The Indiana baseball team may have needed to win their final game of conference play to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament, but they only needed Wednesday’s first inning to advance to the second round.
The sixth-seeded Hoosiers recorded a first-round tournament win over the third-seeded Northwestern Wildcats 5-0 . IU will now face top-seed Minnesota on Thursday at 7:05 p.m.
IU sophomore starting pitcher Drew Leininger finished what he started for the Hoosiers, earning his second complete game shutout victory of the season. Leininger faced 36 batters Wednesday, giving up eight hits -- all singles -- and two walks while striking out six.
“This first game is so important. You never want to get into that losers bracket,” IU coach Tracy Smith said. “We got a huge performance by Drew. People will say ‘why didn’t you save him?’ and our mentality is we are not going to save him. We’ve got to win the first game.”
Leininger’s 123-pitch shutout marked the first time a team had been blanked in the Big Ten Tournament since Ohio State topped Northwestern 9-0 in 2006.
IU’s offense certainly took the pressure off Leininger before he even had a chance to take the mound in the bottom of the first. By the time the game ended, each of IU’s nine starters had recorded a hit and five had recorded two -- though only one was for extra bases.
In what turned out to be a 45-pitch first inning for Northwestern’s starting pitcher Eric Jokisch, leadoff hitter freshman Micah Johnson worked a 2-2 count into a walk before advancing to second on a groundout by junior Jerrud Sabourin. Big Ten Player of the Year Alex Dickerson fouled off six pitches before Jokisch hit the sophomore with a pitch.
With two on and one out, senior Michael Earley then slapped a single to left field to make it 1-0. Senior Tyler Rogers then singled another run and sophomore Ethan Wilson added two more with a shallow fly ball to make it 4-0 in the first.
Northwestern never seemed to be a big threat to Leininger, despite leaving nine runners on base.
“I don’t overpower anybody with my stuff, but I just changed speeds and got them out,” Leininger said.
In the bottom of the seventh, Leininger got a big assist from Rogers when the senior made a diving play to snare a ball hit over his right shoulder -- preventing a one-out double.
“If the Big Ten Network doesn’t make that a highlight I’m going to cancel my subscription,” Smith said. “If he hadn’t made that catch, it could have been a big inning.”
IU now turns its attention to Minnesota for Thursday night’s game. The Hoosiers will bring freshman Jonny Hoffman to the mound while the Golden Gophers will throw junior Seth Rosin. Rosin, with a 7-4 record and a 4.74 ERA, was named Second-Team All-Big Ten. Hoffman sports a 2-2 record with 9.00 ERA in 14 appearances this season.
The Hoosiers dropped the only regular season series with Minnesota when they went 2-1 in April. Last season, the Hoosiers won the Big Ten Tournament championship by dropping the Golden Gophers 13-2.
“We are 100 percent confident that we can win this thing,” Leininger said. “We did last year as a three seed and we think we can as a six seed.”