FROM CBD NEWS SOURCE
DeKALB, Ill. – Northern Illinois baseball, the defending Mid-American Conference West Division Champions, released its 2014 schedule Tuesday, featuring four teams with 2013 NCAA Tournament experience, including three teams who finished the season in multiple top-25 polls.
The Huskies will rack up over 15,000 miles as they to head to eight different states this season, including Arizona, California, New Mexico and Oregon during non-conference play. NIU has adopted the moniker “Road Through Avon” this season, building off of the team’s “Road to Avon” motto from 2013, and hopes this schedule will prepare them for the test.
“When we put this schedule together, we built an intriguing first couple of series in our schedule that will really challenge this team,” said Head Coach Ed Mathey. “I think it’s a really good schedule, even in our midweek schedule with UIC and UW-Milwaukee, both teams that challenge for NCAA Regional spots. It will be very challenging, and I think that our guys are really looking forward to that challenge this season.”
NIU will open up its 104th season with a three game series against the University of Minnesota, starting Friday, February 14 at 2 p.m. at Camelback Ranch, spring training home of the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Gophers finished the 2013 with a 32-22 record and hosted the Big Ten Tournament at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins. The Huskies defeated the Golden Gophers March 3, 2013 at the Dairy Queen Classic, 2-1, thanks in part to Alex Klonowski’s two-hit complete game. He also scored the winning run in the top of the sixth inning.
The series between NIU and U of M was originally supposed to be played at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn. After its fate was decided for the end of the Minnesota Vikings season, Mathey made some phone calls.
“I asked the folks at Minnesota what they were looking for and I asked them if it would be alright if I helped them out and reached out to our friends with the White Sox to see if that would be possibility,” said Mathey. “Low and behold, the Sox and Dodgers made this happen. We’ll be playing on their big league spring training facility, so I think it’s going to be tremendous experience for the student-athletes involved, but most notably the Huskies.”
NIU’s second weekend begins February 21 at the Lobo Invite in Albuquerque, N.M. against Missouri State and New Mexico, who ended 2013 No. 13 and No. 16 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers and Collegiate Baseball polls, respectively. The Huskies and the Lobos will meet for the first time since 1972 and will try to break the series deadlock, which is currently tied, 2-2.
The Huskies will follow up at Southern Illinois in its annual series Feb.28-March 2 in Carbondale and will open the Salukis recently renovated baseball complex.
Northern Illinois will then head West on its annual spring break trip, heading to Oregon State for a four game, three-day series with the 2013 College World Series-qualifying Beavers beginning Friday, March 7 at Goss Stadium. On Saturday, March 8, NIU and OSU will play a doubleheader, starting at 2:35 p.m. Central. NIU will follow to Central California for a three game mid-week slate versus No. 23 Cal Poly March 11-13, before finishing off its spring break trip at in-state foe Bradley. The Huskies and the Braves will open with a doubleheader March 15, starting at noon, before wrapping up the series Sunday, March 16.
While NIU will already be five weeks through the season, the Huskies will begin their “Road Through Avon” March 21 when they host Buffalo in the home opener at Ralph McKinzie Field. Northern Illinois will then travel to Bowling Green for its second MAC series March 28 for their second MAC East crossover series. The Huskies will also face Kent State May 2-4, a 2012 CWS qualifier, in Kent, Ohio.
In last season’s Mid-American Conference Tournament, Northern Illinois University lost to the Falcons in the first round, 6-4, in 11 innings. The Huskies fell the following morning and were eliminated from the tournament by the Bulls. The contests will serve as a rematch from the tournament.
The NIU Huskies will also renew their rivalry with Northwestern in 2014, taking on the Wildcats at Standard Bank Stadium, home of the Frontier League’s Windy City Thunderbolts, April 30 at 6:30 p.m., in Crestwood, Ill.
All told, Northern Illinois has 19 scheduled games at Ralph McKinzie Field, completed by a series versus Ball State, whom the Huskies defeated for the MAC West Division Championship in Muncie, Ind. in the last day of the regular season.
The reigning division champions return five full-time position players with 23-or-more starts from last season, its entire weekend pitching rotation and two of its top-relief pitchers in 2014. Coach Mathey begins his 12th season at the helm of the program, entering the season with 482 career wins and 277 at NIU, the most in program history.
First Team All-MAC selections Eli Anderson (pitcher) and Klonowski (second base) return to bolster the Huskies battery as well. Three of the Huskies top-four hitters return to the lineup last season, losing only Jeff Zimmerman, who was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 19th round of last June’s Major League Baseball draft.
The Huskies tied their program record for conference wins with 16 to clinch the West division title over the Cardinals, 6-4, on May 18 after Connor Schomig’s three-run double in the top of the 10th inning to win their first ever MAC West Division Championship. NIU was selected to finish sixth in the MAC West in 2013. Amongst other accolades, Anderson was named to the Academic All-MAC team and was chosen as a semifinalist for the Gregg Olsen Award, given the Breakout Player of the Year in Division I college baseball.