A week ago in College Park, Maryland, after being shutout 2-0 by Maryland to start a three-game series, IU baseball’s bats collectively woke up.
The Hoosiers shredded the Terrapins’ pitching and scored 39 runs over the next two games to claim a series win.
After being shutout by Penn State, 3-0, on Friday night to begin this weekend’s series in Bloomington, the response from IU wasn’t as much a team endeavor as it was an individual one by senior utility player Matt Lloyd.
During Saturday’s doubleheader sweep by the Hoosiers, victories by scores of 5-3 and 3-2 respectively to win the series against the Nittany Lions, Lloyd was pivotal to each win.
He hit a three-run home run to give IU, now 19-12 overall and 7-2 in Big Ten games, an initial lead in the first game, before later taking over on the mound in the ninth inning for his third save of the season.
His fourth save came less than four hours later in the series-deciding game after he put IU ahead for good with a two-run single into center field in the fifth inning.
“Every pitch of every game, Matt Lloyd is the most accountable, competitive guy on the field,” IU Head Coach Jeff Mercer said. “On our team, on the other team, it doesn’t matter where we’re at. That shows his resiliency. We can all learn, I can learn, from him.”
Lloyd’s success on the mound and at the plate epitomized for Mercer the toughness and competitiveness he's seeking from his Hoosier ballclub.
The road toward the Penn State series win wasn’t as straightforward as the Maryland series. It required not only Lloyd’s clutch hitting and closing ability, but also reliable pitching prior to his appearance that made his inclusion in the game necessary.
Junior left-handed starting pitcher Andrew Saalfrank struck out 13 batters and threw 105 pitches over seven innings in Saturday’s second game, which resulted in his fourth-straight win.
Mercer said the showing was all the more impressive given that Saalfrank dealt with back tightness during the game.
“You look at Saaly’s toughness, you look at how far that guy’s come,” Mercer said. “What a gritty performance.”
Saalfrank gave way on the mound to sophomore Grant Sloan from the bullpen, who needed just seven pitches to navigate through the eighth inning.
“Old mad dog Sloan comes in, just throwing absolute fuzz,” Mercer said. “He says, ‘Here it is boys, if you can hit 95, tip my cap, but you’re going to have to hit 95 in the middle of the plate.’”
While Maryland resides in the middle of the Big Ten baseball standings, compared to Penn State near the bottom, Mercer said IU’s resilience was honed in College Park before reappearing in Bloomington.
“There’s no choice. They’re not going to cancel the games, nobody feels sorry for you,” Mercer said. “It’s a testament to our players’ fighting spirit and their competitiveness and their undying will to go and fight for each other.”
The win vaults IU to the top of the Big Ten standings, and IU's 11 home wins are tied for the most of any Big Ten school.
Mercer is the first to praise his team as a collective, but Saturday he remained steadfast in singling out Lloyd for making IU’s top-tier position possible.
“Matt Lloyd is the perfect Hoosier,” Mercer said. “He’s the absolute perfect Hoosier. He’s everything that we want to model our program after. I’m proud to get to coach him.”