Gabe Bierman’s red-belt winning appearance in Columbus two weeks ago was not a fluke. Northwestern leads the Big Ten (B1G) in home runs but failed to get a single hit out of the infield on Sunday. Bierman went 7.2 innings, giving up no runs, two infield singles, one walk, and one hit batsman. Bierman set six Wildcats down on strikes, all swinging.
Northwestern took the approach of attacking Bierman early and produced a lot of low pitch count ground outs. Bierman didn’t throw his 80th pitch until the first batter in the eighth inning. Bierman exited the game with runners on the corners and two outs. Ty Bothwell was brought in to face left handed lead-off hitter Anthony Calarco. Bothwell got into a 3-1 hole but managed to freeze Calarco on 3-2 fastball to end the threat.
Offensively, the Hoosiers were efficient scoring four runs on just five hits. Quinn Lavelle threw the first five innings for the Wildcats from the left side. In the second inning the Hoosiers got two on with singles by Cole Barr and Kip Fougerousse. Tyler Van Pelt drove in Barr with a fielder’s choice by avoiding a double play.
Indiana’s biggest inning was the fourth. Grant Richardson got the inning started with a double to right. Barr hit the ball back to Lavelle, who should have had Richardson in a rundown, but instead threw the ball to second base which allowed the speedy Richardson to advance to third before the throw and get Barr on base as well. The Hoosiers seemed to bail Northwestern out of the jam. Barr was caught stealing at second and Fougerousse struck out. That brought up Morgan Colopy needing a hit with two hits to drive in Richardson now from third. Colopy delivered a two-run homer to center to put the Hoosiers up 3-0.
Indiana tacked on an unearned insurance run in the eighth when a Barr sacrifice fly drove in Tank Espalin.
The Wildcats had 2-3-4 in the order up in the bottom of the ninth. For the second time in the week Indiana called upon flame-throwing closer Matt Litwicki to close the door. Two strikeouts and ground out concluded the third Hoosier shutout of the season, and the first on the road.
The Wildcats average more than two home runs per game on the season. Hoosier pitching limited Northwestern to just two home runs on the entire three game series, both solo shots Saturday off the bat of Vincent Bianchina against McCade Brown.
Coach Jeff Mercer made some slight changes in the batting order but only played nine positions players all weekend. The same nine started every game and there were no pinch hits, pinch runs, or defensive substitutions. This included Fougerousse at first, Colopy in right, Van Pelt as DH (even against the lefty Sunday), Collin Hopkins behind the dish, and Espalin at shortstop.
The Big Ten race for positioning is heating up. League leader Nebraska (18-6) took care of business with a sweep of Penn State (8-16) and Michigan has clinched a series win over Minnesota (4-19) and is winning the final game in the eighth as of this writing. Indiana (15-8) and Iowa (15-10) have passed Ohio State (13-12) for third and fourth respectively after series wins. The Buckeyes are now on a five-game losing streak of their own and are now three full games behind Indiana.
The Hoosiers have what can only be looked at as a “must sweep” series coming up next weekend at the Bart against last place Minnesota. After that, Indiana has 17 games straight games with .500 or better record teams to conclude the season.