IU came into its three game set against in-state rival Purdue this weekend at 7-1, a record it built behind the strength of its starting pitching and defense.
The Hoosiers weren’t as dominant on the mound as they were in their first two series this season, when they led the country in runs allowed per game at 1.91. However, IU’s offense scored 16 runs against Purdue and got the 2-1 series win.
In Friday’s opener, IU starting pitcher Tommy Sommer walked the first three batters he faced, loading the bases for Purdue without recording an out. After recording a strikeout, Sommer hit Purdue senior third baseman Kyle LaPlante with a 1-2 pitch, giving Purdue the lead without recording a hit.
“After that first inning, I was frustrated, a little flustered,” Sommer said. “I had a terrible start to this game, and I found my way back. I was able to keep us in the ballgame to give us a chance to win.”
Sommer did bounce back, striking out a career-high 12 batters and allowing only two hits in 6.2 total innings. IU’s batters struggled to break through against Purdue’s ace, senior Trent Johnson, who only gave up two hits in six innings. IU capitalized on Cory Brooks relieving Johnson, and the middle of the lineup staged a rally for the Hoosiers.
Sophomore center fielder Grant Richardson singled to left field. After a strikeout, freshman second baseman Paul Toetz drove Richardson home from first, picking up an RBI double down the left field line. Two batters later, senior catcher Jacob Southern slapped a single to right field to bring home Toetz. Sophomore closer Matt Litwicki picked up the save in the ninth inning, and IU took the opener 2-1.
“[Southern] had some real quality at-bats his first times up,” acting head coach Dan Held said. “I was confident in that situation that he was going to come through.”
Sophomore starter McCade Brown returned to the mound for the Hoosiers on Saturday, his first appearance since tying the IU strikeout record against Penn State on March 13. Brown struggled in his third outing of the year, giving up five hits and walking four in five innings.
Purdue scored four runs in the top of the third to take a 5-1 lead, but IU had a chance to get out of the inning much earlier. On a fielder’s choice to third, junior third baseman Cole Barr threw the ball past Toetz at second, scoring a second runner in the inning and missing out on a possible double play that could have minimized the damage. IU clawed back into the game, scoring in the fourth and fifth to cut Purdue’s lead to 5-4.
After Brown left the game, Purdue was able to get one run each off of relievers John Modugno, Braden Scott and Connor Manous, and Purdue took the second game 8-5.
In the rubber match Sunday, sophomore Gabe Bierman took the mound for IU. After allowing two runs in the top of the second, IU responded with two runs of its own thanks to senior 9-hole hitter Jeremy Houston’s two-out, two-RBI single.
“I was fortunate enough to get a change-up up,” said Houston. “I put a good swing on it, and we got two runs from it. It was a good feeling.”
In the third, IU took the lead with a solo shot to straight-away center field from Richardson, IU’s first home run since Richardson’s three-run walk-off against Penn State on March 14. Jordan Fucci and Kip Fougerousse added RBIs in the bottom of the third to give Bierman and IU a 5-2 lead.
After cutting the lead to 5-3, Purdue had a chance to take the lead in the top of the sixth. Bierman loaded the bases with a walk, single and a hit batter. However, former Hoosier Justin Walker, Jr. hit a grounder right to Toetz, who tossed it to Houston at second, who turned the double play to Fucci at first. Purdue scored on the play, but IU stopped the bleeding and escaped the 6th with the lead.
IU added three runs in the eighth, including two on a home run from redshirt senior catcher Collin Hopkins, his first as a Hoosier. IU finished with a season-high 14 hits and nine runs in the 9-4 victory, which puts IU atop the Big Ten with a 9-2 record.
“It was one through nine today, but honestly, we can go 1-15 at any moment,” Houston said. “We’re slowly producing, and we’re slowly getting better.”