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NIU leans heavily on pitching

DeKALB – It’s all hands on deck for the Northern Illinois pitching staff this week.

The Huskies (22-32, 16-11 Mid-American Conference) begin MAC tournament play as the third seed, taking on No. 6 Bowling Green at 11:30 a.m. today. NIU, which won its first MAC West title over the weekend, possibly could play six games in four days, with a potential championship game at noon Saturday.

That means the Huskies’ pitching depth certainly could be tested.

“We’ve got a lot of different guys we can go to,” NIU coach Ed Mathey said. “I think it’s just identifying what our situation is at the time and then also identifying what the strengths are in the matchups with who we’re playing, and we’ll know more about that as the tournament unfolds.”

Junior Eli Anderson has been NIU’s workhorse all season. He leads the MAC in innings pitched (1071/3) and is second in ERA (2.01), and Mathey has counted on Alex Klonowski (4.97 ERA) and Jordan Ruckman (4.57) to anchor his weekend rotation.

Other players Mathey said could start include Bobby Kuntzendorf (five starts), Zach Badgley (three starts) and Justin Ruckman (one start).

Anderson started off the conference season throwing on Saturdays, and part of the reason he took over as the Huskies’ Friday starter at the beginning of the month was so he’d have an extra day of rest before the tournament.

He’s done a good job going deep into games and saving the bullpen, as he’s thrown six complete games, and is prepared to bounce back for a possible championship game on short rest.

“I feel the coaches are pretty good, and the training staff’s pretty good at getting us ready,” Anderson said. “We talked about a lot of stuff like the ice bath, and maybe bumping up the running a bit and getting my arm ready for Saturday.”

Mathey said Anderson is one who can handle pitching on only two days’ rest.

“We feel that of all the pitchers on our staff, he’s been the guy who’s been able to bounce back and do his side work after starts a little quicker than everybody else, a little bit more efficiently,” Mathey said.

NIU has had trouble scoring this season, ranking eighth in the MAC in runs scored, but pitching has been at the top. NIU also ranks second in the league in fielding percentage (.966). Freshman shortstop and former DeKalb standout Brian Sisler credits the pitchers for the team’s strong defense.

“We know they’re going to throw strikes and pound the zone,” Sisler said. “It keeps you alive on defense.”

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