Indiana baseball defeated Indiana State University 15-5 Tuesday. Indiana sophomore Brock Tibbitts recorded the team's first hit, subsequently scored the team's first run and fielded an unassisted ground ball for the game's first out.
Okay, perhaps, that last tidbit isn't monumental. Infielders, especially first basemen, are tasked, and expected, to handle any short-hopped throws from teammates. Tibbitts did precisely that on March 12, expertly scooping the game-ending play in Indiana's 3-2 win over Bellarmine. To add pressure: the game-tying run stood at third. And, that narrow victory marked Tibbitts' first sweep in an Indiana uniform. The team swept zero teams in 2022.
This past Friday, March 17, Indiana had the chance to complete back-to-back sweeps at home. Leading 5-2 against Morehead State, with the Hoosiers already having won two games Wednesday and Thursday, Tibbitts attempted to scoop the first out of the ninth inning. Instead, the ball bounced and struck Tibbitts in the nose. Tibbitts lay face-down on the turf before walking off the field, holding the trainer's towel to his face.
Morehead State would pull within one run, but ultimately, Indiana held on 5-4, achieving those consecutive sweeps. Though, the first question the media asked Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer was about Tibbitts. An ambulance waited outside Bart Kaufman Field. Mercer said Tibbitts remained in good spirits, but the team would receive updated information on the player's status the following day. It wasn't until Tuesday, Indiana's first game since Friday, that Mercer disclosed Tibbitts had broken his nose.
Yet, during Indiana's Tuesday victory, Tibbitts remained in the starting lineup, batting 3-for-4 at the plate, and fearlessly fielding the first ground ball hit his direction. Mercer said the doctor practically decided whether Tibbitts would play — only needing to say the infielder was cleared to play before Tibbitts took to the diamond.
"What (Tibbitts) did the last couple of days really embodies what you want the program to be about," Mercer said postgame. "It's a bunch of kids that love each other. That are too tough to quit. Anybody can have the rallying cry in the locker room, but you got to have a stiff upper lip to go out there and compete. And that's what he did."
Tibbitts' fortitude reflects how the team plays — getting knocked down to the dirt but battling back from adversity. Already plenty of times this season, Indiana has achieved comeback victories against the University of Texas, Georgetown University, twice against Bellarmine University and Morehead State University. You can count other games against Bellarmine and Morehead State, where Indiana clung onto ninth-inning leads that saved victories.
Tuesday can be viewed the same, despite the misleading scoreline. Sophomore outfielder Carter Mathison belted his third home run of the season 430 feet to put Indiana up 4-1, after the sixth inning. In the seventh, Indiana State scored three runs. With the bases loaded, Indiana right-hander Craig Yoho, who only allowed two runs in 10 innings before Tuesday, walked two batters and hit another. Tie game. That certainly could've dented the momentum.
Three more runs from either team would've likely been the decider, tied 4-4 with only two complete innings left. Indiana scored 11 runs in the bottom of the seventh to lead 15-4.
"Confidence is a big thing," Mathison said postgame. “Knowing we can win those games and proving it lately has been good for us. Just trusting ourselves."
Indiana's resistant identity, demonstrated by Tibbitts and validated by the team scoring 11 runs to prematurely end Tuesday's game, is suitable timing. Indiana's conference-opener is this upcoming weekend against Ohio State at home. The Hoosiers are 11-0 at home.
"If there's any way for them to be on the field, they're going to be on the field competing for Indiana and for each other," Mercer said. "We have such a great group of kids. If we win or lose, I show up every day feeling like I'm the luckiest guy in the world because the kids are awesome. They really care."
Follow reporters Matthew Byrne (.@MatthewByrne1) and Nick Rodecap (.@nickrodecap) for updates throughout the Indiana baseball season.