Tuesday saw possibly the biggest matchup of the season at Bart Kaufman Field as IU hosted No. 9 Louisville in its final non-conference game of the regular season. It didn’t disappoint.
A pair of regional rivals, both ranked nationally, went head-to-head in what turned out to be a sloppy contest that Louisville ultimately took 8-7.
It looked like Indiana was going to get a strong start out of true freshman Gabe Bierman after the first inning, but the Louisville area native didn’t last much longer than that. The Cardinals got to him in the top of the second inning, putting up a pair of runs and that was it for him.
A pitching change didn’t help the Hoosiers as sophomore Tommy Sommer gave up a three-run home run in the third inning and then freshman Alex Franklin walked in a run in the fourth.
“The reality of it is we didn’t play really well,” IU head coach Jeff Mercer said. “I was really disappointed in our infield play, just things that we haven’t done in a long time, just knucklehead things...not anticipating plays, not communicating.”
The Hoosiers rebounded quickly. In the bottom of the fourth junior centerfielder Matt Gorski led off with a triple to the gap and it was off to the races from there. IU hit around, scoring five runs in the process to get back in the game, trailing by one.
Freshman right-hander Braydon Tucker took the mound for the Hoosiers in the fifth and managed to stop the bleeding. Despite walking one batter and hitting another he managed to put together a pair of scoreless frames in his first appearance back from an injury that had kept him out of action since late February.
“It was huge, it was really huge for his personal growth,” Mercer said. “He’s a bullpen piece that can really help us down the stretch. He did a great job, he’s a really competitive guy, he’s got good stuff as you can tell.”
Sophomore Connor Manous gave up a run in the top of the seventh inning, but after the stretch the Hoosiers put together a rally. Gorski led off once again, reaching on an error. From there a walk, a passed ball, an RBI single from Cole Barr, and a Sam Crail sacrifice fly in foul territory tied things up 7-7.
Both teams got their chances to break the deadlock, but the score didn’t change until the 12th inning. Despite closer Matt Lloyd being on the mound the Hoosiers struggled. An error started the inning, but then a stolen base allowed by a dropped throw down to second, a wild pitch, and a walk put IU in a dangerous situation with runners on the corners and no outs. What followed was a ground ball to first base, but Hoosier first baseman Cade Bunnell’s indecision—first looking at second before throwing home—allowed the go-ahead run to score and Indiana couldn’t recover as the Cardinals won.
If you’ve watched the Hoosiers this season you’ve more than likely seen them strike out a lot. It’s something that’s been a problem with the program for several years now in Bloomington. It comes with the territory when you’re hitting home runs at a historic pace. On Tuesday night the strikeouts reared their ugly head once again as IU struck out a season-high 23 times. That’s the highest strikeout total in a single game for the Hoosiers since at least 2011 if not further back. The online game-by-game stat archives only go back through the 2012 season. Despite the lack of readily available records, it’s not a leap to expect that it was one of the highest marks in a single game in program history considering that you typically only get 27 outs in a game and even if you stretch that out to 36 outs for 12 innings, making 23 outs via the strikeout is still a lot.
Another common theme for IU this season, whether they be mental or physical. On Tuesday night the Hoosiers had:
- Seven free passes allowed via walk or hit by pitch
- Two errors
- Eight runners left on base
- One wild pitch
Doing those kinds of things aren’t typically conducive to winning ballgames and those numbers don’t even sum up all of the mistakes made on the night, that’s just what’s in the box score. There was also the dropped throw to second base which would’ve been an out, a dropped baseball on a transfer from glove to hand as catcher Wyatt Cross tried to throw a runner out at third base which could’ve been an out, and to top it off there was the lack of anticipation by Bunnell on what might’ve been the most important play of the game. All in all it was another sloppy performance by the Hoosiers.
“To be honest I thought we were past those things,” Mercer said. “That’s my job and I haven’t done a good enough job of making sure that we’re accountable for those things.”
3. The Bullpen
Tuesday’s game fell into the designation of what’s a “bullpen day”. The Hoosiers ran out arm after arm, pitching the game by committee rather than relying on a starter to get through five, six, or seven innings by himself. Because of that we got to see a majority of the guys that will be making up the IU bullpen in the postseason. In gauging each of the guys that took the mound on Tuesday there were positives and negatives, but overall the impression was good.
“I thought we pitched well,” Mercer said. “We did a really good job, had some young guys in there against a good lineup that haven’t pitched a ton for whatever reason. We had some young guys in there which was exciting. You see the growth of those guys, velo(city) is up and command in the zone is a lot better, they’ve just gotten so much better.”
A few guys that stood out in particular were the aforementioned Tucker, Grant Sloan, and Braden Scott. The trio combined to throw over five scoreless innings, striking out four batters and giving up just three hits. As the Hoosiers get into postseason play pitching depth will become more and more important as each game passes and the young guys like Tucker, Bierman, and Franklin will eventually be called upon to contribute in big games.
On Thursday the Hoosiers will open a three-game series against rutger at home. It’ll be senior weekend for IU and a Big Ten championship will be in play.