Indiana (31-14, 9-8 Big Ten) had the spot they wanted. Tying run on second, no outs, and one of the top hitter’s on the Hoosier ballclub at the dish. But instead of letting star catcher Ryan Fineman swing the bat for a chance to tie the game, Chris Lemonis asked for the junior to lay down a sacrifice bunt. Even after Fineman looked uncomfortable fouling off the first pitch, Lemonis left the bunt sign on. The result was Fineman popping the next pitch up right at Chris Machamer, who made the catch easily for the first out.
It is completely understandable why Lemonis wanted the SAC bunt. He was trying to get a runner to third with less than 2 outs so that his offense would have a chance to score a run without having to get a hit. It makes sense in most cases, especially against a pitcher the caliber of Machamer, who his a tall right hander that throws 95 mph heat and already had 8 saves on the season. But Fineman is a middle of the order hitter who hits above .300, leads the team in RBIs in 33 and is tied for the second most home runs on the squad at 6. He is the guy the IU coaching staff wants to bring in runs, not setting the table for a teammate. Instead, after Fineman popped out: Scotty Bradley grounded out and Logan Sowers flew out to right to end the eighth inning with Indiana stranding it’s 13th runner on base in the ballgame, and still trailing #19 Kentucky (31-17, 11-13 SEC) 6-5.
The Fineman bunt was only one of the various miscues that the Hoosiers made on Tuesday night. In the bottom of the third, Indiana had runners on 1st and 2nd with just one out and Matt Gorski at the plate when Logan Kaletha wandered too far off of 2nd base. Kentucky starter Brad Schaenzer noticed and swiftly picked off Kaletha at the bag. On the next pitch, Gorski lined a single to left that would have easily scored Kaletha. Instead, it put runners on the corners for Fineman, who flew out to end the inning without scoring a run.
The Hoosiers made another critical error on the basepaths in the 6th, when Sam Crail ran through a stop sign on a Matt Lloyd single. Crail realized his mistake about halfway between 2nd and 3rd base and decided to try to scamper back to 2nd, but the Wildcat relay nailed him at the bag for the first out. Crail likely would have scored to tie the game at 6 on a Fineman single 2 batters later, instead it just gave Indiana a 2 out scoring chance that was spoiled by a Scotty Bradley ground out to second.
The Hoosiers fell behind big early when the Cats plated a trio of runs in the fourth inning (two coming with two outs) to take an early 4-0 advantage. Indiana answered in the bottom half of the inning with a sacrifice fly from Drew Ashley and a 2 out infield RBI single from Jeremey Houston that allowed a hustling Luke Miller score from 2nd base. Kentucky star Luke Heyer answered with a 2 run shot in the top of the fifth to give the two time SEC player of the week 3 RBIs on the night. Indiana again battled back in the bottom half of the fifth with a Gorski RBI single and a Fineman 2 run bomb to pull IU within one at 6-5.
Indiana had multiple chances to tie or take the lead in the next three innings. While the baserunning miscue in the sixth and the questionable bunt decision in the eighth were important moments of the game, the Hoosiers also had a golden opportunity to not only take the lead but grab complete control of the contest in the seventh. After starting the inning with a single and a hit by pitch, Ashley moved the runners to second and third with one out in the frame. That matched up Houston and UK righty Daniel Harper. Harper and Houston worked a classic battle. After falling behind in the count, Houston chopped foul a breaking ball near the dirt. Then fouled off another. And another. After taking a ball, Houston slapped foul a fastball before chopping another curve wide of the bag.
After eight pitches, Kentucky’s second year manager Nick Mingione had seen enough. Mingione made a very head scratching decision as he decided to pull Harper in favor of Aaron McGeorge. The unusual move worked, as on the only pitch McGeorge threw in the game he struck out Houston swinging on a slider way outside the zone. Mingione then went to a letfy-lefty matchup by bringing on Mason Hazelwood to face Crail. After walking Crail to load the bases, Matt Lloyd grounded out to second to retire the side.
Kentucky received what would end up being a monumental insurance run in the ninth as Tristan Pompey blasted a solo shot just out of the reach of Gorski in center. The Hoosiers got back to within one on a Ashley home run in the bottom of the inning, but Machamer slammed the door from there with back to back strikeouts to end the ballgame in a 7-6 Wildcat victory.
On a night where the Hoosiers out hit the slugging Wildcats and worked three more walks, Indiana just made too many mental errors and failed to convert in enough big spots to get a marquee victory. Indiana was just 2-11 (.182) with runners in scoring position while Kentucky was 3-10 (.300). The Hoosiers stranded 13 base runners while UK only left 5 on base. That, and a pair of base running errors, was why IU lost a one run ballgame from the seventh time in 2018.
The Hoosiers will try to end their skid of losing eight of their last ten against Nebraska in Lincoln this weekend before traveling to Louisville for a midweek matchup against the Cardinals next Tuesday in what has been an already sold out Jim Patterson Stadium. First pitch between in Lincoln will be at 7:35 EST on Friday evening.