Indiana baseball fell in its conference-opening series this past weekend against Northwestern 1-2. After narrowly winning the series opener on Friday evening 5-4, Indiana suffered back-to-back losses on Saturday and Sunday.
Junior right-handed pitcher Jack Perkins started in Friday’s series opener and held Northwestern scoreless until the fifth inning before the Wildcats scored two runs. However, Perkins contained the Wildcats’ threats at the plate and pitched a scoreless sixth inning for a quality start.
"What I was most impressed by for Jack was the one inning where they scored the two runs," head coach Jeff Mercer said. "You have a couple (of) hit-by-pitches and a walk. (He) doesn't let it get out of hand and has a clean inning thereafter. That takes a stiff spine to be able to handle that situation."
The Hoosiers finally got on the board with a five-run seventh inning, highlighted by senior infielder Phillip Glasser's double that initially tied the game at 2-2.
Before the seventh inning, Indiana's offense was dormant against Northwestern starting pitcher Sean Sullivan. The freshman left-hander only allowed three hits and struck out 11 Indiana batters through the first six innings.
Eventually, Sullivan's pitch count ran too high, and Northwestern swapped pitchers. Indiana took advantage of the change with late run production, but Northwestern didn't exit quietly.
Indiana freshman infielder Josh Pyne stunted Northwestern's two-run eighth inning with an excellent play at third base. Mercer didn't know it at the time, but he said Pyne saved the game following the win.
Senior reliever Braydon Tucker allowed two leadoff Wildcat base runners in the ninth inning but closed the door by recording three consecutive outs, earning his first save of the season for the Hoosiers.
"(Tucker's) just tough enough to keep executing pitches," Mercer said. "You trust him in those situations and he came through for us."
Indiana's offense was quiet again to open Saturday’s game. Northwestern starter Michael Farinelli hurled just over seven scoreless innings and struck out five Indiana batters.
"(Saturday) was one of the first times we've been immature offensively," Mercer said. "(Farinelli) pitched his tail off. He gives no free bases; they're not making errors. You got to be able to string together tough at-bats."
Former Big Ten Pitcher of the Week and senior Bradley Brehmer hurled just over five innings for Indiana while allowing three runs in what was ultimately marked as his second individual loss of the season.
"(Brehmer) gave us a good enough start to win that ballgame, and we didn't do it," Mercer said.
After hitting two batters in the sixth inning, Brehmer was pulled from the game by Mercer after coming a few outs shy of pitching a quality start. Indiana right-handed pitcher Reese Sharp was the first pitcher to relieve Brehmer and allowed three earned runs.
By the time the ninth inning rolled around in the second game, Indiana was faced with overcoming a seven-run deficit. The Hoosiers attempted to mimic their late surge that won them the opener, but came up just short and lost 7-6 as the Wildcats evened the series.
"Once the game was a little bit more our lane, (we) put up runs and hit and be comfortable," Mercer said. "It just has to happen sooner than that."
In the tiebreaker on Sunday, Indiana scored a run off a Northwestern starter for the first time all weekend, but Northwestern had already pounced on Indiana's pitching by then.
The Wildcats took an early 4-0 lead with a grand slam into the bullpen in left field. By the end of the sixth inning, Northwestern extended its lead to 9-4.
"We had a couple of bases-loaded situations, and we weren't able to break through," Mercer said after Sunday's game. "But after they scored four (runs) in the second (inning), we did chip away and came back with that.”
Northwestern continuously scored runs and outpaced Indiana's offense in a 13-6 victory to clinch the series 2-1. Indiana falls to 11-15 overall and 1-2 in conference play with the pair of losses over the weekend. The result marks the first time since the 2006 season Indiana hasn’t beaten Northwestern in a series.
Indiana's next chance to bounce back will come during a midweek one-game matchup against the University of Evansville on the road. The first pitch is slated for 7 p.m. Tuesday and will be broadcast on ESPN+.