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Three Things: Hoosiers split with Nebraska

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After dropping the first matchup, IU bounced back on Sunday

Syndication: Indianapolis
IU’s Gabe Bierman delivers a pitch during a game on April 23, 2019.
David Woods/IndyStar

Indiana’s weekend trip to New Jersey wasn’t perfect, but it was still pretty, pretty good.

After taking back-to-back games against host Rutgers, No. 23 IU split a pair of meetings against Nebraska to close pod play in Piscataway with three wins and stay atop the Big Ten standings. The Hoosiers answered Saturday’s 7-6 loss to the Cornhuskers with a 4-2 win on Sunday.

We recapped the Rutgers set on Saturday, so here are Three Things from the head-to-head with Nebraska:

Gabe Bierman turned in a gem

A few weeks ago, we took a look at how the right-hander was settling in after a slow start to the spring. Since then, Bierman has only gotten better.

Sunday was the best start of Bierman’s career, and it came on a day when IU needed it. After a tough-to-stomach 7-6 loss on Saturday afternoon, the Hoosiers needed a good bounce-back effort on Sunday in order to feel good about their body of work in the pod. Luckily for the Hoosiers, Bierman has lately been giving the team Friday-quality starts at the end of each weekend.

This time, he tossed the program’s first complete game since Pauly Milto blanked Texas Southern in the 2018 Regional, holding Nebraska to just two runs (one earned) on four hits, while matching his personal best with 11 strikeouts and walking just one. Using his heavy sinker, Bierman induced 10 groundouts and shaved his Big Ten-best ERA to 2.09 on the year.

Across his past five starts, Bierman has yielded more than one earned run only once, while punching out 42 batters and walking only seven in 35 innings during that span. Yeah, he’s been the All-Big Ten-caliber pitcher Indiana expected him to be entering the season.

And once again this weekend, Bierman showed the rest of the Big Ten the luxury that IU has enjoyed this season. Not many teams have a shutdown end-of-the-weekend starter to lean on when they need a win. The Hoosiers do, and on Sunday they were rewarded once again.

Grant Richardson pulled a Cureton

Anytime an Indiana outfielder scales the wall to steal a home run, it conjures memories of Justin Cureton’s catch in the 2013 NCAA Tournament Regional — one of the great plays in program history.

Cureton’s catch stands out for a bunch of reasons:

  • Time and place (a pivotal postseason game for a program still finding its tournament legs)
  • Situation (it stole a three-run home run from Austin Peay and gave IU a giant jolt of momentum in a clinching game)
  • The athleticism required to make it happen (Seriously, remember this all-timer?)

Grant Richardson’s home run-stealing grab in Saturday’s game may not have had the confluence of factors to help it live eternally in IU baseball lore, but it’s still worth revisiting because ... well ... it was an absolute hell of a catch.

With IU clinging to a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the fifth, Nebraska’s Luke Roskam made a bid to tie the game with a hard hit ball to deep centerfield. But Richardson tracked it, climbed the wall and caught the ball before it could clear the fence to perserve the Hoosier advantage for the time being. The catch was so good, SportsCenter took notice and ranked it as the No. 9 play of the day.

Really, it wasn’t even the only Web Gem of the series. Morgan Colopy also came through with a sweet sliding snag to help Bierman get out of the sixth inning unscathed on Sunday.

Saturday’s game was one IU would love to get back

Indiana started the day with a satisfying sweep of Rutgers. It ended the afternoon with a frustrating result in the first game of its next set with Nebraska.

In a back-and-forth ballgame — one that was played through fits of rain and, at one point, delayed for nearly an hour — the Hoosiers were just a little off. IU committed five errors, including two by pitchers, and combined for three times as many fielding miscues and walks (nine) than hits (three). The nasty weather played a part in the sloppiness, but even so IU just couldn’t get enough done to overcome the mistakes. Nebraska, meanwhile, was able to win on a walk-off infield single to second base. Woof.

Cole Barr supplied two of IU’s hits in the game, each of them home runs — a solo shot in the fourth and a three-run blast in the fifth. IU’s other runs came on a sacrifice fly by Richardson and a bases-loaded walk worked by Jeremy Houston. Barr, by the way, totaled three hits and six RBI in the two games against Nebraska.

IU and Nebraska will square off again in two weeks during a pod with Ohio State in Bloomington. First, however, the Hoosiers will have their hands full in a must-watch three-game series at Michigan next weekend. Speaking of watching, you’ll be able to catch next Sunday’s game — a likely start for Gabe Bierman — on ESPN2.

The Wolverines failed to sweep Michigan State on Sunday, putting them a game behind the Hoosiers in the Big Ten standings. So, yeah, it should be a fun weekend of baseball on deck.