the clear. Unfortunately for the right-handed hurler, he surrendered a single and Hook's two-run, three-base hit to make the final score 4-0.
Hook paced the victors with two hits and a game-high three RBI, while CF Jamison Wells (2-for-5, RS) also contributed a multi-hit effort.
Toledo and Northern Illinois will continue their three-game series tomorrow with a 1:05 p.m. first pitch. Junior RHP Cameron Palmer is slated to start for the Rockets on the mound.
Prior to the start of tomorrow's game, the Rockets will recognize their five seniors — Matt Delewski, Ben Hammer, Jared Locke, Andy Mix, Kyle Shaw — who are appearing in their final home weekend in a UT uniform. This quintet has helped lead Toledo to 107 wins and three consecutive appearances in the MAC Tournament. The special presentation will begin at 12:45 p.m.