IU wanted to maximize its conference standing and provide key players with rest heading into this week’s Big Ten Tournament, and it accomplished both goals by winning two of three games against Michigan State to end the regular season Saturday.
The Hoosiers (28-25, 16-7) secured the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament by winning the first two games Thursday and Friday. The Spartans (23-29, 13-11) won the third game on a rainy Saturday and locked themselves into the No. 5 seed.
Sophomore pitcher Joey O’Gara made his fifth start for the Hoosiers on Thursday, allowing junior ace Eric Arnett to rest for the postseason.
The game went scoreless through the first two innings, and then Michigan State’s lineup went off in the top of the third with third baseman A.J. Shindler hitting a two-run home run and designated hitter Johnny Lee and shortstop Jonathan Roof each batting in a run, putting Michigan State up 4-0. IU responded in the latter half of the inning with freshman third baseman Vince Gonzalez hitting a solo home run. It was the first home run of his college career.
Sophomore pitcher Matt Carr entered the game in relief of O’Gara and held Michigan State scoreless through the next four innings. In the bottom of the seventh, junior shortstop Jake Dunning got on base with a single, and senior right fielder Chris Hervey hit a double to put two IU base runners in scoring position. Dunning scored on a sacrifice fly by sophomore first baseman Jerrud Sabourin and Hervey took third base.
Michigan State then brought in relief pitcher A.J. Dunn, and the first IU batter he faced, junior catcher Josh Phegley, hit his 17th home run of the year to tie the score at four.
Junior pitcher Chris Squires came out of the IU bullpen in the top of the eighth and pitched two shutout innings, giving the Hoosiers’ hitters one more chance to win the game in regulation. After two straight outs to start the bottom of the ninth, Hervey got on base with a walk, and Sabourin, who had not gotten a hit in four at-bats in the game, came through in the clutch and hit a walk off two-run home run to give IU the 6-4 win.
“It feels great,” Sabourin said after the game. “I had been struggling all day and their starting pitcher threw a great game, but I thought that I could get a good feel for this guy (A.J. Dunn) and I did. It feels great to get (a win) from Michigan State.”
The first two innings of game two went into the books without a score, and the Hoosiers got rolling in the bottom of the third with Dunning and Phegley both getting on base with walks. Freshman designated hitter Alex Dickerson batted in Dunning for the first run of the day, and sophomore left fielder Kipp Schutz followed suit by batting in Phegley to give IU a 2-0 lead after three.
Junior pitcher Matt Bashore displayed his brilliance in the game, matching his season-high with 10 strikeouts. In the bottom of the sixth, junior center fielder Evan Crawford rewrote the IU record books by stealing second, third and home to move into 10th place for career stolen bases and give the Hoosiers a 3-0 lead.
The Hoosiers scored three more runs in the eighth, with junior second baseman Tyler Rogers and Gonzalez hitting singles and Dunning hitting a double to bring in both runners. Sabourin hit a single to bring in Dunning, putting the Hoosiers up 6-0.
Freshmen relievers Matt Igel and Wyatt Hoff threw for IU in the ninth, allowing the Spartans to score one run but closing out the game, giving the Hoosiers a 6-1 victory and the series.
IU freshman pitcher Blake Monar had trouble in the rainy conditions Saturday, walking Michigan State outfielder Eli Boike and hitting designated hitter Eric Roof with a pitch to load the bases. Boike stole home to put the Spartans up 1-0 and Monar walked another batter before the Hoosiers ended the top of the first with a double play.
IU didn’t respond offensively until the third, with Gonzalez hitting a double and Dunning hitting his fifth home run of the season to give the Hoosiers a 2-1 lead.
The first of a series of showers came in the top of the fourth, causing a few delays in game play.
Monar struggled on the wet mound, allowing the bases to load and walking in a run. Igel entered the game in relief of Monar, and the Spartans scored another run in the inning on a sacrifice, regaining the lead 3-2.
Dickerson hit a solo home run in the latter half of the fourth to tie the game at three, but that would be the last score for the Hoosiers as the Spartans would score another run in the sixth and two in the seventh on a Roof home run, putting them up 6-3.
Michigan State scored one more run in the ninth and IU couldn’t respond, giving the Spartans the win 7-3.
“It was just one of those games where we didn’t play well,” IU coach Tracy Smith said.
Hoosiers have momentum heading into Big Ten Tournament.
IU now enters the postseason with rested arms in pitchers Arnett and Bashore. Arnett did not see any action during the weekend, but Bashore pitched eight shutout innings Friday while keeping his pitch count to 100.
Coach Smith said he likes where his team is as it attempts to win the Big Ten Tournament title and advance to the NCAA phases of the postseason.
“We’ve been pretty even-keel,” Smith said. “But if we want to achieve our dream of going to Omaha (for the College World Series), we’ve got to win the Big Ten Tournament.”
The Hoosiers will face in-state rival Purdue (24-24, 11-12), the only conference foe to whom IU lost a series, in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament at 3:35 p.m. Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio.
Smith said he hopes to avenge the series loss to the Boilermakers, played in West Lafayette.
“I think the fans will really appreciate an IU-Purdue matchup,” he said. “But for us, it’s a chance to avenge ourselves because we just did not play well up there.”