After winning their first four Mid-American Conference series, the Miami RedHawks (23-13, 9-6 MAC) dropped two of three games to the Northern Illinois Huskies (13-25, 5-10 MAC) this weekend for their first conference series loss of the season.
Miami lost the first two games of the series – 5-2 on Friday and 2-1 on Saturday – before picking up a 5-1 win in Sunday’s series finale.
The ‘Hawks managed just eight runs over the course of the three-game set. Before this series, Miami had scored eight or more runs in four out of their last five individual contests.
However, the Huskies were held to just eight runs as well, making the series a battle of the pitching staffs.
Neither team could score through the first three innings on Friday. Miami jumped ahead when an NIU throwing error allowed Redshirt senior first baseman Ross Haffey to score from second in the top of the fourth.
Two batters later, with junior catcher Hayden Senger on second, junior left fielder Mackay Williams singled to left to drive in Senger and make it 2-0 MU.
MU sophomore starter Spencer Mraz – who came into the game with an ERA well under 2.00 – was cruising until the fourth inning, when Northern Illinois’ offense came alive and tagged Mraz for four runs.
The big blow to Miami was a two-run double down the right-field line by senior third baseman Brad Wood that allowed the Huskies to take a 4-2 lead.
Mraz was removed with two outs in the inning in favor of junior Shane Smith. Smith got the RedHawks out of the inning without any further damage. He’d go on to pitch the rest of the game, giving up just one run – a solo home run to senior center fielder Scooter Bynum in the fifth inning.
Northern Illinois was able to shut down Miami’s bats the rest of the way to claim a 5-2 series-opening victory. Miami loaded the bases in the top of the ninth, but couldn’t work its usual magic, as all three runners were stranded.
Mraz (L, 4-1) earned his first loss of the season, pitching 3.2 innings, while allowing four runs on five hits and one walk. His earned run average is now 2.54.
The Huskies struck first in Game Two, and took a 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Miami evened the game in the top of the sixth, when sophomore third baseman Landon Stephens ripped an RBI double to score senior shortstop Adrian Texidor from second base.
The RedHawks wouldn’t hold the lead for long, as Northern Illinois moved back in front with an RBI single a half inning later. It was one of just two Husky hits on the afternoon.
Neither team scored the rest of the way, as Northern Illinois clinched a 2-1 win and a conference series victory.
Miami’s offense failed to capitalize on a strong start from junior left-hander Zach Spears. Spears tossed eight innings and gave up only two runs (one earned). He surrendered two hits, but struggled with command at times, walking six. He struck out seven batters and threw 122 pitches.
The loss moved Spears to 2-3 on the season.
Northern Illinois’ starter, freshman Michael Lasiewicz, also threw a gem. Lasiewicz pitched a complete game, while only allowing one run on five hits. He walked just one and fanned 11.
The series finale lacked fireworks early too, as the game was scoreless through three and a half innings.
NIU threatened in the bottom of the fourth, loading the bases, and scoring a run on a suicide squeeze bunt.
MU senior starter Gus Graham eventually worked out of the jam, giving up only that one run – the only score he’d allow.
Graham was dominant the rest of the day, as he pitched a one-run complete game. He gave up 5 hits and two walks, but struck out seven.
Still down 1-0, Miami waited until the eighth inning to respond.
With one out in the inning, Senger manufactured the first RedHawk run of the game. He singled, stole second base, reached third on an error and crossed home on a wild pitch to knot the game at one.
Three batters later, with freshman center fielder Parker Massman and Redshirt sophomore left fielder Kyle Winkler on base, sophomore second baseman Will Vogelgesang bounced into a fielder’s choice to score Massman from third and give Miami a 2-1 lead. Northern Illinois threw home trying to get Massman, but the freshman beat the throw, allowing all runners to stay safe on the play.
Sophomore designated hitter Cal Elvers plated both Winkler and Vogelgesang with a two-run double to center field, extending MU’s advantage to 4-1. The last run of the inning came when Texidor singled to left, bringing in Elvers.
In all, the RedHawks scored five runs in the inning.
Graham (W, 3-0) held the Huskies scoreless in the last two innings to finish off his first career complete game and earn the 5-1 win.
Miami will continue its road trip on Wednesday, with a 4 p.m. game at non-conference Butler.