It took much longer than it appeared it was going to take, but on Thursday night, Indiana finally claimed win number 30 on the season. And they did it in a manner that they must have fallen in love with. For the fourth time in their last seven wins, Indiana used tremendous pitching down the stretch and a big offensive inning to put away the opposition, this time knocking off Ohio State, 6-4.
Luke Harrison labored through his first start of the season, getting himself into jams in the 1st and 2nd innings. But he escaped unscathed, and then settled down in the 3rd and 4th. Indiana got three runs during that stretch off of a solo home run and a two-RBI single, both by Craig Dedelow, who remained hot after he torched Long Beach State a week ago.
Lemonis made an iffy decision in leaving Harrison in for the 5th, and it resulted in a 3-run home run for the Buckeyes, that tied the game. Thomas Belcher entered the game in relief, and in the 6th, he surrendered another run, making it 4-3 Ohio State.
The Hoosiers' offense went stagnant for a few innings, but Will Coursen-Carr kept Indiana in the game with his two best innings of the season. He came in with a runner on first and no one out in the 7th and got the game into the 9th facing only six batters.
In the bottom of the 8th, the Hoosiers got the big inning they needed. Immediately following a warning track out off of Scott Donley's bat, Logan Sowers cranked a solo home run to tie the game at four. Then, Dedelow worked a walk in what may have been the best non-RBI, non-extra base Indiana at-bat of the season, and subsequently advanced to second on a passed ball.
Will Nolden clobbered a double into the gap to score Dedelow and the Hoosiers took a 5-4 lead. Nolden would eventually score after stealing 3rd. Isaiah Pasteur drove him in with pinch-hit single.
Scott Effross closed the game in the 9th, recording two strikeouts and inducing a ground ball to end the game after Ohio State singled to start the inning.
In a reversion to something we haven't done in a while, let's take a look at what we learned:
WHAT DID WE LEARN?
1. Will Coursen-Carr has regained some trust. It makes me unbelievably happy to write this. I have had no qualms about letting it be known that Coursen-Carr is a personal favorite of mine. And I was excited to see him get a shot in a very meaningful one-run game last night when he entered in the 7th. That showed that Lemonis and his staff are beginning to trust Coursen-Carr in a way that no one has since his freshman year. And, even better than them offering that trust is that Coursen-Carr rewarded it with two perfect innings that earned him the win as the pitcher of record.
When asked what led to Coursen-Carr being put into that big of a situation for the first time this year, Lemonis stated, "I probably should have put him in there a little sooner. He's had some good outings and we need a left on left matchup guy and it just went to him tonight, and I thought he was great."
If Coursen-Carr is able to build upon this, it gives Indiana one more very good arm with great stuff moving forward, and that's something that can make them dangerous in a tournament situation.
2. Chris Lemonis is the right man for this job. I've never felt differently, but some of you have. The last 14 days should have changed your minds if you're one of the ones who has thought he isn't the guy for this. I made this statement via Twitter last night, and the Director of Baseball Operations chimed in to effectively say that you're nuts if you think Lemonis isn't the guy.
Something Lemonis said last night after the game is an indicator of just one of the things he does exceedingly well for a first year manager: He understands the mood of his team. Responding to a question about what kind of message he delivered to the team heading into the 8th inning, Lemonis talked about the great inning Ohio State had in the 5th, and added, "And our demeanor changed a little bit. And the challenge was just to have fun and play these last three innings." And here's the key statement: "We've been able to do that for the last couple of weeks now. We've just played some tough baseball," Lemonis said.
It was clear to anyone watching that this team didn't have fun in April. It didn't take long for them to get down on themselves. And Lemonis was able to something to get it all turned around before they went to College Park, Maryland a couple weeks ago. A lot of veteran managers might not know how to get a team that had lost 15 of its last 23 games to have fun. But he did. And he was able to deliver that message in three of the most pressure packed innings of the season?
The charisma is evident. He pulls the right strings in games. And we know he's a recruiter. If you ever jumped off the Lemonis bandwagon, get back on.
3. Indiana clinched a berth in the Big Ten Tournament. They also got some help from around the Big Ten. Illinois won its 25th straight game, beating Nebraska, which allowed Indiana to separate themselves from Nebraska by two games in the battle for 7th. 7th is better than 8th, not just for the obvious numerical reasons, but because the 7-seed will avoid Illinois in the opening game of the tournament.
Additionally, Northwestern defeated Maryland last night, moving the Hoosiers within two games of the Terps.
So, Indiana is one win, or one Nebraska loss away from avoiding Illinois. They are two wins away from passing Ohio State in the Big Ten standings. And they are two wins and two Maryland losses away from passing the Terps.
It should be a wild weekend in Big Ten baseball.
UPDATE: Indiana has announced that due to inclement weather forecasted for Saturday, this weekend's remaining games have been scheduled for a day-night doubleheader beginning at 3 p.m. on Friday. The final game of the series should begin approximately 45 minutes following the final out of the 3 p.m. contest.