Indiana baseball's inability to drive runners in scoring position to home plate and its fifth-inning pitching woes led to a defeat in the series opener at Missouri State University on Friday.
Junior starter John Modugno cruised through the first four innings and held the Bears scoreless, but he allowed five earned runs in the fifth inning as Missouri State gained a 7-5 lead and eventually won 9-7.
Indiana's offense did its job by scoring seven runs, but in the high-scoring slugfest, it needed more.
The Hoosiers were right on track, hitting 4-for-13 with runners on base but failed to execute at the final turn and batted 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Two of the eight missed opportunities were when Indiana had runners on both second and third base and was a base-hit away from scoring two additional runs in a two-run defeat.
However, Indiana didn't turn these issues into a pattern after being given more chances to redeem itself in Missouri. The team’s improved starting pitching and situational hitting paved the way toward evening the series on Saturday and beating the Bears in Sunday’s finale to win its first series of 2022.
Junior starter Jack Perkins pitched six innings Saturday and gave up just one earned run for his first quality start this season. Despite pitching through light rain for half of his outing, Perkins struck out seven batters en route to the win and improved his individual record to 2-0.
The Hoosiers’ bats rallied behind Perkins’ masterful performance, scoring 12 runs off 16 hits and swiftly taking a 5-0 lead with four consecutive hits to start the game.
"If anybody watches our program or knows our program, we're glad the pitchers are there, and they're going to be there," junior catcher Matthew Ellis said after Saturday's game. "It's keeping the offense rolling and letting the pitchers do what they do."
Ellis and sophomore outfielder Bobby Whalen hit a combined 6-for-11 and batted in nine runs Saturday, highlighted by Ellis' two home runs for his first multi-home run game this season.
The Hoosiers went 9-for-24 with runners on base and batted an even better 8-for-21 with runners in scoring position in the second game.
Ellis’ first home run in the second inning was a no-doubter to right field. Head coach Jeff Mercer pumped his fist in the dugout and yelled enthusiastically as soon as the ball came off Ellis’ bat.
"It's about as far as I think a baseball can be hit," Mercer said. "He's such a special kid, but a really sensational player."
The two-run shot came after senior infielder Phillip Glasser reached scoring position from a misplayed ground ball by Missouri State’s infield. The Hoosiers not only capitalized on base hits but on opponents' mistakes in the field as well.
"As the last few games go, you can see what our offense is capable of and what we're gonna do the rest of the season," Ellis said. "We're rolling good, and we're going to continue to do this."
Ellis' words about the Hoosiers’ offense and pitching proved true in the series finale.
Senior transfer Bradley Brehmer, a regular starter over his three seasons at Wright State University, made his first start this season in the cream and crimson on Sunday.
Brehmer also tossed his first quality start this season, hurling six innings, allowing three earned runs and striking out four Missouri State batters.
Brehmer's lengthy start put less pressure on Indiana’s bullpen, which gave up only one earned run after his exit.
The fire in Indiana's bats burned through the night and into Sunday’s deciding win as the Hoosiers jumped out to a 6-0 first-inning lead. Three hits in that span, including a double from Ellis and a two-run home run by freshman Carter Mathison, set the Hoosiers up to close out the eventual 10-4 victory. Indiana batted 4-for-11 with runners in scoring position on the day.
After Missouri State batted 6-for-10 with runners in scoring position in its series-opening win, the Bears batted 1-for-9 on Saturday and and 2-for-10 on Sunday.
Indiana improved. Missouri State declined.
The two-win comeback series victory is Indiana's first of the 2022 season. The Hoosiers improve to 4-6 overall and travel back to Bloomington to take on the University of Cincinnati and Purdue University Fort Wayne on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.