Hoosiers overcome adversity to win regional opener Friday

3-seed Indiana defeated 2-seed West Virginia 12-6 at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington – Sinnard injured, Risedorph and Bothwell carry the load

By Carl James @jovian34 June 3rd, 2023

LEXINGTON, KY – “We all just believe in each,” was the sentiment that senior shortstop Phillip Glasser expressed on Friday night after the Hoosiers took an unexpected to path to securing their first NCAA Regional opening game win since 2015.

It was a back and forth game most of the night and a total team effort. West Virginia took the lead twice, and Indiana came back twice and held on, coming up big with a bunch of insurance runs in the ninth to seal the 12-6 victory.

For weeks, head coach Jeff Mercer had been talking about positioning sophomore right handed pitcher Luke Sinnard for the opening game in the tournament rounds. Sinnard has been the only Hoosier pitcher that could be described as a typical starter. Sinnard emerged as the Hoosier ace early in the season with Sunday victories at Auburn and Clemson.

The bulk of the season, Sinnard pitched on Saturdays usually handling about 6 innings, with the remainder of the pitching staff dividing up the remaining innings on the weekend in 1 to 4 inning chunks. As Sinnard emerged as the Hoosier ace, he was moved to Fridays at Northwestern and was key in getting the Hoosiers off to starts in the Northwestern and Purdue series that allowed Indiana to sweep both of those.

Only one true long inning starter for a regional is not common among teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Head Coach Jeff Mercer has spoken about the team’s pitching goal, which is to find a way for a mix of pitchers to hold the opposing team to less than seven runs and count on a young and potent offense to win roughly two-thirds of the games played.

The plan going into the opener of the regional against 2-seed and Big 12 co-champion West Virginia was more traditional – get a dominant start from Sinnard and pivot late to the power arms in the bullpen. That plan was working well through two-and-a-half innings. Except for a solo home run, Sinnard was making short work of the Mountaineer hitters. Of the first six outs, five were by strike out. The first of which set a new single-season mark for strikeouts in Indiana program history, eclipsing the mark that “Whitey” Wilshere set in his program defining 1934 campaign.

Indiana was up 3-1. Sinnard gave up a ground ball single, and then threw a pitch well short and out of the strike zone. Catcher Peter Serruto called time and went out to the mound. After a quick exchange, Serruto motioned for the IU trainer to come to the mound. With the trainer, Glant, and Mercer present, Sinnard threw one warm-up pitch, an 89-mph fastball in the strike zone. Sinnard was moving his fingers as though he was trying to recover some sort of feel. Mercer made the decision to remove Sinnard from the game. “He just talked about having some discomfort. At that point you just take him out for precautionary reasons,” Mercer reflected after the game. “He’s been terrific. He hasn’t had any discomfort before. We just had to get him out of there.”

Mercer said they had to make a choice between sophomore lefty Ryan Kraft and freshman righty Brayden Risedorph. “It seemed that the 4-seam was a better match-up for the top [of the Mountaineer order],” so they elected to go with Risedorph. Despite getting all the time he wanted to warm up, Risedorph struggled a bit out of the gate, loading the bases and walking in a run. A sacrifice fly tied the game.

Risedorph ran into some trouble in the fourth and West Virginia took the lead on a “little league” double steal of second and home when the return throw from Tyler Cerny to Serruto at home came in well off the plate.

The Hoosiers manufactured three runs in the fifth to retake the lead. Serruto got the inning started with a single and then the Hoosiers read the infield defense playing deep. Glasser and Whalen bunted. West Virginia threw the ball away. Taylor hits a sacrifice fly and Whalen scored on a wild pitch.

Risedorph ended up going 3.2 innings, throwing 82 pitches. He settled in after the early troubles. Since 4-seam fastballs were the most effective pitches, Glant and Mercer made a somewhat unexpected move bringing in senior Ty Bothwell. Bothwell was a weekend starter at Auburn, but struggled with command early. He worked in practice for several weeks, before coming back into the gameday mix over the last few weeks. “I started playing around with arm slots a little bit and being a little bit weird, playing into who I am as a person,” was Bothwell’s reflection after the game. That lower slot got him into the strike zone with a high 80’s fastball. He has gradually improved command of his signature cross-fire 4-seam fastball, and relied on that pitch almost exclusively against Mountaineer hitters who were just not able to keep up with it.

The Hoosiers exploded for five runs in the top of the ninth highlighted by a Brock Tibbitts RBI tripled that was partially assisted by some more questionable outfield defense from West Virginia. Josh Pyne effectively called game with a two-run blast to left field that just stayed fair.

Ty Bothwell came back out for the bottom and made it official with a 7-pitch, 1-2-3 inning to earn his second save of the season.

Hoosiers move on the winners bracket game Saturday night at 6pm against host Kentucky. Indiana will be the designated home team (third base side) per NCAA rules for this game. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.