After Friday's series opener was postponed due to the monsoon that hit Bloomington, the Hoosiers and Cal State Fullerton played two on Saturday afternoon at Bart Kaufman Field, and what fans were treated to was 19 innings of the most entertaining baseball you can find.
Most expected the first game to be a pitcher's duel, with Indiana veteran Christian Morris facing off with Fullerton's Thomas Eshelman, one of the highest rated prospects in college baseball, who could be a first-round pick in this year's draft. Eshelman was terrific for seven innings, but unfortunately for the Titans, he threw eight innings. In the 3rd inning, trailing 2-0, Indiana scratched out three runs on four hits to take a lead that few teams ever see against Eshelman.
Morris, however, also struggled on Saturday, giving up four runs in five innings and was on the hook for the loss as he exited. But, as they seem to always do, the Indiana bullpen kept the Hoosiers in the game. Thomas Belcher was perfect in his first three innings and IU tied the game in the 7th. But the 9th got interesting after Belcher gave up his allowed hit, plunked the next batter, then committed an error on a SAC bunt.
Bases loaded. Nobody out. Until Belcher recorded the biggest strikeout of his season for the first out. Then, a sharply hit groundball to Casey Rodrigue led to a force out at home. When the Fullerton runner who was on 3rd trucked C Brad Hartong, Manager Chris Lemonis came out to plead his case for interference, which was granted and the batter was also called out. (But it wasn't anywhere near the weirdest sequence of the weekend.)
Luke Harrison came on for Indiana in the 10th and shut down the Titan offense before the Fullerton defense imploded with three errors in the bottom half, allowing Indiana to score the winning run without recording a hit.
In the backend of the doubleheader, we got the pitcher's duel we expected in the first game. Caleb Baragar was as outstanding for Indiana as he was last weekend against St. Joe's, filling in for Scott Effross in a huge way. Brian Hobbie and Austin Foote combined for 3.2 innings of middle relief, and Ryan Halstead closed things out for Indiana, preserving a shutout win, 2-0. In total, IU pitchers recorded 12 strikeouts during the game and gave up only six hits. The defense committed no errors, making it the cleanest game Indiana has played all season.
The Hoosiers got a run in the first after the leadoff man, Rodrigue, tripled and the next batter, Craig Dedelow, sacrificed him home. From that point forward, the Fullerton staff was almost as good as Indiana's, apart from an Austin Cangelosi solo bomb in the 8th inning.
On Sunday afternoon, in front of a crowd of nearly 3,000, the Scatman, Cangelosi, continued his assault on the Titans going 3-for-4 with a single, double, and triple.
Why "Scatman?" His walkup music:
Starting pitching struggled again for the Hoosiers, as in game one. Jake Kelzer, the former Bloomington South Panther, retired only 13 of the 23 batters he faced in 4.1 IP and left, like Morris did on Saturday, in line for the loss, trailing 4-3. But the Indiana bullpen was nearly perfect the rest of the way, allowing only one runner on base (hit-by-pitch) and striking out six in the last 4.2 innings.
And, following Cangelosi's lead, the Hoosier bats exploded, scoring two in the 6th, four in the 7th, and one in the 8th en route to a 10-4 beatdown over the No. 23 Titans.
So what did we learn:
1. Baseball can be bizarre. Fullerton had only committed nine errors before this weekend's series (Indiana, conversely, came in with 24 to their credit.) They committed nine in these three games alone. And to be honest, they should have (from my point of view) been credited with two more after their CF dropped to balls that hit his glove in the 7th inning on Sunday. The scorer ruled them hits.
But beyond the fact that a statistical anomaly happens every now and then, this weekend reminded us of how neat the weirdness of baseball can be. There were at least four or five occasions this weekend where a team had the bases loaded with less than two outs and got nothing. The aforementioned CF dropped two balls off his glove in the same inning. Fullerton was called for the trifecta of interference calls--one on the runner who ended on the 9th in game one, one on a batter who failed to get out of the way of a Hartong attempt to catch a runner stealing, and one on the Fullerton catcher whose glove interfered with Logan Sowers' swing in game two.
But, certainly, the most odd thing to happen this weekend was the 9-8-6-3 double play Fullerton turned on Sunday. The RF, Scott Hurst, dove face first into the wall to save what was sure to be an Indiana triple. He immediately flipped the ball to Centerfielder who hit the Shortstop relaying the throw, and he fired to first to nab the Hoosier runner who was almost to third when the ball was caught.
Anybody ever seen a 9-8-6-3 double play? Didn't think so.
2. Indiana pitching is really good. We didn't really learn this over the weekend. We've known all season. But it deserves reiteration. They're tremendous. Even when the starters struggle, as they did in games one and three, the bullpen is darn near perfect. Looking down the road, and getting way ahead of ourselves, the Hoosiers will have an advantage against almost any team they play in the conference or NCAA tournaments because of how many great arms they can trot out at any time and in any situation. Everyone should take notice.