Indiana Daily Student

Squires shakes off struggles, helps Hoosiers win series finale

IU senior closing pitcher Chris Squires rebounded from two disappointing relief efforts to preserve the win in Sunday’s finale at Michigan State, but the Hoosiers now face a dogfight to make the Big Ten Tournament.

IU (25-24, 10-11) secured a 10-7 win over Michigan State (32-17, 10-11) when Squires came to the mound in the sixth inning to relieve starting pitcher Matt Carr and earned the save.

“It was important for me to forget about Friday and Saturday and just go out and do what I was capable of doing,” Squires said.

The save was the ninth of the season for Squires — a school record — and kept the Hoosiers knotted in a four-way tie for fifth in the conference with a single weekend of play left. The top six teams advance to the Big Ten Tournament next week in Columbus, Ohio.

IU nearly picked up a win in the series opener Friday in East Lansing, but a combination of Squires’ rough outing as a closer and three errors in the infield spoiled sophomore pitcher Drew Leininger’s start.

Sophomore Ethan Wilson, battling a sore back, left the game in the top of the fourth when freshman Michael Basil replaced him. Basil committed an error in both the fifth and sixth innings, leading to an unearned run when  MSU’s Torsten Boss homered with one out in the fifth.

Freshman Micah Johnson committed IU’s third error of the game to lead off the bottom of the ninth as the Hoosiers led 8-7. The throwing error advanced MSU’s Bo Feltto second and set the table for the Spartans to score three runs on Squires and edge out the 9-8 win.

“We need to lock down our mental approach and eliminate a lot of the mental errors we had this weekend,” IU head coach Tracy Smith said.

In Saturday’s contest, sophomore Alex Dickerson belted his 22nd home run of the season and continued his run at earning the conference’s batting triple crown. Dickerson currently leads the Big Ten in home runs, batting average and hits.

Squires entered the game — his 27th appearance of the year — in the eighth inning with two outs and runners on second and third with the Hoosiers trailing 5-4. An 0-1 single from MSU’s Boss scored two right away before Squires hit the next batter.

MSU’s Jeff Holm then doubled to score two more before Squires — with the game getting out of reach — was replaced by junior Alex Zerman on the mound. Zerman allowed another run, leaving the final score 10-4.

“I really struggled to find command of my fastball. When it’s good, my fastball has a lot of downward sink on it,” Squires said. “It had too much horizontal movement, causing it to come back over the plate.”

Squires was able to get back on track in the Sunday contest after junior starting pitcher Matt Carr exited in the sixth with the bases loaded and an 8-4 lead. The right-hander limited the damage to just two runs off a Ryan Jones single, and he gave up just one more on a solo home run in the seventh.

Meanwhile, a one-out double from IU junior Brian Lambert scored two in the top of seventh inning, leaving the scoreboard at the end with seven frames showing a 10-7 Hoosier lead.

“It was a no-brainer going back to (Squires) on Sunday,” said Smith. “There’s nobody else I want on the mound when the game is on the line.”

Losing the series hurts the Hoosiers in more than just their win-loss record. The tiebreaker for determining the top six teams for the conference tournament is how each team fared in terms of the three-game series they play.

If there are three or more teams tied for a single spot in the tournament, the tiebreaker reverts to the winning percentage head-to-head among tied teams — something IU also hurt by losing the series against Michigan State. The Spartans are one of four teams tied with the Hoosiers currently.

All of this, of course, leads to next weekend’s final conference series at home against Illinois — so vital to any hopes IU has of postseason play.

“We know what’s at stake,” Squires said. “We try not to put too much pressure on ourselves and do the little things the right way, the way we know how to do them. We know that if we do do those and play baseball the way we’re capable of, it shouldn’t be a question at the end of the day.”

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