If the Indiana baseball team wanted a chance to defend its Big Ten Tournament title, the Hoosiers’ bats would need to make themselves known once again in the final conference series of the season.
The Hoosiers (27-25, 12-12) did just that Saturday afternoon at Sembower Field, winning 16-6 over Illinois (26-26, 10-14) to earn the sixth and final seed to this week’s Big Ten Tournament in Columbus, Ohio.
The Hoosiers’ strong pitching from junior Matt Carr and senior Chris Squires held the Illini to only 10 hits, and Squires, who entered in relief, needed just 22 pitches to close out the Illini.
“We felt pretty good about our chances today with Matt Carr on the mound,” IU coach Tracy Smith said. “He’s a veteran guy who’s been throwing the baseball well.”
While Carr pitched well, he still allowed six earned runs throughout the seven innings he pitched, but the runs spotted to Illinois proved to be no matter for the high-powered Hoosier offense. Sophomore Alex Dickerson cemented his conference offensive triple crown with a three-hit, one-RBI day, while senior right fielder Michael Earley dropped in three hits and scored four runs in his home finale.
Earley admitted he thought a bit about playing his final game in a Hoosier uniform beforehand, but he was able to get past it.
“I just tried to do what I’ve been doing,” Earley said. “After my first at-bat, I settled down and felt good at the plate.”
Dickerson stopped all challengers in their tracks this season in his run to the top of the three significant offensive categories in the Big Ten. The Poway, Calif., native belted 23 home runs, 93 hits and 73 RBI, all in 52 regular-season games played — good for a .415 batting average.
Impressively, Dickerson wasn’t the only Hoosier hitter to bat above .400 on the season. Junior first baseman Jerrud Sabourin added two hits — including
a solo home run in the fourth inning Saturday — to finish the regular season with a .410 batting average.
Illinois tied Saturday’s make-or-break contest for the Hoosiers in the top of the third inning before the team moved four runners across the plate in both the bottom of the third and fourth innings to run the score to 10-2.
In the top of the sixth inning, a lead-off home run from Illinois’ Casey McMurray started a three-run inning for the Illini, but the Hoosiers added two in the bottom of the inning and four more in the eighth to seal their trip to Columbus.
In the tournament, a double-elimination affair, the Hoosiers will first face Northwestern on Wednesday, a team that IU took a series from 2-1 earlier in the season.
“Our mindset truly is that we’re not finished yet,” Smith said. “To get in that tournament was a goal of ours, but we don’t want to stop there.”