The magic finally ran out for Indiana baseball in the semi-final of the Big Ten Tournament. Indiana’s season is most likely over — only a championship performance would have granted them a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Hoosiers broke and replaced numerous records in the conference tourney, but were eliminated 14-2 against two-seed Rutgers in a game that ran past 4 a.m. ET Sunday morning. Yes, that timing is correct.
It was a chaotic four days, but this stretch wasn’t as messy as the first nine conference games of the regular season. Indiana lost its first three conference series to Northwestern, Purdue, and Rutgers.
A six-run rally fell short against Northwestern, Indiana narrowly lost 16-15 to Purdue and Rutgers hit two home runs in the same inning in a walk-off win to cement its three-game sweep. It wasn't pretty to watch.
Before playing Rutgers, Indiana was coming off a five-run ninth-inning rally in a 6-5 midweek win at Indiana State. The three losses to first-place Rutgers, all by two runs or fewer, crushed the momentum.
Indiana was 2-7 in conference play in April, and the Big Ten Tournament looked out of the equation. The top eight teams make the tournament each year, but the Hoosiers were on the outside looking in.
Then came the surge that slingshotted Indiana into Big Ten Tournament contention. The Hoosiers won their next four consecutive conference series against Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota.
There were multiple positive performances. Freshman Josh Pyne hit the team's first walk-off against Illinois. Carter Mathison broke the freshman home run record at Michigan. Ty Bothwell threw seven no-hit innings to clinch the series against Minnesota.
The Hoosiers won 10 of 15 games from April 22 to May 15, including wins against non-conference opponents. Loss after loss turned into win after win.
The progression was obvious in how the players talked to the media following each series. The Nebraska series win delivered optimistic results, and after beating Illinois players seemed more confident in trusting the “taking it day-by-day” mentality.
Indiana still snuck into the tourney, despite suffering a sweep to finish the season — a testament to their efforts down the stretch to still be in contention. The Hoosiers started 2-7 in conference play and finished 10-14.
Four freshmen also received All-Big Ten Freshman Team honors following the conclusion of the regular season, showcasing Indiana’s talented young core: Pyne, Mathison, Brock Tibbitts and Evan Goforth. The four freshmen selected was the largest number since 2012, when five freshmen were chosen for the honor.
Mathison hit two home runs across the four tournament games, while Pyne drove in the go-ahead runs in a historic win over top-seeded Maryland to survive elimination. The pair came up big in the tournament, just as they have been in the second half of the regular season. Indiana’s younger players now have crucial postseason experience moving forward.
In the first round against Maryland, Indiana's pitching staff broke the single-game record with 18 strikeouts. Due to the double-elimination format, the two teams squared off in a win-or-go-home rematch, and Indiana became the first eight seed to eliminate the one seed in tournament history.
In between the two Maryland games, Bradley Brehmer threw Indiana's first complete game in the tournament since 2013. The masterful outing paved the way for the 8-1 win over Illinois to survive elimination.
The game on Sunday morning against Rutgers was the latest game ever played at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska. Every game is played at the same field, so it easily broke Thursday's record of the Illinois-Michigan game that ended at 2:16 a.m. CT.
Even though the Hoosiers' final tournament game against Rutgers didn't go their way, the postseason excitement couldn't have happened without the Hoosiers’ impressive second-half run with their backs against the wall.