There was something about the news of Christian Morris starting that felt surprisingly good. It was probably the combination of a few factors -- Morris's late-season improvement, a fully available bullpen, and Vanderbilt not throwing one of its studs -- that provided the hope. But it was all contingent upon Chris Lemonis having a quick trigger. He didn't.
In the 1st, Morris had to work out of a bases loaded jam after an error, a Dansby Swanson single, and a walk filled them. But he kept it scoreless, and the Hoosiers used that little jolt of momentum to hang two in the bottom half of the inning when a Craig Dedelow single brought home Ramos (walk) and Hartong (double). 2-0.
Morris appeared to have settled in in the 2nd, allowing just one runner on a walk, and the offense gave him another run after Wilhite tripled off the big, stupid wall in left and Rodrigue grounded out to drive him home. 3-0.
But the 3rd is where the game changed and the first strategic mishap occurred. After two singles to start the inning, it became obvious to everyone in attendance that Vanderbilt was on the verge of breaking through and Morris was on the verge of breaking down. But four more Commodores saw the plate before Scott Effross began throwing in the pen. The result of those at-bats? Walk, groundout RBI, game-tying double, SAC fly to put a runner on 3rd with 2 outs.
A long conference on the mound gave Effross, who has been ready in situations that have provided him less of a chance to warm up, plenty of time and plenty of pitches. But Lemonis, after seeing the disaster that the inning had already become, left Morris in. On cue, Vanderbilt singled to take the lead, 4-3. Effross was finally brought in and he induced a grounder after three pitches.
Over the next three innings, the Indiana bats went dormant as Phillip Pfeifer retired 11 straight Hoosiers at one point. But Scott Effross was brilliant and kept IU in it. Ultimately, Effross went 5.1 IP, allowing four hits and no runs on 64 pitches. The Indiana offense scraped out a run in the 6th on Craig Dedelow's 3rd RBI of the game and after six exhilarating innings, it was a whole new ballgame.
Effross continued to dominate, and Vanderbilt's Ben Bowden shutdown the Hoosier attack.
At the beginning of the 9th, the strategic decision that I'm on the fence about was made. Effross, a former starter who still gives seven or eight innings of relief on some weekends, was at 64 pitches, but was replaced by Luke Harrison, who hadn't pitched since the Wednesday of the Big Ten tournament. Due up? Coleman, Wiseman, Swanson. The top.
After Coleman whiffed away, Wiseman doubled. Here comes the second or third blunder, depending on how you feel about leaving Effross in:
In a tie game and with first base open, Indiana decided to pitch to Dansby Swanson, the potential No. 1 pick in the upcoming MLB Draft. All he did was hit a ball 400 feet that left the park as fast as some of the Schwarber bombs that we were accustomed to in Bloomington.
And Lemonis knew it was a mistake, saying, "We should have done an intentional walk, but we were just trying to pitch around him, but he just left the ball over the plate and a good player hit it. But that's what we were trying to do we just didn't want to give him a good pitch."
With Cangelosi, Nolden, and Wilhite due up in the bottom (combined to go 1-for-11 with 6 strikeouts on the day) the game was effectively over.
Now, Indiana will have to rebound quickly as they'll face Radford in an elimination game at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday. Lemonis is yet to name a starter, but said after the game that, "We have a couple options right now. I have to get back and talk to everybody. But we have a couple guys like Evan Bell, Caleb Baragar, Coursen-Carr who are just some of the guys with postseason experience that I feel like we could use. With Scott throwing so many tonight, we have some guys who are still pretty fresh."
If the Hoosiers win, they'll turn around an hour afterward and play Vanderbilt again. If Indiana can somehow find a way to win two on Sunday, they would play Vanderbilt again in a winner-take-all matchup on Monday night at 7:30 ET.