In the bottom of the tenth inning on Wednesday, Indiana and Morehead State were tied at 5. The Hoosiers had runners in scoring position and a chance to win the game for the second consecutive inning.
Owning two home runs in the ballgame already — including a game-tying solo shot to lead off the ninth — freshman designated hitter Devin Taylor strode to the plate with a chance to be the hero.
“Devin was a man on a mission today,” head coach Jeff Mercer said after the game.
The mission was clear: senior shortstop Phillip Glasser stood just 90 feet away, representing the winning run. Taylor’s job would be to get Glasser across the plate however he could. Given the damage Taylor had done to his pitching staff already, Morehead State head coach Mick Aoki elected to intentionally walk Taylor, meaning the power-hitting lefty would not get a shot at a hat trick.
Instead, sophomore first baseman Brock Tibbitts stepped into the batter’s box. Tibbitts had the bat taken out of his hands twice after a pair of singles, being hit by a pitch in the fifth and ninth innings with a strikeout sandwiched in between. With the bases loaded and one out in the inning, Tibbitts swung at a hittable fastball and fouled it back, barely missing walk-off glory. The 1-1 pitch was a slider from freshman righty Luke Lyman, and Tibbitts swung through it for strike two.
So much was at stake: the Indiana first baseman was in a two-strike count, meaning he could go down on strikes for the second out of the inning and take the pressure off the Eagles’ hurler. However, the bases were loaded: Lyman couldn’t pitch around Tibbitts and hoped he would chase outside the strike zone. He had to attack, and Tibbitts sent a low-and-outside 1-2 changeup back up the middle for a walk-off single. Indiana won the game 6-5 just 24 hours after being run-ruled by the University of Kentucky on the road.
Mercer liked the Tibbitts-Lyman matchup from the beginning. The pitch mix Lyman offered played to Tibbitts’ strengths as a hitter.
“If you throw breaking balls down and over the plate, he’s so long and strong,” Mercer said of Tibbitts.
Standing at 6-foot-4, Tibbitts’ frame allows him to get to pitches that other hitters would not be able to hit.
“That’s in his wheelhouse,” Mercer said.
“I was just really proud of their continued resiliency,” Mercer said of the Hoosier ballclub. “We had 14 hits and six or seven lineouts. You’d think you’d probably score more than six runs. I’m really glad for them that they were able to fight through and win. I think it shows a great toughness and resiliency.”
Indiana was down two runs heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, and Mercer said that Glasser’s RBI single to make the game 5-4 put the Hoosiers right back in it.
“We responded right back,” Mercer said. “We found a way to punch through and win the ballgame.”
It was Taylor’s first game in the upper part of the lineup for Indiana, and he did not disappoint. He went 3-4 on the day with two home runs and made his presence known in the batter’s box.
“Today during drill work, I felt really good,” Taylor said after the game. “I made sure to translate that to the game today.”
Taylor’s first long ball was a no-doubt home run just left of the 408-foot sign beyond right field, but he said he didn’t think it was gone right away.
“Sometimes I underestimate my power. That was definitely one of those times,” he said.
Perhaps more notable was Taylor’s second home run of the day, an opposite-field blast into the Indiana bullpen. Taylor said his plan was the same as it has been since fall: get to first base by any means necessary. He executed that same plan just an inning later without having to step into the box, as the intentional walk he was issued brought Tibbitts to the plate for the game-deciding at-bat.
“I trusted Brock behind me to do what he did,” Taylor said. “I couldn’t tell you when the last time I celebrated a walk-off win was. That was pretty cool.”
Indiana continues their series versus Morehead State at 1 p.m. on Thursday with the series finale slated for 4 p.m. on Friday.