A four-run 2nd inning had Indiana in prime position to start the Big Ten season with an easy win, but Penn State wouldn't let the weekend go the way it was supposed to go. In the bottom of the 4th, the Nittany Lions became the third straight opponent to knock around P Christian Morris. Morris, gave up three runs on three hits in the inning, and was yanked after just 3.2 IP. And in the 5th, Thomas Belcher, who had been brilliant every time he's been on the mound the last couple weeks, surrendered the tying run.
In the 8th-11th innings, Penn State left eight runners on base, struggling, like a three-win team does, to close out a game. Finally, the Hoosiers broke through in the 12th when Craig Dedelow led off with a double and Scott Donley drove him in to take a 5-4 lead. Ryan Halstead finished the job in the bottom half of the 12th retiring the only three batters he saw.
The win was Indiana's 12th straight and all was right in the world. Right?
But you wouldn't have known that if you shut your radio off in the middle innings. Indiana started game two where they left off in game one, scoring two in the 1st, one in the 3rd, and four in the 4th to take a 7-0 lead. Caleb Baragar was pulled in the bottom of the 4th after giving up one run, and was replaced by Jake Kelzer.
Surely Lemonis expected that Jake Kelzer could take the Hoosiers most of the rest of the way. Kelzer, Indiana's typical Sunday starter was relegated to relief duty after snow postponed Friday and Saturday's games and turned this series into a two-game set. Bringing in a starter in the 4th makes you feel awfully comfortable with the idea that you won't have to turn to the rest of the bullpen until the 8th or 9th. But that wasn't the case and it wasn't Kelzer's fault.
Kelzer was unscathed in the 5th, and limited Penn State to one run in the 6th after Indiana committed two errors. But things came unglued for the Hoosiers in the 7th. After a lead off single, a Kelzer throwing error put Penn State in business with runners on 2nd and 3rd and nobody out. By the end of the inning, the Hoosiers had committed a total of four errors, allowing the Nittany Lions to score four runs on only two hits. But still, IU took a 7-6 lead into the 8th.
Still feeling ok? Probably. But we shouldn't have been.
The Penn State 8th began innocently, with a groundout to 2nd. The next batter also grounded to Casey Rodrigue, but a throwing error allowed the batter to reach. Sound familiar?
Then this happened: Single. Single, 7-7. Wild Pitch. Intentional Walk. Hit By Pitch, 8-7. Triple, 11-7. Single, 12-7. F7. E6. BB, 13-7. Merciful groundout.
5 hits, 2 errors, one walk, one hit batter, 7 ugly runs.
So what in the hell did we learn from this unmitigated disaster?
1. The defense is not dependable. Entering the season, we thought this club's offense would be the phase of the game that would be the biggest hurdle to success. But it has become clear that this is not the case. 20 games in, the Hoosier defense has committed 37 errors. 19 of those have been committed at SS or 3B.
Great pitching and timely offense have masked these problems for most of the season. But the Hoosiers have committed at least one error in each of their five losses, and have committed five or more in two losses now. To reiterate a point from before the Fullerton series: When good teams play, preventing extra base runners matters a lot. We saw it against Fullerton, when the Titans committed the same number of errors that weekend that they had committed in the entire rest of their season. We saw it in the finale of the Stanford series where two errors by IU were the difference.
This is something that has to be shored up in Big Ten play. Illinois and Maryland will embarrass the Hoosiers the same way Penn State did if the defense doesn't get it together.
2. The pitching rotation may not be as set in stone as it seemed. Christian Morris is riding the struggle bus. He's getting tons of offensive support, so he's still 2-0. But his ERA is over 5.00 now. And he's also only giving Lemonis 5 IP per start now. And several numbers suggest that when Scott Effross makes a full return to action, that Morris should be the pitcher left out of the rotation. In fact, the numbers suggest that out of the five starters (not including Hart, returning from Tommy John, or Evan Bell, one of the best relievers on the roster) Morris has been the worst.
I suspect that when Effross returns, Baragar will become the weekday starter or a middle reliever like Bell. But these numbers aren't lying. Morris is struggling while Baragar has been Indiana's best starter over the last couple weeks. Caleb Baragar has been very good for Indiana in each of his starts, and even if he isn't going as deep into games as Morris, he's putting the bullpen in far better situations.
3. The Hoosiers better have short memories. Indiana welcomes No. 11 Louisville, fresh off a sweep of Notre Dame, to Bart Kaufman Field on Tuesday.