IU’s pitching staff looked dominant for long stretches against Northwestern this weekend. At other points, however, the Wildcats took advantage of worn-out arms and staged major rallies.
In Friday’s opening game, senior Tommy Sommer put up six shutout innings on the mound for the Hoosiers, giving up three walks and only one hit. In the top of the seventh, IU tacked on three runs, giving Sommer a five-run cushion.
After a walk and an out, Sommer gave up four straight singles and two runs, and with the bases loaded, the go-ahead run was now suddenly in the batter’s box for sophomore Nathan Stahl. After giving up a ground-rule double that cut the lead to one, Stahl and closer Matt Litwicki locked down the final eight outs to save the win. Arguably, the Hoosiers never should’ve been in such a dire position in the first place.
After last Saturday’s no-hitter against Illinois, head coach Jeff Mercer took a similar approach to the rotation in Saturday’s game. Sophomore McCade Brown struggled early against the Wildcat’s bats, in part due to a brutal two-out throwing error that would have ended the bottom of the second. After the error, the Wildcats plated two unearned runs.
After ultimately falling behind 4-0, IU fought back in the fourth and fifth innings to tie the game. In the bottom of the fifth, in a tie game, Mercer again decided to send his starter back out in the big moment. After getting the leadoff out, Brown hit and walked back-to-back batters, again putting the bullpen in a precarious position. Sophomore Braydon Tucker was able to get out of the jam with a double play.
In the eighth, IU would take a 5-4 lead thanks to a Drew Ashley RBI. In the bottom of the inning, Mercer decided to stick with the pitcher already in the game. In the five batters Tucker faced in the eighth, he gave up four singles and a sacrifice bunt, and Northwestern took the lead for good as IU’s bats weren’t able to rally again.
On Sunday, sophomore Gabe Bierman had his best outing of the season so far, retiring fourteen straight batters at one point. After seven shutout innings, Mercer decided to continue with Bierman for the eighth as well, who was on a much shorter leash than the other pitchers.
After a walk and two putouts, Bierman only gave up one hit before Mercer decided to relieve him. The quick trigger paid off, as freshman Ty Bothwell and Litwicki stopped the threat without any runs being scored, preserving a 4-0 win for Bierman and a 2-1 series win for IU.
IU has top-tier starting pitching, and they should be used as much as possible. However, Northwestern’s offense showed if IU is over reliant on its starting pitching against teams that hit well, it could cost the team at the end of games like it did Saturday.