LOUISVILLE – Senior catcher Ryan Fineman didn’t agree with the call, and neither did the rest of the IU team.
With two outs and a full count, Fineman represented the tying run for the Hoosiers at the plate. After his team trailed 7-0 through five innings, IU had a chance to complete the comeback against No. 7 Louisville in the NCAA Tournament Regionals.
Fineman attempted to swing high but stopped himself because he thought it was a ball. The umpire called it a strike to end the game and ultimately the season for IU. Fineman began yelling at the umpire as he tried to walk away towards the home dugout.
“The pitch just bounced,” IU Coach Jeff Mercer said. “You can look at the video. I’m not saying something untrue or controversial. It bounced.”
After the call, IU base Coach Casey Dykes ran after the umpire to voice his opinion on the call, but Mercer stepped in and broke it up. Then the handshake line afterward became a yelling match between the two teams on the mound.
“There’s gonna be people who are upset,” Mercer said. “They have a job to do. I have a job to do. They get paid to do their job. I get paid to do my job. You have to be able to execute. Everyone’s held to that same standard, so it’s gonna be an emotional response when those things happen.”
Despite the controversial ending, IU had plenty of chances earlier in the game to keep itself out of the position of needing late runs. The Hoosiers batted 4-15 with runners in scoring position while the Cardinals were 4-9 in similar situations.
In the top of the third, IU had an opportunity to make an early dent to the 4-0 deficit but couldn’t find a single timely hit. The Hoosiers had the bases loaded with no outs, but a pair of strikeouts and a flyout stranded the runners.
That inning was just the beginning. IU couldn’t produce runs when given the opportunity early in the game, which made it difficult for the team to make up the ground in the final inning.
It mirrored the first matchup with the Cardinals on May 14, where the Hoosiers trailed 6-0 at one point but then lost 8-7 in extra innings. It also reflected IU's weekend in the Louisville regional when it constantly had to try to come back from holes that it dug itself by giving up early runs.
“I just think that’s something that’s always a possibility for us,” senior Matt Lloyd said. “You saw it against Illinois State as well, we were down. We’re never out of ball games, that’s our whole mindset.”
But unlike the other games, this was the last attempt IU had to save its season. The Hoosiers finished the season with a 37-22 record and 17-7 conference record, as well as being crowned the Big Ten regular season champions. Yet IU once again failed to do much damage in its NCAA Tournament appearance, losing in regional play for the second season in a row.
Despite the controversy, that’s how the 2019 campaign officially ends for the Hoosiers. Was it the right call? Maybe or maybe not, but it marked the end for six IU seniors.
After the game, when Lloyd and sophomore Drew Ashley were finished talking to the media, Mercer raised his shoulders and let out a sigh before answering a question about the ending sequence. Reflecting on the last game of his first season as IU coach, Mercer said he doesn’t believe the call should’ve been made in a situation like it was.
“When you have a game like this with so much on the line, so much at stake and you make a call like that to end guys careers, and some of these guys, end their baseball career period," Mercer said. "Some of these guys, to end their college careers, it’s gonna be heated."