BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Like many of Indiana’s rallies this season, it started with a freshman.
Indiana was held hitless through three innings, but freshman Josh Pyne broke the drought with a line drive to right field in the fourth. After a balk, fellow freshman Carter Mathison drove in a run with a ground out to the second baseman. And Brock Tibbitts – yes, another freshman – singled Pyne home to score Indiana’s second run of the game.
Indiana still trailed by a run, but with Mathison leading off the eighth inning, it was time for another rally. Mathison got the Hoosiers going with a single, which was followed by a Tibbitts walk. Redshirt junior Matthew Ellis hit a laser beam to the right center field wall to score two runs, and redshirt sophomore Bobby Whalen added another pair of RBI to tie the game.
“There’s one thing that goes through my mind when I step on the field, and it’s win at any cost,” Whalen said. “My day didn’t start the way I wanted it to, but I got my chance to make an impact on the game and I made it so all my emotions just came out.”
And in the biggest at-bat of the Hoosiers’ season, Pyne delivered in the clutch with a two-out, two-run single to give Indiana a two run lead. He was down 0-2 in the count, but after stepping out of the box to take a deep breath and refocus, Pyne worked the count to 2-2 and delivered the game-winning hit.
After the game, Pyne said it was the biggest hit of his college career. Pyne’s game-winner on Friday night came with two outs, and he said he was looking to drive the ball the other way or up the middle. And most of all, he doesn’t like making the last out of an inning.
“That cat’s got a slow heart beat,” Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer said. “[Pyne] is as good as I’ve ever seen as a freshman at being able to let go of whatever has happened and just be on that pitch.”
Despite a leadoff walk in the ninth, Reese Sharp slammed the door in the ninth to give Indiana an 8-6 come-from-behind victory in game one over Minnesota. With this win, Indiana moves to 23-26 on the season and 9-10 in Big Ten play.
“To watch Reese Sharp knuckle down in moments like that is incredible growth from the beginning of the year to right now where he’s at,” Mercer said.
Indiana starter Jack Perkins has held the lowest ERA among Hoosiers almost all year, but didn’t have his usual command on Friday. In the second, Perkins allowed a leadoff double to Minnesota catcher Chase Stanke, who then advanced to third on a wild pitch. Perkins walked the next batter, and Ronald Sweeny made Perkins pay with an opposite field, three-run home run off the video board.
“Today was our day to be there for Jack,” Mercer said. “He tried to get a fastball in to Sweeny, who hit the home run, left it down away in his hot zone … Not every night is Jack going to be able to go 120 pitches and carry the team on his back. That’s the great thing about having a bunch of other dudes here that are able to step up.”
Perkins’ night was over after five innings, and he allowed five hits, six runs, four walks, two hit batters and four strikeouts. While it wasn’t the usual outing for Indiana’s Friday starter Perkins, the Hoosier bullpen picked him up in a big way.
Ryan Kraft, Luke Hayden, Nathan Stahl and Reese Sharp combined for four scoreless innings, allowing two hits, four walks and two strikeouts. It wasn’t easy for Sharp, who threw 38 pitches in one inning, but it was enough to earn his fourth save of the season.
Sharp blew an elevated fastball past Noah Berghammer, and he was fired up after tossing the game-winning strike. Sharp tossed his glove towards the Indiana bench, pumping his fists and celebrating with his teammates who just pulled off one of Indiana’s most memorable wins of the season.
“[The bullpen] was huge,” Mercer said. “That’s why you put those guys in positions earlier in the year. You keep running them out there and you keep coaching them. What a testament to coach Glant and his continued work with those guys. All of those guys, at one point or another, have struggled … To have the bullpen come in and close the door was incredible.”
For an Indiana pitching staff that has struggled at times this season with a Big Ten-worst 7.02 team ERA, it was a promising sign moving forward. Mercer said this effort from the bullpen and the never-give-up attitude of the lineup should give Indiana confidence heading into the final two games of the series against Minnesota.
The Hoosiers are in a tight battle with Purdue for seventh place in the Big Ten after the Boilermakers defeated Northwestern to move to 8-9 in conference play. The top eight teams qualify for the Big Ten tournament, which begins on May 25 in Omaha, Neb.