Despite missing head coach Jeff Mercer with a positive COVID-19 test Friday, IU baseball won four games in two days and dusted off the record book against Penn State.
This weekend’s series was in limbo after IU announced Mercer’s positive test half an hour before first pitch Friday afternoon. Late Friday night, IU announced that it had completed follow-up testing of its players, and the series would continue with two doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday with pitching coach Justin Parker as acting manager.
On Saturday, in the first games at Bart Kaufman Field in more than a year, there was a relatively large crowd on hand, but the most noticeable spectators weren’t fans: They were major league scouts. About 20 bunched up directly behind home plate with their radar guns, watching IU’s pitchers dominate Penn State’s explosive bats.
Junior reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Week Tommy Sommer got the start in IU’s seven-inning opening game and went 4.2 innings, giving up three hits and two earned runs. IU’s top four only had two hits, but batters five through nine for IU picked up the slack with seven, including senior shortstop Jeremy Houston’s first two hits of the season. IU won game 1, 7-2.
In front of the scouts in game 2, IU sophomore pitcher McCade Brown initially looked uncomfortable, walking the first two batters he faced. After a timely mound visit from Parker, Brown was locked in, pitching a no-hitter in seven innings of work.
Brown followed up his 12-strikeout performance against Rutgers in the first game with 16 on Saturday, matching the school record for strikeouts in a game set by Brad Edwards against Quinnipiac University on Mar. 17, 2000 — 151 days before Brown was born.
“I’m definitely confident, feel ready to go out and control a game”, Brown said. “Coach Parker has been great working with me and working through different situations to remain calm and continue to execute pitches.”
Most of Brown’s career game was played with a narrow 1-0 lead. IU’s bats struggled against Penn State’s starter junior Conor Larkin until the sixth inning. IU ended up breaking through and scoring seven in the sixth, winning the game 8-0.
Penn State came out in the first, seven-inning game on Sunday looking like a new team, taking a quick 4-1 lead in the top of the third. Freshman outfielder Johnny Piacentino picked up two RBIs to extend Penn State’s lead to 5-1 in the fifth.
Senior shortstop Grant Macciocchi drove Penn State’s starter freshman Jaden Henline from the game in the bottom of the fifth with a solo shot to left field, his first career homer for the Hoosiers, which cut the lead to 3. Tyler Shingledecker relieved Henline, and the second batter he faced, IU sophomore All-American center fielder Grant Richardson, hit a double to left center. Cole Barr brought him home to make the score 5-3.
In the bottom of the seventh, Shingledecker walked Macciocchi and gave up a single to Drew Ashley, who extended his on-base streak to 33 straight games. In the next at-bat, Richardson got great contact off of a Shingledecker pitch again, driving the 0-1 over the left field wall for a three run walk-off homer, and the Hoosiers took game three, 6-5.
“They had a couple of situations where we thought they might go to the pen and they didn’t,” Parker said. “Obviously, with what Grant did, was just what superstars do. Just won us a ball game.”
In the final game of the series, IU and Penn State dueled on the mound, culminating in IU closer Matt Litwicki striking out and staring down the Penn State dugout, earning his second save of the season in a 2-1 win for the Hoosiers. IU has won seven consecutively, sitting at the top of the Big Ten standings with a 7-1 record.
“It was an out-of-body experience,” Richardson said. “After waiting so long, everyone’s put in the amount of work that we’re showing right now. It's finally paying off, and it’s a great feeling.”