Phenomenal Start Spoiled by Late-Game Struggles

Hoosiers drop Game 2 of the Big Ten Tournament 9-4.

by Cassady Palmer • @crpalmer0627 • May 25th, 2023 • Omaha, Nebraska

Unlike the first time Indiana faced Iowa ace Brody Brecht this season, the Hoosiers got to the pitcher early, tagging him for three runs in the first two innings. Pair that with a start from Luke Sinnard where he gave up just one unearned run, and Indiana was sitting pretty through the first six innings. However, disaster struck in the 7th inning, as the IU bullpen gave up four runs on a trio of hits and two walks for Iowa to take the lead.

While the one-run lead was not particularly insurmountable, a combination of great relief pitching and another four runs of offense for Iowa sealed the deal, as the Hoosiers went 1-2-3 in each of the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. When asked about the difference in approaches against reliever Will Christophersen, head coach Jeff Mercer offered, “We expanded the zone and chased some pitches that we typically don’t.” In reference to the approaches against Brecht, Mercer continued, “We really competed well and stayed in counts, and competed with two strikes, and extended the at-bat… We just didn’t do those well enough late.”

Indiana got the scoring started in the 1st when Phillip Glasser and Bobby Whalen led-off with a walk and HBP respectively, the latter of whom fouled off six two-strike pitches on the way to a 12-pitch plate appearance. The pair moved over on a double-steal before Brock Tibbitts brought them home with a double.

In the 2nd inning, Hunter Jessee had the opportunity to lead off an inning with an HBP, the first of two he took during the game. Tyler Cerny followed that with a single to centerfield, and Peter Serruto had a sacrifice bunt to advance them. Jessee would come around to score on a wild pitch before the end of the inning. Indiana scored their last run of the game in the 6th inning after the second plunk of Jessee, a walk by Cerny, and a single up the middle by Glasser to score Jessee.

On the mound, Sinnard largely labored through his innings, having just a single 1-2-3 inning in the 3rd. The 1st inning had Hoosier hearts racing, as the bases were loaded by an error, walk, and single to start the game. Sinnard then produced a fielder’s choice at the plate, a strikeout, and another fielder’s choice to leave the bases stranded with no runs coming across. In total, Sinnard pitched 11 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, and only one runner would go on to score, and that was due to an error. With five strikeouts on the game, Sinnard tied the single-season program record for strikeouts at 109, previously accomplished by Whitey Wilshere in 1934 and Eric Arnett in 2009.

The loss to Iowa makes winning the Big Ten Tournament much more difficult. In fact, over the last 10 tournaments (excluding the 2020-2021 seasons due to the pandemic) the only team to lose a game in the first two rounds and come back to win the championship was Ohio State in 2016, after they were upset by 8-seed Iowa in their second game. They then beat Michigan in their next game before beating Michigan State twice and Iowa in the rematch to win the tournament.

The Hoosiers aren’t letting that get to them, however, even as Indiana is likely locked into a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament. “We’re taking it one day at a time,” said Tibbitts after the game. “Right now we’re trying to win a Big Ten Championship. It’s on to Michigan tomorrow and trying to beat them and move on to the next round.”

As Tibbitts said, the Hoosiers will face Michigan on Friday, 5/26 at approximately 3pm ET. Michigan was run-ruled by Iowa in their first game Tuesday, and then beat Illinois on Wednesday night. Michigan has already used ace and Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Conor O’Halloran, who threw 92 pitches on Tuesday. They also used the only other pitchers with enough innings to count statistically on Wednesday in Noah Rennard and Jacob Denner, who threw 96 and 53 pitches respectively. Of note, this is the first time that former IU coach and current Michigan coach Tracy Smith will be facing the Hoosiers after leaving for Arizona State in 2015. The Michigan staff also features former IU assistant coach Ben Greeenspan and former Hoosier catcher Josh Phegley.