A few minutes before the beginning of Sunday's doubleheader, the most encouraging sign of the past few weeks came across the Twitter feed. D1baseball.com released its daily RPI rankings, and after two big wins on Wednesday and Friday, Indiana had found its way back into the Top-50. Nothing is a lock, but that suggested that nine or ten wins over the last 14 games would have given the Hoosiers a fighting chance at a 4-seed (assuming they would have continued to ascend).
By 6 p.m., it was clear that all of that progress had been undone. And this morning, the Hoosiers (23-17, 6-10, 9th in Big Ten) are back down to No. 62 in the RPI.
Michigan State starter Mick VanVossen entered Saturday with a 2-4 record and an ERA of 5.85. The anemic Indiana offense, however, made him look like Cy Young reincarnated. The Hoosiers managed just one hit as VanVossen tossed a complete game shutout.
Jake Kelzer gave Indiana 5.2 quality innings, but the game got out of control when Thomas Belcher had his worst outing of the season, allowing three earned runs in just 0.2 IP. Evan Bell was only able to record two outs, as well, and allowed two more Spartan runs.
Indiana never threatened after the first inning and fell 7-0.
In the 3rd inning, Will Nolden registered Indiana's second hit of the day. But through 13 innings of baseball, that was it for IU.
Trailing 3-0 in the Bottom of the 5th, Indiana got its first real opportunity to do damage. Logan Sowers led off with a double and Nick Ramos was hit by a pitch to put two on with nobody out. Isaiah Pasteur, up next, hit popped up high into the swirling winds at Bart Kaufman. As the Michigan State shortstop turned and twisted attempting to find the ball in the sky, the field umpire put a finger up and signaled an Infield Fly on the ball that was 60-70 feet into the outfield. The Spartan CF dove for the ball, and missed it, before the LF corralled it and Indiana seemingly had the bases loaded.
Then everyone realized what the umpire had called. Manager Chris Lemonis stormed out of the dugout and spent nearly five minutes in the umpire's face, clearly irate by the umpire's interpretation that the SS could have made the play with regular effort. (The fact that Lemonis was not ejected after his demonstrative argument with the umpire suggests, to me at least, that the umpire knew he had blown it.) But in the end, the result was Pasteur being called out and Indiana with runners on 2nd and 3rd and one out instead of the bases loaded and none out.
Will Nolden single to left to score Sowers and advance Ramos. But in the next at-bat, Austin Cangelosi, who had an incredibly uncomfortable day at the plate (0-5, with 4 strikeouts; and later pinch-hit for by Brian Wilhite), made contact for the first and only time, grounding into a 3-6-3 double play to end the threat.
After the game, Lemonis commented on the Infield Fly, saying, "I've never seen one where the center fielder dove for it, he left fielder picked it up and it was an infield fly." He added that he thought the umpire made a mistake by calling it took quickly.
The Hoosiers threatened once more in the 9th, tacking on one more run and getting the tying run to the plate. But Michigan State held on for a 3-2 win.
It may not have been the worst baseball they've played this season, but because of the damage it did to the progress made earlier in the week, it was the worst day of the season.
Same Ol' Song and Dance
The past few weeks, I've written time that the offense is too inconsistent and that the club seemed to lack focus and give-a-damn. After 15 hits and six runs on Friday night, Indiana managed six hits and three runs in two games on Sunday, highlighting the offensive inconsistency.
Lemonis noted the inconsistency and also suggested that the problems lie with the team's mentality."It blows my mind," Lemonis stated about the team's troubles on Sunday. "It just seemed like we had a lack of intensity and a lack of focus."
Did Anything Go Right?
Isaiah Pasteur and Nick Ramos were absolutely phenomenal defensively this weekend. And even though the team took a major step back on Sunday, the two deserve recognition for their plethora of web gems.
Tinkering with the Pitching
Kyle Hart started on Friday for Indiana, and Scott Effross was used in long relief, going 4.1 IP. Kezler and Caleb Baragar started games two and three.
On Sunday, when Indiana had clawed its way into a ballgame in Game two of the doubleheader, Effross entered in the 8th inning, which was surprising to see after his long relief outing on Friday. But after the game, Lemonis noted that Effross is more suited for relief work.
"He threw Friday and today and was better today than he was on Friday," Lemonis said.
When asked if the move to the bullpen was probably permanent for Effross, Lemonis said, "Yeah, I think we saw that this weekend. He's just a lot better in that role."
What Lies Ahead?
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Indiana plays at Evansville and hosts Indiana State, respectively, in a potential week of redemption after they letdown against both of those clubs two weeks ago.
Then, they travel to College Park, MD, to face No. 20 Maryland who currently sits in 4th in the Big Ten.