On Friday Indiana got the series underway on the road with a 5-0 shutout of Evansville. Pauly Milto was the star as the senior threw eight shutout innings, allowing just three hits and striking out four. The bottom of the fourth was the inning that really put the Hoosiers in the driver’s seat as Matt Lloyd hit a solo shot, his 11th long ball of the year, and Justin Walker smacked a two-run single to left field.
The Hoosiers played two on Saturday, returning the Bart Kaufman Field. In game one of the doubleheader Tanner Gordon continued his hot streak. The junior racked up nine strikeouts over seven innings, allowing just one run on two hits. Lloyd once again played a key role for Indiana on offense; the senior slugger hit an RBI double in the first inning and then drove in two more runs in the third with a home run to right center field, leading IU to a 5-1 victory.
Saturday’s second game saw more of the same from the Hoosiers on the mound. Andrew Saalfrank continued his recent run of good form by tying a career-high 14 strikeouts in just under eight innings while giving up just a pair of earned runs. He’s posted double-digit punchouts in his last three starts. The offense was a bit more active in this one, putting up nine runs and at least part of that is because of Grant Richardson. The freshman wunderkind had been going through a bit of a rough patch after bursting on the scene earlier this year, but he was good in this one. He drove in a pair of runs with a double in the fifth inning and then blasted a pitch over the right field fence in the seventh. The Hoosiers clinched the series victory with a 9-3 win.
On Sunday IU went for the sweep and they got it thanks to some late inning heroics. The Hoosiers took a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the second inning and carried it into the late innings. The went to the top of the ninth up 5-3, but the Purple Aces were able to rally, hanging two runs on Lloyd, the IU closer, to send the game to extras. In the 10th Justin Walker kicked things off with a double. Evansville intentionally walked Elijah Dunham to get to Wyatt Cross who managed to draw a walk which loaded the bases for Drew Ashley. The Evansville native shot a single to left field, bringing across the winning run and securing the four-game series sweep.
1. The Rotation
The trio of Pauly Milto, Tanner Gordon, and Andrew Saalfrank has really come into its own over the last month or so. Milto has been a stalwart on the hill for Indiana for years, but there were questions about his backup, especially after some early season struggles for both Gordon and Saalfrank—those questions have seemingly been answered. Over the course of the first three games in this series IU’s starting pitchers combined for nearly 23 innings of work, 27 strikeouts, and just 10 hits and three runs allowed.
Gordon struggled with walks early in the season, but on Saturday gave up just one and his stuff was working.
”I’d say my curveballs were kind of on and off, but the things that were working were my changeup and my slider, for sure,” Gordon said. “Then, I was able to locate my fastball. That’s what I had going for me.”
Saalfrank has been known to have hot-and-cold tendencies despite having gobs of talent and a curveball that makes hitters look silly. Something’s been different over the last few weeks for the left-hander.
”I would have to believe he’s really at a different place mentally, emotionally,” IU head coach Jeff Mercer said. “His stuff’s always been excellent. But (now) just how locked-in he is, how focused he is, how committed.”
2. Matt Lloyd
Lloyd is a known commodity for Indiana. He’s an All-Conference, All-American level performer and one of the more prolific sluggers in the Big Ten.
Over the weekend he went 7-13 at the plate with three doubles and a pair of homers, driving in five runs. He’s now caught up with Cole Barr for the team and conference lead in long balls, they have 12 each, and also leads the conference in RBIs with 37 on the season. The Hoosier utilityman was able to bounce back like this after a forgettable 0-5, four strikeout performance against rival Purdue on Wednesday.
”Woven into the fabric of his being is an elite competitor and he doesn’t give any pitches away,’ Mercer said. “He’ll have a game that’s maybe not his best and you just know the next at-bat, he’s going to be back on, and the next day he’s going to be back on. He is very, very good.”
3. RPI Boost
It would be easy to dismiss this series as a throwaway because Evansville doesn’t exactly remind you of athletic excellence and the Hoosiers won the series rather easily, but this was a big series win. Just a week ago the Purple Aces were 33rd nationally in RPI, a much more respected, reliable evaluation tool in college baseball than basketball. Following the four-game sweep as well as Wednesday’s win over Purdue Indiana has moved up eight spots in RPI, sitting at 23rd in the country as of Monday. This puts them ahead of some pretty good teams including No. 24 Clemson, No. 15 Ole Miss, and No. 9 NC State.
”It’s tremendously valuable,” Mercer said. “Obviously winning a four-game set is really, really difficult, but winning it against a really good team—a Top 35 RPI club, a club that beat a really good Dallas Baptist team last weekend. We talk about putting ourselves in position to compete—winning a conference tournament, winning a regional. To be in those environments, you have to go play good teams. Obviously Evansville is a quality club, well-coached. It’s a huge series sweep for us.”
On Tuesday Indiana will host Ball State before opening a three-game series against Michigan State on Friday in East Lansing.