March 23, 2014

Bulls Clinch Series Win vs. NIU, 3-1

WHEATON, IL - Pitching prowess again led the charge for Buffalo Sunday afternoon, as senior Mike Burke went seven strong innings to lead the team to a 3-1 win over Northern Illinois (3-17-1, 1-2 MAC) in the opening weekend of the Mid-American Conference season. He was able to leave the bases loaded for NIU on three different occasions, and Cory Folk locked it down for the final two innings to earn his second save of the season.

The Huskies put the heat on Burke from the very start, loading up the bases with two outs in the first inning before getting a fly ball to left to end the threat. The Bulls would ultimately strike first, breaking on to the scoreboard with two runs in the fourth. Nick Sinay led off with a double and then would steal second. Matt Pollock would be hit with a pitch to put runners on the corners with no outs. Tyler Mautner would score Sinay, and Pollock would come in from third later in the inning off a groundout from Chris Kwitzer.

After a rough start to the game, Burke settled down in a big for the next four innings. Aside from a runner reaching on an error in the fourth, Northern Illinois would not have a single base runner until the sixth inning. In that time, the UB offense added another run thanks to a sacrifice fly from Jimmy Topps in the top of the fifth for a 3-0 advantage. Buffalo's defense would have to walk a tightrope over Burke's final two innings of work, as the Huskies would load the bases in the sixth and seventh to threaten the slim lead. In the sixth, a walk a single and an error would bring in NIU's first run and load the bases with just one out. Burke would get a check-swing strikeout, then a foul pop-up to first base that ended the threat.

In the seventh, back-to-back singles and a hit batter would again juice the bases with just one out. This time, Burke would induce a shallow fly ball that would freeze the runner on third, and get his tenth strikeout of the game for the critical third out. Folk would relieve him in the eighth and cruised over his two innings of work, allowing just one baserunner and striking out a pair.

Freshman Brian Dudek was the lone batter in the lineup with multiple hits, as the Huskies would actually out-hit the Bulls in the game 5-4. The win moves UB to 10-7 overall and 2-1 in the MAC. The weekend series win continues an impressive stretch for the Bulls, who have not lost a conference series since early on in May of 2012. 

It was just the second win of the season for Burke, but it was the sixteenth of his career. That moves him into a tie for second place in the all-time career wins list, just one away from the all-time record. His first chance to match the record comes next weekend, as the Bulls host Ball State for its 2014 home opener. First pitch Friday is scheduled for 3 pm, weather permitting.