It was a classic game for Indiana Baseball. The rubber match of a key series for both teams, Michigan seemed to have an answer at the plate for everything Indiana could muster. A back and forth affair in a bullpen game that Indiana just couldn’t seem to buy a shutdown inning. But Indiana hitters kept battling back, setting up one of the gutsiest relief pitching outings in Hoosier memory with Reese Sharp getting the final 9-outs and earning the win after getting a 4-out save just the day before.
Michigan’s Chase Allen was coming off an efficient 8 inning, 2-run win over Purdue last week. He started off in the same fashion inducing ground outs to every Hoosier batter in the first inning. He hit Carter Mathison with a pitch in the turf to lead off the second inning. He got behind 3-1 to Matthew Ellis and walked him. Brock Tibbitts got a ball through the right side on the first pitch to plate Indiana’s first run of the game. Allen got behind 2-1 to Tyler Doanes who made safe contact thanks to an error by the Michigan shortstop Evan Bertrand. Evan Goforth drove in Matthew Ellis on a sacrifice fly. Peter Serruto grounded into a fielder’s choice and Bobby Whalen struck out on three breaking balls.
Indiana countered with freshman Luke Hayden making his first conference start. Hayden has had a mix of difficult and excellent outings. Hayden has a talent that would project him to eventual be a Friday starter for Indiana and a high MLB draft prospect. Hayden induced a ground ball, then fell behind 3-0 before storming back for a strike out. Michigan’s Matt Frye found a hole in the right side for the first hit of the game. Hayden induced a ground out to third to end the inning.
With a two-run lead in the second inning, Hayden gave up a rocket to third base that Josh Pyne made a fantastic play to rob a hit. Hayden fell behind 3-1 before walking Valasquez the second batter of the inning. Hayden fell behind 2-0 to the next batter prompting a mound visit from pitching coach Dustin Glant. The next pitch was a strike, but Hayden hit the batter and moved them both over with a wild pitch. Dylan Stanton got a two RBI-single to tie the score. Mercer didn’t like what he saw and immediately went to Braydon Tucker who walked his first batter, then fell behind 3-0 with two on and one out before inducing a fly ball. He then went to a full count on Joe Stewart before striking him out to end the inning.
Indiana failed to stress Allen at all in the top of the third inning with three quick soft contact outs. Tucker almost matched with two groundouts in the bottom of third before falling behind 3-0 to Tito Flores. Tucker worked the count back full but gave up a hard hit double to get into scoring position. Tucker started 0-2 to Joey Valasquez hitting 93 MPH on the gun. Valasquez fought off multiple two strike pitches including a breaking ball before launching a fastball over the right field fence to put Michigan up 4-2.
Allen again cruised in the fourth inning getting out with only 55 pitches. Indiana knew they had to get into the Michigan bullpen to have a good chance to take the series. Tucker gave up a one-out infield single in the bottom of the fourth before striking out lead-off man Elliot. Serruto threw out the attempted base stealer at second to get Indiana back into their dugout still within two to start the fifth inning.
Bobby Whalen and Hunter Jessee were both hit by Allen pitches to get first and second with one out in the fifth. Josh Pyne had a fielder’s choice before Carter Mathison broke Alex Dickerson’s Hoosier freshman home run record to put Indiana up 5-4.
Like the last time, Michigan answered right back with a single and a double to score a run. A fly ball and a single plated one more to get Michigan the lead right back. Mercer was forced to go to back to the bullpen bringing in freshman lefty Ryan Kraft who has been really struggling in conference play. Kraft did start his appearance with two strikeouts.
Brock Tibbitts then responded by tying the game up with a solo shot over the tall left field wall to start the sixth inning. Evan Goforth went the other way for a double with one out. Allen fell behind 2-0 to with non-competitive pitches to Serruto prompting a mound visit from the Michigan pitching coach. Serruto struck out and Whalen got via an error but they were left stranded.
In the bottom of the sixth Indiana went to Nathan Stahl who hadn’t pitched in over a month. He got a strikeout to start the inning. He did walk one, but got a flyout and a groundout to end the sixth inning with the Hoosiers and Wolverines knotted up at 6-runs a piece.
Michigan went to right-handed reliever Noah Rennard in the seventh. Josh Pyne lead off the seventh inning by legging out an infield single. Mathison moved him to second with a groundout to second. Ellis fouled out to short. Tibbitts came up huge with an opposite field RBI two-out, two-strike double to give Indiana back the lead 7-6 heading into the seventh inning stretch.
Stahl hit the only batter he faced in the seventh. As this is often the scenario that leads to a big inning, Jeff Mercer immediately pulled Stahl for the closer Reese Sharp who earned the save in a 1.1 inning, 20 pitch outing just the evening before. Sharp got two outs but another really long at-bat with lots of fouls balls by Valasquez ended in a walk. Then a bases clearing triple off the bat of Riley Betram gave the lead right back to Michigan with two outs.
Rennard got a quick out in the eighth before Serruto got on by a hit. A pair of walks loaded the bases for Mathison. Mathison hit a ground ball back to Rennard who made an errant throw to first allowing two runs to score and leaving two in scoring position. Michigan turned to lefty Logan Wood who struck out Ellis.
Sharp came back out for the eighth, Indiana hoping to get the elusive shutdown inning after taking the lead for the third time on the day. It looked really bad with a four pitch walk. Sharp then battled back to get a pop fly and then end the inning on a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out, double play.
Willy Weiss came out for the ninth to pitch for Michigan trying to keep the Indiana lead at only one run. Brock Tibbitts got his fourth hit of the game to lead off the inning. Tyler Doanes then worked a full count and crushed a ball off the left field fence for an RBI double to extend the Hoosier lead to two. A Goforth groundout moved Doanes to third with one out for Serruto, who struck out. Whalen also struck out.
Sharp stayed in to attempt to close the game out. He got a fly ball and a strikeout to start the inning. Then he managed to get a flyout to clinch the game and the series for the Hoosiers. To call it a gutsy performance is the understatement of the season. The win takes Indiana to 22-25 on the season, 8-10 in the B1G. Indiana now controls its own destiny in its quest to earn a berth in the B1G Tournament.