NIU is looking to make some progress in their game ahead of their road season opener on Friday.
DeKALB — NIU baseball is less than a week away from the start of its 2022 season. As the Huskies prepare for a strong start, head coach Mike Kunigonis and his team are focused on improving from last season.
The Huskies went 16-38 overall in the 2021 season and were 15-25 in the Mid-American Conference. Batters had a .267 team batting average for the season, while pitchers held a combined ERA of 6.43, according to the 2021 NIU Baseball Season Stat Sheet.
Kunigonis is entering his seventh year as the team’s head coach and said learning to work with rookies and adapting training techniques to a new roster is an important part of the job.
“It’s a new team, it’s a new year,” Kunigonis said. “We have different expectations of these guys. It’s a different group of guys with different mindsets, so we’re just looking to go out on day one and see how things go for us.
The Huskies will look to the team’s veteran players to set the tone for the season. Junior middle outfielder Paddy McKermitt welcomed and mentored new players to the team by taking on a leadership role.
“I really think at shortstop I commanded the defense, took control and showed the guys the ropes,” McKermitt said. “We have a lot of new guys coming in, so I feel like I’m really playing a leadership role on the pitch and then off the pitch as well, allowing our squad to mold even when we’re not in training. ”
Another team leader in the batting department is senior outfielder Matt Barnes. He was one of the Huskies’ top five hitters last season with a .264 batting average, and he’ll continue to play his offensive role for the team this season.
“Barnsey did a fantastic job,” Kunigonis said. “Expect him to play in center field every day and be at the top of our (batting) order.”
McKermitt and Barnes both received All-MAC academic recognition in 2021.
A key part of the Huskies’ success this season, in addition to hitting and playing on the field, will come down to the team’s pitching rotation. Senior right-handed pitcher Michael Lasiewicz had the most starts for NIU last season, pitching in 10 games. Lasiewicz had a 4.88 ERA for the 2021 season and a 3-7 record.
“We’ve got some new guys who will definitely contribute on the mound,” Lasiewicz said. “I’m not a big talker, but I guess I’m just trying to lead by example.”
Last season, the MAC moved from a three-game playoff schedule for conference games to a four-game playoff schedule. After a year of adjusting to change, NIU’s pitching rotation is now set to face conference competitors four times per weekend.
“It was definitely different. We had to use as much throwing as possible,” Lasiewicz said. everybody.
Before Mid-American Conference games begin in March, the Huskies will have multiple opportunities to test their skills against non-conference opponents across the country.
NIU travels to Sacramento State University on Friday to face the Hornets in a four-game series through Feb. 20. The following weekend, the team travels to Murray State University for another four-game series from February 25-27. Non-conference action will be a trip to Lipscomb University March 4-6 for a three-game series.
There will also be three notable single-game non-conference matchups for the Huskies during the regular season: March 22 at Purdue University, March 29 at the University of Notre Dame, and April 15 at the University. from Oakland to Rochester, Michigan.
“I’m really looking forward to going to Sacramento State. It’s always fun to play in warm weather,” McKermitt said. “Notre Dame will be my favourite, me being Irish.”
The Huskies’ first MAC matchup is at Ohio University on March 11, and the regular season ends with a series against Bowling Green State University starting May 19.
“We’re really excited to go out there and see what these guys can do,” Kunigonis said. “These guys put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into working hard every day. I am delighted to see them compete.
NIU will play its first game of the season against Sacramento State at 4:00 p.m. CT Friday in Sacramento, Calif. The full Huskies schedule and live game stats can be found on the NIU Athletics website.