A trip to the College World Series. Back-to-back Big Ten Championships. The first Big Ten team to ever earn a national seed. Two NCAA Tournament appearances (and counting). 157 wins (and counting).
It's a pretty spectacular resume that the Hoosier baseball seniors have put together. Friday, between the day and night games of the doubleheader, the program honored Ricky Alfonso, Scott Donley, Ryan Halstead, Luke Harrison, Brad Hartong, Will Nolden, Casey Rodrigue, and Chris Sujka as a way of thanking them for their unbelievable contributions to the program.
Little did anyone know that just three hours later, the seniors would add to their own story.
In the last three innings of the season finale, the class of 2015 took control of the game, of the series, and of the season. After Caleb Baragar loaded the bases with nobody out and gave up a run, cutting the Hoosiers' lead to 4-2, Chris Lemonis turned to senior Ryan Halstead, the all-time appearance and saves leader for Indiana.
Halstead gave up a hard hit ball to the gap in right-center that looked like it was going to clear the bases and give Ohio State the lead. But out of nowhere, senior Will Nolden made a tumbling catch that saved two runs. After Ohio State pushed one more run across, Halstead buckled down and struck out the rest of the side to keep the game tied.
Halstead shutdown Ohio State in the 8th, and in the bottom half of the inning, other seniors would get involved. Senior Nick Ramos led off the inning by earning a walk, and then senior Brad Hartong sacrificed him to 2nd. The next batter, senior Scott Donley, singled up the middle and Ramos scored from second to give Indiana the lead. Donley advanced to 3rd on an errant throw. After Logan Sowers popped up in the infield and Craig Dedelow got plunked, senior Will Nolden capped off the rally with a single that scored Donley and gave the Hoosiers a 6-4 lead.
Ohio State did not have a chance in the 9th, as Halstead came out fired up and pitched a perfect inning to close out the series and his home career.
Earlier in the contest when they trailed 1-0, Logan Sowers hit a grand slam to give the Hoosiers a 4-1 lead. Christian Morris started and gave Lemonis 4.2 IP and limited Ohio State to one run despite allowing several baserunners.
During the day game, Indiana got off to a fast start and never looked back, winning 9-1. Craig Dedelow and Brian Wilhite homered and Kyle Hart turned in the best starting pitching performance Indiana has had since Jake Kelzer's one-hit outing against Ball State in early March. Kelzer relieved Hart in the 7th and picked up a 9-out save.
The Hoosiers finished the regular season 32-20 and 12-10 in the Big Ten.
THINGS TO KNOW:
1. Let em in. Nine wins in their last 10 games. Sweeps of Cal State Fullerton, Maryland, and Ohio State. Series wins over Stanford and Long Beach State. Wins over the College of Charleston, Louisville, and Kentucky. The Hoosiers have a resume and trend that should be more than enough to have an at-large bid locked up. It would appear that the only scenario that would put that bid in jeopardy would be an ugly 0-2 showing in Minneapolis next week. But it might still take two bad, bad losses to undo the work that this weekend's sweep did for Indiana's RPI (37th).
2. Indiana can still move up in the Big Ten Standings. After Northwestern took the first two games of their series with Maryland, the Hoosiers find themselves just 1/2 game behind Maryland in the conference standings. As Indiana owns the tiebreaker after the sweep of the Terps two weekends ago, if Northwestern finishes the sweep today, Indiana will move into 5th in the Big Ten standings and would play Michigan at 10:00 p.m. EST on Wednesday night. If Maryland escapes with a win, the Hoosiers will play 3-seed Michigan State at 10:00 a.m. EST on Wednesday morning.
3. The pitching is peaking at the right time. Early in the season, there was a feeling that if this team found its way into the tournament, it would be a threat to anyone and everyone because of the pitching depth. In the middle of the season, the club was only a threat to itself. But as the Big Ten tournament is looming, the Hoosiers' staff has come alive again and has the look of a battery that no one will want to face in a tournament situation. It starts with Kyle Hart, who is emerging as the ace that this team has needed since day one.
As his pitch limit increases, Hart continues to get stronger and more effective. In addition to Hart, Lemonis has the following guys who can start and/or provide at least three or four innings of relief on any given day: Baragar, Kelzer, Morris, Harrison, Effross, Bell, Hobbie, and Coursen-Carr. And that still leaves Belcher, Foote, and Halstead as backend guys.
All of these guys, with the exception of Hobbie, have seen meaningful innings in the last couple weeks and have been very effective. In tournament play, if the Hoosiers can tally some early wins, the pitching depth and talent could be the difference in a good showing and a deep run.
4. So is the offense. 75 runs in the last 10 games only begin to tell the story of the offensive resurgence. The team has strung together a combination of power and timely hitting that creates the potential for an outburst in any inning. Sowers and Dedelow have led the power surge with a barrage of home runs, but others, such as Wilhite, Rodrigue, and Hartong have added occasional homers and shots into the gaps to keep runners moving.
And guys like Nolden, Donley, Ramos, and Pasteur have come up with timely hits or walks in big situations that have kept innings alive, or finished off rallies. Needless to say, combining this with the clutch pitching they have been getting will also go a long way in finding success in the coming week(s).