Coming into this weekend, Indiana sports teams had not been faring well against Michigan State this season. The eventual Big Ten football champs crushed the Hoosiers in October, during our first road game of the season. In basketball, Tom Crean lost twice to his mentor, Tom Izzo. After the Spartans blew IU out at Assembly Hall, the Hoosiers kept it close during the second game at Breslin Center; but as they did many times throughout the season, they squandered yet another lead on the road in the second half.
This past weekend, however, was a different story, as the Spartans traveled south to Bloomington to take on the 18th-ranked Hoosier baseball team at Bart Kaufman Field. The Hoosiers made up for the losses in the other sports with a resounding weekend sweep of Michigan State over the weekend, winning 7-0 on Friday, 2-1 (in 12 innings) on Saturday, and finishing with a 4-1 victory on Sunday. The wins move Indiana to 25-11 overall, and 11-1 in B1G play. Notably, Sunday was the 13th win in 14 games for the Hoosiers, as well as their third straight sweep of a Big Ten rival. As a result, the IU baseball team continues to rack up victories as it hopes to make its way towards a second straight College World Series berth.
IU ace Joey DeNato was the unquestioned star of Friday night’s game, as the Hoosiers cruised to a 7-0 victory, setting the tone for what was to come the rest of the weekend. DeNato threw eight shutout innings, and recorded five strikeouts while only giving up five hits. On the offensive side of the ball, rightfielder Will Nolden got things going for the Hoosiers in the bottom of the second, hitting a triple that scored two Hoosiers. Shortstop Nick Ramos continued the scoring in the fourth with a two-run home run, which was his first of the season.
Saturday featured some extra-inning drama at the Bart. Tied at one after regulation, MSU had a chance to take the lead in the top of the 11th inning. With men on first and second for the Spartans, Anthony Cheky hit a ground ball and was initially ruled safe at first to load the bases. However, after IU manager Tracy Smith argued the call, the ruling was overturned and Cheky was ruled out, and the Hoosiers got out of the jam. During the next inning, they capitalized, as second baseman Casey Rodrique hit a walkoff single to send Nolden home for a 2-1 Indiana victory, clinching the series over Michigan State.
On Easter Sunday, the Hoosiers got out the brooms and finished off the sweep, winning 4-1 thanks to a late rally. Tied at one in the bottom of the eighth, first baseman Sam Travis hit a two-run double, scoring both Rodrique and Kyle Schwarber to break open the game for the Hoosiers. Brian Korte pitched 6 1/3 solid innings for the Hoosiers, giving up only one run and five hits while striking out four Spartans.
Next up for the Hoosiers is a home game against Ball State on Wednesday at 6:05pm. This will be the last home game for a week and a half, until Purdue comes to town May 2-4. Next weekend, the Hoosiers travel to Champaign to take on Illinois, who currently sits in second place in the B1G with a 9-3 conference record. The Illini series will be a good road test for the Hoosiers, and a chance to see where we stand with the conference tournament coming up at the end of May. Unfortunately, the Hoosiers do not play Nebraska in baseball this season. The Cornhuskers are 8-4 in the B1G right now, and were thought to be the biggest rival to the Hoosiers in the Big Ten this year. Thus, the earliest the two teams could meet is at the B1G tournament (which will be held at the same ballpark as the College World Series in Omaha). Which is a shame, because who knows if Nebraska's baseball coach has the same penchant for cats as their football coach does.