EAST LANSING, Mich. – Indiana spent a lot of time on situational hitting all week, and it paid off in a big way on Friday when they had back-to-back four-run innings to blow out Michigan State 8-2 on Friday in the first game of their weekend series.
"We really emphasized that this week, so much so that my arm about fell off throwing so much to the guys,'' said Indiana coach Jeff Mercer, who was back in the dugout after missing two weeks because of COVID-19. "It's an art to hit with runners in scoring position. You need calmness and a good plan of attack, and I thought we did a great job of that all day today.''
Indiana (10-2) didn't score until the fifth inning off of Michigan State (6-7) starter Mason Erla, squandering opportunities in the first and second innings when runners were thrown out and home and second base, respectively. The fourth inning started with two singles, but was stymied by a double play.
But in the fifth and trailing 1-0, Indiana finally got some results, getting four singles from Morgan Copoly, Grant Richardson, Cole Barr and Paul Toetz, and a two-out, two-run double from Jordan Fucci to take a 4-1 lead.
They came right back in the sixth and did more damage, taking advantage of a walk and two hit batters. Toetz came up with the bases loaded and had a two-double that drove in all three base runners.
"We were constantly applying pressure, especially those guys in the middle of the lineup, and eventually than dam is going to break, even against a good pitcher like him,'' Mercer said. "I'm always telling them, to get big innings it takes five or six quality at bats in a row, and we did that. I liked everything we did at the plate today.''
Tommy Sommer got the win for the Hoosiers. He pitched five innings, allowing two runs and six hits, and also had three walks. He's 3-0 on the season now, with a 1.85 earned average.
"Tommy really battled today, but we just expect that from him. That's what he does every time out,'' Mercer said. "He didn't have his best stuff, but he competed and he worked his way through it.''
Sommer only threw 73 pitches, and Mercer said that was the plan all along to keep his pitch count down this week. It helped that Indiana added that second four-spot in the sixth inning to go up 8-2.
"We really want to ensure that he's strong at the end of the season and we planned on him only going five or six today anyway,'' Mercer said. "It's not like his pitch counts have been crazy high – (though he did through 102 pitches last Friday against Purdue) – but we want to keep him strong.
"It also helps that we have so many great arms in the bullpen. It does make the decision a little easier.''
The Hoosiers have now scored 17 runs in their past two games, and they've scored five runs or more nine times already this season. In Sunday's 9-5 win over Purdue, it was the bottom of the order that came through. On Friday, it was the middle of the order against the Spartans.
No. 3 hitter Richardson was 3-for-4 with a hit by pitch, No. 4 hitter Barr was 2-for-3 with two walks, No. 5 hitter Paul Toetz was 3-for-5 with 3 RBIs and the Greendale, Wis., freshman has now hit safely in all 12 games this season. Fucci was 2-for-5 with two doubles and those two RBIs.
That's 10-for-17, a .588 average, from the heart of the order.
"Paul Toetz was on fire and it was great to see Jordan get going (after an 0-for-13 skid),'' Mercer said. "It was a good reminder of how he's capable of playing. He's a very good hitter.
"It's hard in this shortened season without any midweek games to kind of get through a little hitting slump. You're seeing good arms all the time, like today, which I why we've been working so hard doing the week with scrimmages and situational stuff. It's paying off. I thought Jordan did a great job of bouncing back.''
The two teams meet again on Saturday, with first pitch at 1:05 p.m. ET. McCade Brown will start for the Hoosiers.
Related stories on Indiana baseball
- FRESHMEN ADD POP TO LINEUP: Freshmen Paul Toetz and Kip Fougerousse are coming through at the plate, adding a lot of depth to the Hoosiers' powerful lineup. CLICK HERE
- INDIANA SCHEDULE: Here is Indiana's complete 44-game regular season schedule, with links to all the game stories thus far. CLICK HERE
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