With team members’ fingers collectively waving a No. 1 in the air, the IU baseball team made its way down Fee Lane, halting traffic after a 2-1 series win against Penn State.
The Hoosiers had just swept a Saturday doubleheader, giving them an 8-3 conference record and a then-share of the Big Ten standings lead. IU won game 2 in a landslide 15-1 victory and battled to keep its early lead in a 3-2 game 3 win.
It wasn’t always evident that IU’s weekend would end in such a picturesque manner.
In the Hoosiers’ 9-7 game 1 loss, junior shortstop Jake Dunning stepped into the batter’s box with the bases loaded, the tying and winning runs represented on second and first base. Penn State pitcher Ryan Ignas left Dunning swinging with a breaking ball that cut away from his bat.
“I feel like I cost the team the game because it was right there in my hand,” Dunning said.
He redeemed himself in the following games, providing stand-out defensive plays while smashing two home runs. He was also 3-of-4 from the plate in game 2.
Junior pitcher Chris Squires provided more vindication when he struck out a Penn State batter to end game 3. He secured the series and his third save of the season with the pitch.
Squires said he wanted Penn State to work for any game-changing play it made.
“I was just thinking that I was going to go in there and throw strikes,” Squires said. “I was going to make them earn everything they got. If I was going to get beat, it was going to be with my best stuff.”
Citing Penn State as a team against which IU struggled in the past, Dunning, a transfer in his first year with the team, said the win was a big step in his team’s progression.
“They were (1-4) against them, the only game they beat them was in the Big Ten tournament,” Dunning said of last year’s team. “It’s huge to take the series because they swept them here last year.”
Another performer who kept IU in contention throughout the weekend was junior outfielder Evan Crawford, who emerged from an early-season slump.
He showed why he was considered one of the team’s top performers to begin the season with a game 2, five-RBI outing in which he was 3-of-5 with two stolen bases.
Crawford now has 18 stolen bases and has only been gunned down twice, with one coming on a suicide squeeze as he tried to steal home.
Junior second baseman Tyler Rogers and junior catcher Josh Phegley also performed well. Rogers was 3-of-5 with three runs, and Phegley was 1-of-3 with three runs and a walk.
While the Hoosier bats consistently made contact in the two wins – tallying 27 hits and 18 runs – pitching helped IU finish the series with a win.
Freshman pitcher Blake Monar had a tough showing on the mound in game 1, where he allowed nine hits and seven earned runs. But he was backed by two solid starts from juniors Eric Arnett and Matt Bashore. Squires then ended the series with a crowd-stirring save of game 3.
Arnett struck out seven in six and two-thirds innings in game 2, but IU coach Tracy Smith said he was most impressed with Bashore. He said he made a successful transition away from a fixation with strikes and forced groundouts instead.
“He was attacking with his fast ball and consequently his strike count was down,” Smith said. “A lot of times Matt (Bashore) gets in the strikeout mentality. And when you do that, you’re going to throw a lot of pitches.”
Smith joked that he expected his team to come and win a doubleheader but became stonefaced when explaining the significance of the Penn State win.
“We said we gotta take these two, you have to win the series,” Smith said. “You have to win Big Ten series in order to take the title.”