Fourteen days ago, Indiana baseball beat Ball State University, 16-13, at home. Fourteen days later — Tuesday evening — the Hoosiers traveled to Muncie, Indiana, and narrowly bested the Cardinals again, 9-8, completing the regular-season two-game series sweep.
In Indiana's win April 11, right-handed freshman Connor Foley tossed two scoreless innings, struck out four and allowed just one hit. The prior outing exhibited dominance; Tuesday's unveiled Foley's perfection: a two-inning, six-out save — all six batters retired consecutively.
Early into Tuesday's contest, however, it didn't seem Indiana would require that outing.
Indiana went up 5-0 by the middle of the third inning. Freshman outfielder Devin Taylor's opposite-field double scored the team's first run, while sophomore infielder Josh Pyne and sophomore designated hitter Carter Mathison subsequently drove in the additional four.
Ball State starter, right-hander Casey Bargo, was pulled just before recording the last out of the third. When the two teams met two weeks ago, Bargo had tossed 2⅔ innings, allowing just one run. Yet, on Tuesday, the senior allowed five — in the same number of innings.
Indiana left-handed starter Ben Seiler cruised through 2⅔ no-hit innings, striking out four. Yet Seiler's seemingly harmless two-out walk in the third developed into a four-run rally for the Cardinals, which struck five straight hits once the lineup card flipped to the top of the order.
"It's my fault for not having (reliever) Adrian (Vega) up sooner," Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer said postgame. "I should have had a little bit more foresight, but I did think with two outs, nobody on, we would be able to finish it. I kicked myself for about six innings after that."
Vega, the right-handed reliever, eventually tossed 2⅔ innings, allowing one earned run. The sophomore's two-out walk in the sixth placed two Ball State runners on base, as Indiana merely led 6-5. This time around, Mercer swiftly turned to left-handed senior Ty Bothwell.
Bothwell would escape the sixth, yet upon returning to the mound in the seventh, issued back-to-back walks to the upper half of Ball State's lineup. Following another Hoosier pitching substitution, Ball State freshman Blake Bevis' 3-run home run closed Indiana's lead to 9-8.
Ball State's first five batters totaled the team's eight runs batted in. As Foley trotted from the bullpen to pitch the eighth, the freshman retired the first six batters in Ball State’s lineup consecutively — precisely what occurred in his first outing facing the Cardinals, April 11.
Postgame, Mercer compared Foley's development to fellow right-handed freshmen Ethan Phillips and Brayden Risedorph, who this past week combined for 15⅓ innings, allowing no earned runs. In Foley’s first 9⅓ collegiate innings, the right-hander allowed seven earned runs and three home runs. Since then: 6⅓ scoreless innings, not giving up any home runs.
“Brayden Risedorph didn't get better on accident, he got better because he got drilled,” Mercer said. “Ethan Phillips, the last time he threw against Ball State, got drilled. You have to learn to execute and they get a lot better from that; Connor Foley gets a lot better from that.”
Through Indiana's past four games, Foley has earned his first-career pair of saves in back-to-back appearances. Within those two outings, Foley timely protected one-run leads in the team's twin 9-8 victories over Ohio University this past Friday and Ball State Tuesday.
"I love the trust that the coaches have in me to put me in those situations," Foley said postgame Tuesday. "You just got to prove them right, basically. You just got to go out there and shut it down like I'm supposed to and expected to do."
Indiana's record improves to 31-11 following the 9-8 victory over Ball State to earn the regular-season series sweep. Currently 9-3 in the Big Ten, the team's schedule continues this upcoming weekend against Maryland. The second-place Terrapins are 8-4 in the conference.