On Wednesday IU started its Big Ten Tournament run with a dud, losing 4-2 against the Iowa Hawkeyes. That run doesn’t end with the loss as the tournament is double elimination.
The Hoosiers opened the scoring in the sixth inning as Drew Ashley hit a triple to the left-center gap and Matt Gorski singled up the middle to bring him in to score.
Their lead didn’t last long. In the seventh inning the Hawkeyes scored a trio of runs, all credited to Hoosier ace Pauly Milto who pitched 6.2 innings, allowing the three runs on seven hits and striking out three batters. Iowa tacked on another run in the eighth inning to take a 4-1 lead.
In the ninth inning the Hoosiers mounted a comeback attempt. With two outs Elijah Dunham singled, took second base on a wild pitch and then came around to score on a Cole Barr single to make the score 4-2. The comeback was short-lived however as Scotty Bradley flew out to centerfield to end the game.
1. Cole McDonald
The Hawkeye starter pitched a tremendous game, allowing just one run on five hits across eight innings and striking out nine to pick up his sixth win of the season. He dominated against what’s typically a very potent Hoosier offense. His performance continues what’s been a potentially troubling trend of IU struggling against Friday-level arms that has also included Minnesota’s Max Meyer, Andy Fisher and Ty Weber of Illinois and Penn State’s Dante Biasi among some others. It’s a trend they have bucked at times and one they’ll have to put to bed if they want to be successful in the postseason.
2. Fundamental Offense
It was a storyline coming into the week, but if it wasn’t clear enough then it should be now—TD Ameritrade Park is much less of a hitter’s park than Bart Kaufman Field. It’s deeper to every part of the outfield and the IU lineup probably won’t get the same wind assistance that they get in Bloomington. For a group that’s been occasionally too reliant on the home run over the course of the last few years that could be bothersome. An example of how the bigger field changes the game was Ashley’s triple.
If this game is being played in Bloomington, or many college parks, that ball goes out. Instead it lands on the warning track and the sophomore motors around for a triple and needs a bit of help from Gorski to score.
If IU is going to stay alive in this tournament it probably won’t be because of the home run just because they’re harder to hit in this venue. The Hoosiers will have to focus in on the fundamentals—hitting head-high line drives, moving runners, manufacturing runs and the like—if they want to string together a few wins and they’re more than capable of it.
3. The Odds
A team that lost its first game has never come back to win the Big Ten Tournament in the current format which has been in place since the 2014 season, as we noted in our tournament preview. Now the odds are stacked heavily against IU as it’ll need to win an extra game to win the title, all while avoiding elimination by losing another game.
The Hoosiers will play Minnesota in an elimination game on Thursday at 2 p.m. eastern. The Golden Gophers are reportedly without ace Max Meyer and Saturday starter Sam Thoresen due to injury for at least the early part of the tournament. They had to go with embattled former Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Patrick Frederickson, who was removed from the rotation this season because of his struggles, in their opener against Nebraska on Wednesday and it didn’t go well. He gave up six earned runs, eight total, as Minnesota lost 8-2.
On Thursday the Hoosiers will likely see Minnesota’s Sunday starter Joshua Culliver. When the Gophers came to Bloomington earlier this season the sophomore struggled in the rubber match of the series, getting just two outs and allowing three runs on just one hit before getting the hook. IU went on to win that game 7-1 to clinch the series.
The Hoosiers are expected to send junior Tanner Gordon to the mound. In his start against Minnesota earlier this year he gave up four runs in five innings, striking out seven batters.