The first weekend of Big Ten play for IU baseball resulted in a sweep of Iowa, capped off by a 7-1 win Sunday.
Despite scattered rain throughout the afternoon, IU was able to extend its winning streak to eight games thanks in large part to freshman outfielder Grant Richardson.
Richardson entered the series finale with eight runs batted in this week, and he added three more to his stat sheet. The freshman got things rolling in the second inning for IU with a two-run blast to the bullpen in left field.
“Off the bat, it was just a really good feeling," Richardson said. "I knew I had that one.”
Richardson’s contributions were not limited to just the offensive side. IU Coach Jeff Mercer said a big point of emphasis for Richardson in the offseason and early part of this season has been improving himself on defense, and it showed in the sixth inning.
Trailing by three, Iowa had two runners on base with two outs when senior second baseman Mitchell Boe sent a line drive to right field. Richardson, on a dead sprint, fully extended to make a diving catch to prevent Iowa from scoring any runs.
“He’s a different level of athlete,” Mercer said. “You come to work every day because you don’t know what day is going to be the day where you figure it out for the rest of your career. And that’s what Grant’s done.”
IU sent out junior Andrew Saalfrank for his third consecutive Sunday start, but after throwing 14 strikeouts against Canisius College last week, he could not replicate the performance.
The southpaw went just two innings while struggling to string together outs. However, he was able to pitch out of jams in his short stint and picked off two runners to keep Iowa from scoring any runs early on.
“He didn’t have great stuff today,” Mercer said. “He managed the run game, and they ran into some outs.”
Iowa got an unearned run in the third against freshman pitcher Gabe Bierman, but from there it was all IU.
A run in the fourth and fifth innings helped IU extend its lead, but it was in the eighth where the home team was able to blow the game open.
A pair of singles and a walk got the bases loaded for IU, and it was Richardson again coming up with a base hit to bring in a run. Then with two outs, sophomore shortstop Jeremy Houston picked up his seventh and eighth RBIs of the season with a single up the middle.
IU brought in senior utility player Matt Lloyd in to close out the game in the ninth and cap off seven strong innings from the bullpen. With senior starting pitcher Pauly Milto throwing 8.1 innings Friday and junior starting pitcher Tanner Gordon throwing seven innings Saturday, IU was put in a position where going to the bullpen early was not an issue.
“What we did earlier in the week allowed us to extend today and really not take any risks,” Mercer said. “It was a really good start for us and good first weekend.”
IU will play Kent State University on Wednesday in Bloomington before hitting the road in Big Ten play for the first time this season. Next weekend for the Hoosiers will include a three-game series against the Maryland Terrapins.