Junior outfielder Laren Eustace didn’t enter IU’s matchup with Ball State on Tuesday night until the ninth inning. After IU took the lead on a Tony Butler RBI single in the seventh inning, the Hoosiers shifted to defense at Victory Field in Indianapolis.
IU Coach Chris Lemonis replaced senior Craig Dedelow — IU’s most productive hitter and center fielder — for the speedy Eustace in order to cover an outfield that spanned far more ground than IU’s Bart Kaufman Field in Bloomington.
Speed would decide the game in extra innings.
After sophomore closer Matt Lloyd blew the save in the top of the ninth inning on a double laced down the first-base line, the Hoosiers and the Cardinals went into extra innings tied 3-3.
With one out in the bottom of the 10th inning, Eustace was grazed by a pitch and sent to first base.
When sophomore pitcher TJ Baker lifted his foot off the rubber on the first pitch to junior outfielder Logan Sowers though, Eustace was off and looked too slow to beat Ball State catcher Griffin Hulecki’s throw, but a strategic slide caused Cardinal junior shortstop Seth Freed to miss the tag.
“Laren is one of the fastest kids in the country,” Lemonis said. “It’s the hardest time to steal a base when everyone is watching.”
The crowd booed, and Ball State Coach Rich Maloney found himself in heated discussions with the umpire crew for the second consecutive play after Eustace’s hit-by-pitch.
Once Eustace was at second, Ball State intentionally walked Sowers to put runners on first and second and bring the less-dangerous freshman first baseman Matt Gorski to the plate. While riding a seven-game hitting streak, Gorski has still not been as big of a threat with the bat as Sowers, who has hit .305 in Big Ten play this season.
Lemonis approached Gorski before the freshman stepped into the box and said he told the first baseman that he didn’t want him to fall behind in the count in a pivotal at-bat with one out in extra innings.
Gorski took a ball. Then a strike.
“I knew a curveball was coming,” Gorski said because IU had seen a steady dose of Baker’s curveball in his 3.1 innings pitched. “I was doing my best to hit it back to him.”
Expecting the curveball and not wanting to fall behind in the count, Gorski saw a curve coming in, pulled his hands into his chest and pushed the ball into right field toward the charging Ball State outfielder Jeff Riedel.
Eustace sprinted around third base and headed home in an attempt to win the game. The junior peeked toward right field and saw Riedel had bobbled the ball. It bounced off of his glove, and Riedel immediately looked toward the sky in agony.
Eustace charged toward the plate, jumped with his hands in the air and scored the winning run as the Hoosiers charged for Gorski at first base in celebration.
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IU will look to build momentum as it heads to the final stretch of the season.
The No. 6 Hoosiers will face No. 4 Texas and No. 19 Florida in a two day meet in Austin, the site of this year’s National Championships.
IU has defeated both Texas and Florida for three straight seasons.