On Saturday IU continued its NCAA Tournament run against Illinois-Chicago and stayed alive with a 9-5 win.
The Hoosiers got off to a rough start as UIC slugger Scott Ota hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning.
The teams traded runs through the early innings before the IU lineup kicked things up a notch. The Hoosiers scored in the fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings due in part to a barrage of home runs to put a 9-3 gap in between themselves and the Flames.
UIC made a comeback attempt in the eighth inning, scoring a pair of runs, but sophomore Tommy Sommer managed to get out of the jam, leaving the bases loaded, and went on to earn the save as IU won the game.
1. Fantastic Freshmen
On a team loaded with verteran impact players a pair of true freshmen stood out as difference makers against Illinois-Chicago.
Grant Richardson had the first big hit of the afternoon for the Hoosiers, ripping a two-run triple to the gap in right-center field to get IU on the board in the second inning. The Fishers, Indiana native finished the game 2-4 at the plate.
On the flip side Gabe Bierman was great for the Hoosiers on the mound. The righty entered in the fourth inning to relieve Andrew Saalfrank who had struggled a bit to that point. From there Bierman threw nearly four scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and striking out a pair of batters.
“His results are good and he has been able to play because of his resolve,” IU head coach Jeff Mercer said. “He is just so composed and so tough for such a young guy it is just fully impressive.”
2. The Dingers are Back
IU hit 90 home runs during the regular season this year, the secondmost in the country. During the Big Ten Tournament the Hoosiers went without a homer, but it appears that the longball is back in force after Saturday’s showing. Senior slugger Matt Lloyd opened the game up with a three-run shot in the sixth and sophomores Cole Barr and Drew Ashley followed suit, smacking solo shots in the seventh and eighth innings respectively.
That puts the Hoosiers up to 94 homers on the season and they now have four on the weekend including Elijah Dunham’s two-run blast on Friday.
“It was just getting back to what we have been doing all year,” Lloyd said. “Coach Mercer always talks about how we have learned how to do it in the past three or four games and then we got away from it and then we got back to what we were doing before. Getting pitches up and hitting into the biggest part of the field, working on our fastball timing, having discipline with two strikes – going back to what we have been doing for the majority of the season.”
This might not be the end of the dingers this weekend, as Jim Patterson Stadium plays similarly to Bart Kaufman Field. The dimensions are close to being the same and the wind blows out of the ballpark.
3. Havoc on the Basepaths
Base running has been a weakness for IU in previous years. That wasn’t the case on Saturday. The Hoosiers were able to manufacture scoring opportunities and runs because of their work on the basepaths which was impressive.
In the second inning the Hoosiers played a run as Richardson took home as Cade Bunnell was thrown out at second base on a steal attempt.
In the third inning Matt Lloyd hit a long fly ball to the left field corner. Seeing that it would be a tough play moving away from the infield Ashley tagged up and took second base after the catch.
In the ninth inning Barr got a great read on a pitch in the dirt and stole second base without so much as a throw down because of it.
In the past the Hoosiers have seen base running gaffes take them out of games, but the much improved base running showed itself as a weapon once again on Saturday, continuing a season-long trend.
With the win, the Hoosiers stay alive in the NCAA Tournament. They’ll take on the No. 6 Louisville Cardinals, who lost to Illinois State in the late Saturday game, on Sunday at Noon.