On a weekend full of lightning and weather delays in Bloomington, the action on the baseball diamond at Bart Kaufman Field led the Hoosiers to two wins against Illinois.
IU’s first game of the series against Illinois on Friday came down to the wire, with Illinois tying it up on a home run in the eighth inning. After two scoreless half innings, IU redshirt senior catcher Collin Hopkins found himself at the plate with a runner on first.
Hopkins, who is only a .169 career hitter at IU and 0-3 for the game leading into the at-bat, proceeded to blast a homer to left-center field and give the Hoosiers a 4-2 victory over the Illini. It was Hopkins’ second home run of the season.
“It was really indescribable to be honest with you,” Hopkins said about the walk-off home run. “It means that my swing is starting to get somewhere where I want it to be. All the hard work is actually showing some sort of product, so I’m excited about that.”
Leading up to Hopkins’ crucial at-bat in the bottom of the ninth, the IU coaching staff discussed the possibility of pinch hitting a different batter, head coach Jeff Mercer said. In the end, Mercer decided to stick with his veteran catcher, and the decision paid off.
“[Hopkins] had a really good work week offensively,” Mercer said. “I did have confidence in him in that situation.”
On Saturday, the second game of the series had its own drama. IU tossed its first no-hitter since 1984 on the way to an 8-0 blowout win.
Sophomore right-hander McCade Brown started the game for the Hoosiers and pitched five innings with nine strikeouts. Then, right-hander Braydon Tucker came in to finish the deal. The sophomore from Brazil, Indiana, tossed the final four innings and allowed only one baserunner, giving him the save and Brown the win.
The no-hitter adds to what has been an impressive season of pitching by IU. Saturday marked the 11th time the Hoosiers have held their opponents to three runs or less this season.
In Saturday’s case, Mercer was impressed with Tucker’s command in relief and Brown’s resilience amid walking seven batters, he said.
“[Tucker] was able to get his sinker to both sides of the plate,” Mercer said. “You’ve got to be able to manage runners on base when you get in those positions on the mound and [Brown] did that. He was tough enough, he competed enough and he located enough to find his way out of those situations, and that’s the mark of a guy who’s growing up and maturing.”
Sunday’s game was canceled due to weather, making it a 2-0 series sweep for IU over Illinois. The wins move IU to 13-7 on the season and two and a half games behind first-place Nebraska. The losses for Illinois drop them to 8-12 and 11th in the conference.