After Indiana baseball earned its first walk-off victory of the season in Friday's home series opener against Illinois, the visitors evened the three-game series on Saturday. The Hoosiers won Sunday’s finale 11-7 after trailing 7-3 earlier in the game, earning their second straight conference series victory as a result.
Indiana sophomore reliever Reese Sharp battled back from a 3-0 count with two outs in the ninth inning Sunday for the game-ending strikeout. The home crowd at Bart Kaufman Field rose from their seats and cheered for Indiana's seventh win in the team's last 10 games.
"They were incredibly resilient," head coach Jeff Mercer said Sunday.
Indiana junior right-handed pitcher Jack Perkins started the opener for Indiana and pitched a near-quality start, hurling five and two-thirds innings while allowing two earned runs.
After Perkins’ exit, Illinois scored three unearned runs in the eighth inning to tie the game 6-6. Though the Hoosiers gave up a three-run lead, they set themselves up to win in walk-off fashion. Freshman Josh Pyne laced a base-hit down the left-field line to deliver the victory.
Senior right-handed pitcher Bradley Brehmer started for Indiana on Saturday and gave up two runs in each of the first, third and fifth innings.
"They don't give any at-bats away, and they put the ball in play," Mercer said Saturday. "They don't strike out, hit the ball the other way with two strikes."
Brehmer was coming off a quality start against Nebraska on April 23, where the senior hurled six innings, allowing one earned run while striking out a season-high 11 batters. In comparison, Brehmer struck out just three Illini batters on Saturday, walked four and allowed one home run.
"Maybe Brad wasn't as sharp as he has been," Mercer said. "But we also had plenty of opportunities to help make plays behind those guys, and we didn't do that."
Illinois scored 10 runs in the sixth inning off eight hits to take a 16-0 lead. The Hoosiers played catchup for the rest of Saturday’s game.
Indiana scored eight runs in the final two innings, but fell 18-10 as Illinois evened the series. Freshman Evan Goforth batted 3-for-3 with a team-high five runs batted in. Senior catcher Peter Serruto also hit his first home run as a Hoosier.
On Sunday, Indiana sent out traditional relievers to the mound for a bullpen game. Senior right-hander Braydon Tucker started and, similarly to Brehmer, allowed six earned runs in his outing.
By the fifth inning, Indiana was behind 7-3 with only two hits. Freshman Carter Mathison accounted for all three runs, hitting a three-run home run in the first inning.
The Hoosiers came back during the bottom of the fifth inning, leading off with six consecutive hits and Mathison’s second home run of the day. After his first career multi-home run game, Mathison is one home run shy of tying the program record for home runs by a freshman.
“You're seeing the power come because he does have such a large engine and the ceiling is so high,” Mercer said. “He's tightening his swing up, he's getting a better feel for the speed of the game.”
Two batters later, junior Matthew Ellis capped off an eight-run half-inning with a 465-foot home run to right field.
Following Indiana’s surge, neither team scored for the remainder of the game. Relievers Sharp and junior Ty Bothwell combined for seven innings pitched without allowing an earned run. Mercer praised Sharp’s play in the closing stages after Sunday’s win.
“When a kid's having the performance of a lifetime, just get out of his way,” Mercer said.
Indiana improves to 20-24 overall and 6-9 in conference play with the series victory. Next weekend, the Hoosiers will face Michigan in a three-game series in Ann Arbor, Michigan.