Normally forced to rely on stout offensive play to win games this season, the IU baseball team instead earned the victory of a three-game road series with solid defense and a tremendous pitching effort.
The Hoosiers (23-22, 9-9) won a pitchers’ duel 1-0 over Northwestern (21-27, 10-8) in the series finale and deciding game in their 3-game series at Rocky Miller Park Sunday.
“That keeps us in the middle of it,” IU coach Tracy Smith said afterward about his team’s standing. IU is tied for fifth in the Big Ten. “We said before the weekend that we had to go up there and take two, and we did that.”
The Hoosiers could take no comfort in winning the series — a crucial factor when conference play ends to help sort out tiebreakers in an extremely tight Big Ten race — until the very final out of Sunday’s game. Senior Chris Squires, though, sealed the one-run win with a strike out of the Wildcats’ Trevor Stevens.
Squires had come in the game with plenty of pressure after junior Matt Carr worked NU’s Alex Seyferth to a two-strike count with just one out and runners on second and third. Seyferth then fouled a ball off of his face and left in the middle of the
at-bat, allowing IU’s Smith to bring Squires in for the final strike on pinch-hitter Hamilton Wise.
Squires sat Wise down and then got Wildcat right fielder Chris Kontos to ground out to end the inning and the threat to IU’s 1-0 lead — a tally they earned in the top of the first off an Alex Dickerson single.
From there, Squires finished the game, allowing just one hit and no walks to earn his eighth save of the year and Carr’s first win of 2010.
It was the second save of the weekend for Squires, who also worked the final five outs of Friday’s 11-9 Hoosier win.
“The pitchers had a meeting before the weekend and from that, the end-all, be-all of it, was that we’re not going to let our hitters hit and lose games for them,” said Squires. “We need to step as a group and do what we need to do to help win games.”
Carr, making just his third start of 2010 after offseason Tommy John surgery, was one of those who stepped up for the Hoosiers.
“That was really a positive start,” said Carr after his three-hit, three-walk mound performance. “Coach was telling us before the game just to let our defense work us, and (Sunday) they did that.”
That defense — including an impressive 4-6-3 double play turned in the fourth and
started by Brian Ritz — was a direct contrast to what the Hoosiers displayed in Saturday’s game.
The middle infielders combined for five total errors — three on second baseman Tyler Rogers — in a contest won by Northwestern 11-4.
“That shows you what a crazy game this is,” said Smith, who treated his team to dinner at his personal-favorite Don’s Drive-In in his hometown of Kentland, Ind., on the way north to Evanston on Thursday. “For all the reasons we lost (Saturday), we won (Sunday).”
The loss muted Dickerson’s 20th home run of the season (the sophomore left fielder hit No. 19 on Friday) and left Smith to disappointingly tweet that the defeat was “one of the very few times all season we rolled over.”
Friday, though, the Hoosiers got the weekend off to a good start after jumping to a huge 9-0 lead after two innings and then holding on. Sophomore pitcher Drew Leininger, winless in his last two starts, had a rough six-run third inning.
However, he pulled it together for his seventh win of the season with the assistance of Squires’ save and a huge day for right fielder Michael Earley.
The senior from Anderson, Ind., batted 3-5 with two home runs and four RBI — easily his best offensive output of the season.