Indiana baseball players dashed out of the dugout, seeking Josh Pyne, reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week, standing near second base. All the while, fans yelled and clapped in excitement.
Players greeted Pyne and jumped on him. Eventually, all the players formed into a giant huddle and jumped in sync while a few teammates splashed water on everyone, celebrating the Hoosiers’ first walk-off victory this season in a 7-6 win against Illinois on Friday afternoon at Bart Kaufman Field.
"I might be in a position right here where I have to come through for the team," Pyne said about his thought process before hitting the game-winning hit. "I was thinking about it in the on-deck circle."
With two outs in the ninth inning and Indiana runners on first and second base, Pyne shot a ball down the left-field line just out of reach of Illinois junior third baseman Branden Comia. Sophomore outfielder Bobby Whalen, the game-winning run, advanced home without an attempted play at the plate and spiked his helmet to the ground before joining his teammates in mobbing Pyne.
During Pyne’s at-bat, a section of fans on the third-base side of the stands began chanting Pyne's name repeatedly.
"I block out everything in the box," Pyne said. "I block out everything in the stands, so I didn't even hear them. I actually was just told they were chanting my name up there."
Whalen wasn't originally set to be the winning run — freshman Max Johnson was. Johnson led off the ninth inning with a single, and Whalen and outfielder Hunter Jessee reached base to load the bases.
Johnson sprinted toward home plate and tried to score the winning run after a wild pitch hit the backstop. However, the ball kicked right back toward junior Illinois catcher Jacob Campbell, who tagged Johnson out.
"Max had a great day today, just a young player trying to be aggressive and make a play," head coach Jeff Mercer said.
Still, the base-running mishap didn't change the situation for the Hoosiers. Whalen was still in scoring position at second base, and one base hit would likely break the deadlock.
"Josh Pyne, to be able to settle himself back down, come back out, have a good at-bat, hit a ball hard — that's the maturity you're looking for," Mercer said.
Indiana has experienced come-from-behind wins several times this season, such as scoring five runs in the seventh inning at home against Northwestern and scoring five runs in the ninth inning at Indiana State University. Before Friday, none of these wins had come in the form of a walk-off.
But through the early innings, it didn't look like Indiana would need a walk-off to win the series opener.
Indiana had a 6-2 lead behind junior starter Jack Perkins' 128-pitch outing by the end of the sixth inning. Before Perkins exited the game, he held Illinois' top three batters in the lineup to 1-for-8 at the plate. However, nearly all Illini batters challenged Perkins and collectively raised his pitch count to triple digits.
"They're tough," Mercer said about Illinois. "They don't give away any pitches. He had to really battle. He had to really compete and keep executing pitch after pitch, but his stuff was really good."
Freshman left-handed pitcher Grant Holderfield relieved Perkins and escaped the sixth inning unscathed. However, Illinois eventually tied the game at 6-6 with three unearned runs in the eighth inning.
Right-handed sophomore Reese Sharp entered the mound late in the eighth inning for the Hoosiers and recorded the final out. He returned in the ninth inning and retired three Illini batters in order. Sharp's performance set him up to earn the individual win, which Pyne helped deliver in the same inning.
The Hoosiers’ 7-6 win over third-place Illinois is their sixth win in the last seven games. Indiana improves to 19-23 overall and 5-8 in conference play with Friday’s win.
The Hoosiers will conclude the three-game series with another game at 2 p.m. Saturday and the finale at 1 p.m. Sunday.