Indiana clinches road series win at Illinois

Saturday Double Header sweep keeps Hoosiers among the top of the B1G

By Carl James @jovian34 April 15th, 2023 – photo of Devin Taylor on deck by Zach Greene

After losing late on Friday, Indiana was faced with the daunting task of beating Illinois twice on Saturday. The conventional wisdom was that while it was possible, it would probably require a strong 6-inning outing from staff ace Luke Sinnard. Indiana used Seti Manase, Craig Yoho, and Brayden Risedorph for multiple innings the night before. To win both would require covering 18 innings with solid pitching.

In the first game Sinnard was not quite as effective as he was against Iowa last week. He plunked a batter in the first inning and gave up a two-run homer in the second. He seemed to get frustrated after getting into a two-out jam. Pitching Dustin Glant settled him and he struck out a batter to end the inning, but his pitch count was over 40. The third inning was a real struggle when two walks, a wild pitch, and a passed ball all combined to let Illinois tie the game at 4 runs.

Glant and head coach Jeff Mercer elected to go to Ryan Kraft in the fourth inning. The lefty just continues to do what he’s done all season. He scatters some base runners but fights to keep them from scoring. Kraft gets 6 innings and keeps the Illini at bay, allowing the Hoosier bats to score one more insurance run to seal the win and tie the series with a 6-4 victory.

A little bit more hope creeped in with Kraft being the only needed bullpen arm in game one. Many were imaging game 2 to be the typical cycle of 6 to 9 pitchers being used in short stints. The announcement of Brooks Ey as the starter seemed to confirm this. The junior transfer from Fordham just went out there in Game 2 and put together a six inning quality start, giving up only two runs. Ey was crazy efficient and probably could have gone even longer as he only needed 68 pitches in that effort. By the time Ben Seiler replaced Ey, the Hoosiers were up 14-2.

Illinois’ second game starter Jack Wenninger came into the game with the best WHIP among Illinois starters, just over 1.1. In this game he allow 9 baserunners in just 3.1 innings of work. One of those was a grand slam home run off the bat of Freshman outfielder Devin Taylor, his third blast of the series, and team leading eighth bomb of the season. Illinois replaced Wenninger with Jack Crowder and lit him up for seven earned runs in just 1.0 innings of work.

Another narrative going into game two was that freshman second baseman Tyler Cerny had not had a hit in the five prior Big Ten (B1G) games. Cerny remedied that by going 4 for 5 including hitting his third home run of the season.

Ben Seiler gave up a just solo home run in the seventh. Connor Foley pitched a scoreless eighth, but struggled with command in the ninth and Ethan Phillips ended the game on five pitches inducing a game ending double play.

It was a thorough beat-down that further solidified Indiana’s place with the most wins and sharing the best winning percentage in the B1G, plus having by far the best RPI rank of any team in the B1G. Indiana is 9-3 in league play at the halfway point, just 1 win away from matching their win total for all of last season in the league. Indiana has now matched the 25 regular season wins the team secured in all of 2022. These wins also marked the 200th and 201st in the head coaching career of Jeff Mercer.

Indiana now has two days with no baseball to prepare for no. 10 Louisville to come the Bart on Tuesday. All told the Hoosiers have six non-conference games before welcoming fellow B1G leader and pre-season favorite Maryland to Bart Kaufman Field for a series starting on April 28th.