WOLF PACK 7, NORTHERN ILLINOIS 3
Special to the Tribune
All that was missing was a birthday cake Friday at Peccole Park.
Bradey Shipley, though, supplied all the rest of the fun as the Wolf Pack cruised past the Northern Illinois Huskies, 7-3, in front of a crowd of 566 in the home opener. The Wolf Pack junior celebrated his 21st birthday by striking out 10 in eight innings and allowing just four hits and a run.
“I felt good out there,” said Shipley, who tossed 70 of his 110 pitches for strikes. “I was just glad to get out with a win.”
Shipley earned his first victory of the season by dominating the Huskies. He didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning and just two Huskies reached base through the first seven innings.
“Sometimes when he’s out there pitching, I sometimes get too relaxed,” smiled Wolf Pack first baseman Kewby Meyer, whose two-run home run gave Shipley a 5-1 lead in the fifth inning. “I just think he’s going to strike everybody out.”
Shipley fanned eight of the first 14 Northern Illinois hitters. He also got Huskies’ leadoff hitter Jamison Wells on strikes with the bases loaded in the eighth inning.
“We pitched well off my fastball,” said Shipley, who also had to pitch in front of about a dozen scouts sitting behind home plate with radar guns. “We set the hitters up pretty good. They didn’t really have a general idea about what was coming.”
Shipley retired the first dozen Huskies hitters, seven on strikes.
“He threw strikes, got ahead of the hitters and did a real nice job,” said Wolf Pack coach Gary Powers, who has now won 915 games in 31 seasons with the Wolf Pack.
Powers said he didn’t hesitate to let Shipley go back out to the mound for the eighth inning despite a big lead (7-1) and having already thrown 88 pitches.
“He was fine and he still felt strong,” Powers said. “He was still making his pitches. His max is 110 pitches and that’s exactly where he finished.”
Shipley struggled a bit in the eighth, allowing two hits and his only walk of the day.
“He got a little tired at the end,” Powers said. “But he was OK.”
Shipley, who pitched two complete games last year, understood why Powers lifted him after eight innings.
“I wanted to go back out for the ninth,” he said. “But coach is just looking out for the best interests of the team. I was fine with it. I have faith in any guy we throw out there.”
Colby Blueberg mopped up the ninth, allowing two unearned runs on three hits.
“It’s only the second series of the year,” said Shipley, who allowed five hits and four runs in his first start of the year last weekend against Kansas. “We have to take things slow right now.”
Eight innings and 110 pitches isn’t exactly slow, especially in February.
“I wanted to avoid a fistfight on the mound trying to take him out,” joked Powers.
Shipley is now, officially, one of the best pitchers in Wolf Pack history, according to the record book. His career earned run average of 2.86 is now second in Wolf Pack history (since 1970) for pitchers with at least 120 innings. And his .733 career winning percentage (11-4) is eighth in Pack history for pitchers with 12 or more decisions.
The scouts behind the plate, though, came to see his 95 mile an hour fastball.
“I didn’t even notice them,” Shipley said. “I can’t focus on that stuff.”
Shipley, instead, focused on making quick work of the Huskies.
“I threw a lot of fastballs and we didn’t really have to go to the curve until the fourth inning,” said Shipley, who also benefited from a couple of nice catches on well-hit line drives by leftfielder Brad Gerig and center fielder Jamison Rowe.
The Wolf Pack gave Shipley a 3-0 lead with three runs in the second inning. Scott Kaplan tripled home Gerig, who had singled to start the inning. Kyle Hunt singled home Kaplan and Meyer drove in Ryan Teel with the third run.
Meyer, hitting in the second spot in the order, went 2-for-3 with three RBI. His home run in the fifth inning stayed just inside the foul pole down the right field line.
“I knew it had enough to go over the fence,” said Meyer, a sophomore from Hawaii. “I just didn’t know if it was going to stay fair.”
The home run was just Meyer’s second in two seasons with the Pack in 200 career at-bats. His only other home run came last April 22 at Sacramento State.
“That’s my first one here,” Meyer smiled. “It feels good to finally get one in this park.”
Meyer hit .324 as a freshman with 34 RBI and is now hitting .389 (7-for-18) with four RBI this season.
“We like him in that second spot because if the leadoff guy doesn’t get on base, he has a real good chance of getting on,” Powers said. “We don’t really use our two hitter like a typical two hitter. We just like him up there in front of those other guys (Brooks Klein, Austin Byler, Brad Gerig) because he’s a good average hitter.”
“Wherever my team needs me to hit, that’s OK with me,” Meyer said.
The Pack put the game away with a pair of runs in the sixth. Kaplan and Teel both got on base by getting hit by a pitch and Rowe and Klein drove them both in with groundouts.
The Wolf Pack, now 3-2, and Northern Illinois (0-5) will play a doubleheader at Peccole on Saturday (11 a.m.) and finish the four-game series with a single game on Sunday (11 a.m.).