FROM CBD NEWS SOURCE
DeKALB, Ill. – The Northern Illinois baseball team announced its 2011 schedule Thursday. The 56-game slate features 18 home games and begins on Friday, Feb. 18 against Southern Utah in Cedar City at 3 p.m. (CT).
The arduous agenda is comprised of 23 matchups versus teams that finished at or above .500 in 2010, seven contests against conference tournament winners, and six meetings against NCAA Tournament teams. Ninth-year head coach Ed Mathey’s philosophy behind the demanding schedule is that in order to be the best, you must play against the best.
“This year’s schedule falls right in line with what we’ve been doing in the past,” Mathey said. “Last year we played the 80th toughest non-conference schedule in the country. This year is similar. We’ve got some tremendous early season matchups that will challenge are guys. It will force our hand to play good baseball, which is what we want. It will prepare us for MAC play.”
The weather-induced road-heavy beginning to the season has NIU away from Ralph McKinzie Field for 17 of the first 18 games. After their trip to the Beehive State, the Huskies travel to the campus of Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. NIU will take on the Red Raiders (Feb. 25-26) and Brigham Young (Feb. 24-25) twice apiece.
To open March, NIU will spend nearly a week (Mar. 3-6) in Surprise, Ariz. at Arizona State’s Coca-Cola Classic. NIU will play in the first of two professional stadiums in 2011 that week as the games will be played at Surprise Stadium, Spring Training home of the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers. The Huskies will face perennial power ASU (Mar. 4), who won the Pac-10 regular and postseason titles and reached the 2010 College World Series. NIU will also compete against Air Force (Mar. 3), UC-Riverside (Mar. 5) and CSU Bakersfield (Mar. 6) before returning to DeKalb to kick off the home portion of the schedule.
The home opener is set for the 12th game of the season, which is scheduled for a 1:05 p.m. first pitch against Aurora on Sunday, March 13. The Spartans won the Northern Athletics Conference tournament and qualified for the 2010 NCAA Division III Championships. NIU will look to keep up its sterling 94-56-1 record at Ralph McKinzie Field since 2003.
Of the remaining 17 non-conference games, 11 will be versus intrastate foes Western Illinois (Mar. 15), Southern Illinois (Mar. 19), Chicago State (Mar. 29, April 13), Missouri Valley Conference Champion and NCAA Tournament participant Illinois State (April 5, 12), Bradley (April 6, 26), Northwestern (April 19), and Illinois Chicago (May 4). Additionally, the Huskies will face Illinois (Mar. 17-18) for the first time since 2004. The first of two meetings will be at Rent One Park, home of the Frontier League’s Southern Illinois Miners, located in Marion. With a 56-27 record versus Land of Lincoln opponents, Mathey continues to stress the importance of scheduling and being successful against intrastate programs.
“Our games that we play against teams in our region are big games for us,” said Mathey. “We have to consider the travel situation that our student-athletes are in. When we are out on the recruiting trail, it’s good to show that we’ve been more than competitive with these schools. That maybe more important for people from Illinois that are not as familiar with MAC teams. Having a winning record against them is a valuable tool on the recruiting trail.”
Other non-conference competitions include games against Atlantic 10 Conference Champion and NCAA Tournament participant Saint Louis (Mar. 16, 20), Valparaiso (May 3) and Horizon League Champion and NCAA Tournament qualifier Milwaukee (April 27, May 17).
In Mid-American Conference play, the Huskies will have five three-game sets on the road and four at home. NIU starts the league slate at home against Bowling Green (Mar. 25-27) with the first game scheduled for 3:05 p.m. on Friday, Mar. 25. The remaining three opponents that will come “The Ralph” will be Miami (Ohio) (April 8-10), Toledo (April 22-24) and Ball State (May 13-15). NIU’s conference road trips will take the Huskies to Buffalo (April 1-3), Ohio (April 15-17), Central Michigan (April 29-May 1), Eastern Michigan (May 6-8) and Western Michigan (May 19-21).
“We are in the year where we have more road than home series,” said Mathey. “It puts a premium on protecting our home field in MAC play. It creates the challenge of going on the road, a long distance in two cases with trips to Buffalo and Ohio, and coming out ready to play from the get go.”
For the fourth consecutive year, the conference tournament will be held at V.A. Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe, Ohio, home of the Prospect League’s Chillicothe Paints. The MAC Championship will be decided May 25-28.
With a successful set of fall practices complete, the 13 new Huskies are now more acclimated to the Division I level and the 20 returners showed how much they improved through playing summer ball. The team has broken off for individual workouts until the group reconvenes after the new year to prepare for the 2011 season.