Three weeks ago, IU baseball lost its fifth consecutive game, tumbling from its perch at the top of the Big Ten standings to four games back of the lead.
Since then, IU has won seven of its last eight games, including a three-game sweep of last-place Minnesota this weekend, and is now 1.5 games back of first-place Nebraska.
In the opening game, IU took advantage of Minnesota’s questionable pitching, drawing a season-high 12 walks. In the bottom of the second inning, IU took the lead on a Drew Ashley single, and sophomore Grant Richardson tripled the lead with a two-RBI double.
In the top of the fourth, Minnesota cut the lead to one with a two-run, two-out homer off starting pitcher Tommy Sommer, his only major mistake on the mound on Friday. IU immediately responded with a two-RBI single from freshman Morgan Colopy, who scored himself on a wild pitch to extend the lead to 6-2.
After giving a home run in the seventh, Sommer was relieved by senior Grant Macciocchi, who has been primarily playing shortstop for the Hoosiers this season. Macciocchi shut down Minnesota, pitching a no-hitter in the final 2.1 innings while striking out three. IU won the opener 9-3.
In the second game of the doubleheader Friday, Ashley again opened up the scoring. On a 0-1 count, Ashley clobbered a curveball over the top of the scoreboard in left field, giving IU a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the third.
IU doubled its lead in the fourth with RBIs from Colopy, sophomore Tyler Van Pelt and freshman James Espalin.
IU went on to win the game 7-1 despite being without its statistical top pitcher, sophomore McCade Brown, who usually starts on Saturdays. He was held out for IU’s second game to keep him on his weekly schedule.
“We didn’t want to push McCade to pitch a day short,” Mercer said. “We had confidence in John and the bullpen to be able and manage it.”
IU’s pitching was still successful despite missing Brown, with freshman John Modugno pitching a career-high 4.2 innings in his first start of the year. Senior Braden Scott, freshman Nathan Stahl and sophomore Matt Litwicki all pitched well, and the Hoosiers only conceded one run on seven hits.
The Hoosiers’ offense performed equally well on Sunday, crushing the Gophers with 23 runs and 17 hits in the series finale.
IU's sweep over Minnesota is the first for the program since May 5, 1962. IU went 5-0 against Minnesota this season, and its 23 runs are its most runs in a game since scoring 27 against Butler in 2016.
The game was effectively over by the end of the second inning as IU built up a 13-0 lead, with the final three runs coming from a three-run shot from Richardson over the right field wall, his fourth of the season. Colopy, junior Cole Barr and redshirt senior Collin Hopkins had three hits each.
Coming into the series, Hopkins had three hits all year. In three games against the Gophers this weekend, he went 6-10 from the plate with five doubles and four RBIs.
“He knows what he wants, he knows where he wants it at. Early in the season, he struggled with off-speed pitches, just the timing and tempo,” Mercer said. “He’s squared ‘em up, and no one’s happier for him than I am.”
Lost in the incredible hitting performance was the pitching of sophomore starter Gabe Bierman. In six innings of work, Bierman allowed five hits, one run and struck out a career-high 11 Minnesota batters, picking up his third win of the season.
“This is my best start pitching off of my fastball,” said Bierman. “Over the course of the week, I just kept focusing on glove side fastball, and that’s going to help me a lot in the future as well.”
Since being swept by Ohio State at the beginning of April, the Hoosiers have scored at least four runs in each of their last eight games, while only giving up more than four once in a 8-5 loss at Northwestern, the only blemish on IU’s record since then.
IU will stay home next weekend, playing Iowa in a three-game series. Iowa is fourth in the Big Ten standings, three games behind IU. The Hoosiers sit in second place in the standings with five series left in the regular season.
“You always know who’s chasing you, and who you’re chasing,” Ashley said. “You always know how much it means, and this one meant a lot for us.”