The game started as a pitcher’s duel, with both teams putting up zeros for the first four innings, including two innings each from opener Ben Seiler and reliever Ethan Phillips. The highlight of those innings was a difficult snag by Josh Pyne at the 3rd base line and a beautiful pick by Brock Tibbitts to secure the out.
“We’re incredibly fortunate to have Gold-Glove-caliber defenders at 1st and 3rd,” said head coach Jeff Mercer after the game. “I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a better 1st baseman than Brock Tibbitts, and Josh Pyne, he’s right there with him as far as best defensive players I’ve ever coached.”
Illinois got the scoring started in the 5th inning with a walk followed by a double, but Evan Whiteaker came in to shut the Illini down. The Hoosiers responded in the bottom of the 5th with a pair of runs on hits from Tyler Cerny and Peter Serruto and walks by Phillip Glasser and Bobby Whalen. Whiteaker continued to pound the zone, striking out three batters looking in the 6th inning and striking out another two batters in the 7th. In the 8th inning, Whiteaker needed just four pitches to induce a pair of flyouts and a line out.
The Hoosiers added two insurance runs in the 8th on singles by Devin Taylor and Hunter Jessee, plus a walk from Tibbitts, a sac bunt by Carter Mathison, and an RBI groundout by Pyne. The Illini gave it their best in the 9th, scoring a pair of runs on an HBP, a single, a walk, and an error, but Brayden Risedorph induced the flyout that was needed to end the game.
Of note, after the scoreless start of the Senior+ Seiler, the trio of freshmen who followed went seven innings, giving up just three runs (one earned) on four hits, three walks, and seven strikeouts. “From my point of view as a catcher, it was really, really awesome to see some of the young guys step up,” expressed Serruto postgame. “Evan Whiteaker did an unbelievable job, gave us a great shot to compete and win down the stretch of that game.”
On the offensive side, Whalen and Serruto went 2-3, Cerny went 2-4, and Taylor, Mathison, and Jessee each contributed a hit. While it may have taken several innings for the bats to produce runs, there was an effort from the beginning to be patient at the plate and run up the pitch count for the Illini starter. “We knew we had to get the pitch count up, we knew we had to extend, we knew we had to put balls in play and make them play defense,” Mercer explained.
With the win, the Hoosiers will get Wednesday off before facing Iowa at 3pm ET on Thursday. Iowa run-ruled Michigan in the first game of the day by a score of 13-3 in 8 innings. According to Mercer, Luke Sinnard will be the likely starter for IU.