On Tuesday the Hoosiers had a chance to get a top-50 RPI win over a rival when they traveled to Lexington to take on Kentucky. They fell flat.
IU (31-17, 12-6 B1G) fell in an early hole as starter Tommy Sommer gave up a pair of runs in the first inning after a walk, a hit batter, and a passed ball that might have bounced off the batter’s foot.
From there the Wildcats (24-24, 6-18 SEC) cruised, going wire-to-wire and winning 5-2.
The first Hoosier run came in the third inning as Justin Walker belted a double down the right-field line and Drew Ashley followed with a bloop single to center field. The hit gave Ashley his 27th RBI of the season.
In the seventh inning the Hoosiers mounted a comeback attempt as a pair of walks set up Jake Skrine for a big pinch-hit double that brought in a run. IU couldn’t capitalize on the two runners in scoring position after that and couldn’t muster up another legitimate scoring threat.
This game, as many baseball games do, came down to which team made more mistakes. That team was Indiana. Whether it was a throw down to third base that bounced into left field, allowing a team to score two runs on a passed ball, or an untimely walk Kentucky managed to capitalize on most of the mistakes the Hoosiers made and won because of it.
Once again for IU strikeouts were a problem. Against Kentucky the Hoosiers struck out 15 times. 10 players struck out over the course of the evening. Five players struck out more than once. Tuesday’s game was the 28th time this season that IU struck out at least 10 times in a game, the eighth time IU has struck out at least 15 times in a game, and the 10th time in the last 12 games that IU has struck out at least 10 times. This is an issue that has plagued the IU program for years now, predating Jeff Mercer and his coaching staff, and it’s a problem that they’re working to fix.
“We’ve tried to put a system in where we can work into counts and then be able to get to a pitch that we can handle and then try to do damage with those pitches,” Mercer said. “That’s a process to learn and it takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of reps.”
As the Hoosier head coach noted the process of changing a culture, correcting a fault after years of it building up, is a long one, but it doesn’t mean that expectations are any lower.
“All I can say is that we will continue to teach, we will continue to coach, and we will continue to hold guys to a really high standard as they learn how to have professional at-bats and as they learn how to recognize pitches and how to play to the best of their abilities,” Mercer said.
3. Stars get blanked
In a lineup that’s littered with all-conference level players there are two that stand above the rest as key contributors, guys that power the Hoosier offense that is among the most productive nationally—Matt Gorski and Matt Lloyd. When those two guys have an off night, especially at the same time, scoring gets a lot harder for IU.
This was the case on Tuesday night as IU’s star duo combined to go 0-8 with a trio of strikeouts between them at the plate. This is particularly abnormal as they’re each hitting above .290 on the season with an abundance of extra-base hits and runs batted in.
If the Hoosiers want to rebound in the near future these two will need to get back to contributing to the offense as they have for much of the season.
Up next IU travels to Ann Arbor for a three-game series against Big Ten leader Michigan. They’ll face two of the best arms in the conference in Karl Kauffman and Tommy Henry, the Friday and Saturday starters for the Wolverines respectively, and each game will hold major implications in the Big Ten title race as the Hoosiers sit just two and a half games back in the standings with six games left to play. They’ll have to be better against Michigan than they were against Kentucky if they want to stay alive in that title race.
“We just have to be tougher,” Mercer said. “We have to go back and we have to have a good week of practice and we have to prepare ourselves. We have to put a good scouting report in, we have to go try and execute a plan and compete to the best of our abilities to go out and give ourselves a chance to win.”
First pitch on Friday is scheduled for 8 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPNU.