Buckley Powers Stars Past Illinois Tech

Thu May 9, 2019
Junior catcher Mike Buckley belted three home runs and drove in four runs to lift the Stars past the Illinois Tech Scarlet Hawks, 6-5, in the opening game of the 2019 Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference (NACC).  In the process, Buckley set the NACC Baseball Tournament single-game record for home runs and put the Stars into a 4:00 p.m. matchup with the second-seeded Aurora University Spartans.
 
"We've been talking for the last week that this is the time of year that you just need to find a way to win," commented Steve Hardman, the Stars' head baseball coach, "and that is exactly what we did. We were chasing most of the game and Buckley put us on his back and led us offensively. He accounted for four of our six RBIs with three home runs and really bailed us out when we were leaving too many guys on base early in the game."
 
"We got a quality start from Trevor Fulmer who didn't have his 'A' game but was able to stay in the game long enough so we didn't have to tax our bullpen.  Then we brought Austin Michals in and he got of a big spot clean with two outs and a runner on third and then went one-two-three in the ninth which is never an easy task—especially in a conference tournament game. I'm really pleased with the way we played and the next challenge ahead of us."
 
The Scarlet Hawks took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second on a two-out single by Jacob Sorenson but Fulmer managed to escape further damage when Bryant Bagshaw snagged a sharp liner at third to end the inning.
 
After leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the second and failing to take advantage of a leadoff error in the bottom of the third, the Stars' bats broke out in the bottom of the fourth.  Mike Piotrowski led off the inning with a single to center and took second on a wild pitch.  After a fly out pushed the senior to third, Tyler Trojan evened the score with a sacrifice fly to push across Piotrowski.  On the very next pitch, Buckley gave the Stars their first lead of the game with a long home run to left center that nearly hit the scoreboard.
 
The Stars kept the pressure on the Illinois Tech's Ian Duke who got the start on the mound, but failed to capitalize further, leaving the bases loaded for the second time in the ballgame.
 
Illinois Tech responded with a two-spot in the top of the fifth to pull back in front 3-2 and then added a run in the top of the sixth, extending their lead to 4-2.
 
In the bottom of the sixth, Trojan singled to start the frame before Buckley blasted a 2-0 fastball to nearly the same spot in left-center, evening the score at 4-4 with his fourth home run of the season.
 
With Duke giving way to Alex O'Malley in the bottom of the seventh, Brandon Diedrich put the Stars back on top with a big two-out double to right-center that scored Piotrowski all the way from first.
 
The Scarlet Hawks again answered back in the top of the eighth, chasing Fulmer from the game when Nick Bledsoe tripled to deep centerfield, scoring Orlando Cardenas-Juan who had walked to start the inning.
 
Michals entered the game with the go-ahead run at third and one out, getting the first hitter he faced looking at strike three before getting Ted Howell, who homered earlier in the game, to pop out to Frankie Sessa at first.
 
Leading off the bottom of the eighth, Buckley hit a high-towering shot that bounced off the top of the fence for his third home run of the ballgame.  The blast proved to be the game-winner as Michals set the Scarlet Hawks down in order in the top of the ninth.
 
Working the final 1.2 innings to pick up the win, Michals improved to 2-1 on the season.  The junior right-hander was clean for the Stars out of the pen, retiring all five hitters he faced.  Fulmer had worked the first 7.1 innings, making his eighth start of the season.  Fulmer was charged with five runs on eight hits and two walks while striking out four.
 
For the Scarlet Hawks, O'Malley took the loss, surrendering two runs on two hits over the final two innings.
 
Offensively, the Stars managed eight hits. Dominican's four through eight hitters combined to go 8-for-16 with all six runs scored and all six RBIs.  Buckley finished 3-for-4 with a pair of solo home runs and a two run shot. Trojan had a pair of hits, going 2-for-3 with a sac fly, run scored and an RBI.
 
With the win, the Stars improve to 20-18 on the season, marking just the fourth 20-win season in program history and first since winning a program-best 23 games in 2014.