Baseball is a game of opportunities—which team can create them and which team can capitalize when they arrive. The first part wasn’t an issue for IU on Sunday afternoon. The second part was.
Time and time again the Hoosiers would get runners on only to see those opportunities squandered and it cost them in a big way as they fell 9-7 to No. 11 Louisville at Jim Patterson Stadium.
In the first inning the Hoosiers got runners to the corners, but Scotty Bradley hit a two-out fly ball to end the inning. In the third inning the Hoosiers loaded the bases with a walk and two singles, but back-to-back strikeouts and another flyout put that threat to rest quickly. All in all the Hoosiers left 10 runners on base, which of course isn’t the only reason that they lost the game but it certainly didn’t help.
Despite those missed opportunities and a 7-0 deficit after five innings the Hoosiers managed to make it a game. In the sixth inning senior Cade Bunnell finally got IU on the board with an RBI single. Sophomore Drew Ashley followed that up by smacking a two-run triple to left-center. Matt Lloyd added another run on an RBI groundout and suddenly the Hoosiers were down just three runs.
“It just comes down to character. Never say die,” Lloyd said. “Just fighting tooth and nail ‘til the last pitch every single pitch of the game.”
The ninth inning began with IU trailing 9-5. Elijah Dunham and Cole Barr struck out back-to-back and it seemed like the end of the road for the Hoosiers, but then things got interesting. Bradley hit a solo shot to dead center field, Jeremy Houston drew a walk and scored on a Grant Richardson single, and then things got interesting.
1. Tempers Flare
The end of this game is one that should be remembered for a long time. Senior backstop Ryan Fineman stepped to the plate representing the tying run for the Hoosiers. After Richardson stole second base Fineman worked the count to 2-2 and then this happened:
Louisville closer Michael McAvene was ejected from the game after reacting to the call on the 2-2 pitch, the home crowd lost its collective mind, UL head coach Dan McDonnell got into it with the umpire and received a warning and it all ended with the Cardinals making a pitching change, except it didn’t.
The situation only got worse as a questionable called third strike ended the game and the season for IU. There’s no readily available broadcast video of the pitch as of Sunday evening because the ESPN feed went out just before it. After the final pitch IU head coach Jeff Mercer, IU assistant Casey Dykes, and Fineman himself appeared to speak with the home plate umpire. After that broke up and the trio went to head back to the IU dugout it appeared that Fineman got into it with a Louisville player and both teams rushed over and a scrum formed.
“I just think it was a heated moment,” Lloyd said. “Questionable call, and the tension was high and just emotions boiled over a little bit.”
2. Jeremy Houston
The junior shortstop came into the weekend with just two at bats since April 5. He lost his spot in the lineup midway through the season and was used primarily as a defensive replacement and pinch runner down the stretch. On Friday he entered as a defensive replacement in the seventh inning but this time was different. In the bottom of the inning he hit a two-out RBI single to continue the Hoosier rally that resulted in five runs while also playing great defense.
“He’s worked tremendously hard. He’s been such a great kid through not being an everyday guy the last couple months,” Mercer said. “He’s worked tremendously hard in the cages. Every day he comes in and puts his time in and we had talked about how much he had improved over the course of the spring.”
It wasn’t just a flash in the pan. Houston was re-inserted into the starting lineup on both Saturday and Sunday. He went 3-10 with a double, a walk, a stolen base and a pair of RBIs on the weekend. On the other side of things he was flashing the leather over and over resulting in highlights like this one:
With the strong performance Houston showed that he can still be a valuable piece for IU which could become important heading toward next season, his senior year.
3. Starting Pitching Woes
All season long the starting rotation of Pauly Milto, Tanner Gordon and Andrew Saalfrank has been a strength for IU all season long. They each racked up the strikeouts, often pitching deep into games and powering IU to wins. That changed this weekend.
The trio combined to pitch just 11 innings across three games. They allowed 26 hits and 15 earned runs, striking out just five batters and walking four. That puts them at a 12.27 ERA and a 2.82 WHIP as a group. It’s a small sample size sure, but it’s indicative of the kind of weekend it was for the Hoosier starters—a bad one.
“I think at the beginning of the week, it was more about the emotions of the moment that we did not handle too well. That was something we did a better job today with but again it held us back because we didn’t execute early in the game,” Mercer said. “We could have handled the moment better. If you look at those guys, they worked really hard and had good stuff. The scouting report gets out, the video gets out. We have to diversify the pitches, but you have execute those things.”
That’s it. The season’s over. The Hoosiers are headed home and the long wait for February 2020 and a new college baseball season begins now.