After a two-run victory in game one of a doubleheader at Illinois Field in Urbana-Champaign, Indiana baseball exploded for 16 runs to take the twin bill and the series.
The Hoosiers’ Saturday success gives them a 25-11 record on the season, and they remain atop the Big Ten with a 9-3 record in conference play. Last season, Indiana did not win its 25th game until May 17. This year, they did so over a month in advance.
Friday night’s matchup was a back-and-forth affair. Freshman outfielder Devin Taylor opened the scoring with a solo shot to right-center, then Illinois plated four runs between the third and fifth innings off freshman righty Brayden Risedorph, who relieved Seti Manase after the junior worked for just two innings.
After the Hoosiers stranded a pair of baserunners in the fourth, redshirt junior Morgan Colopy came through with a two-run single in the sixth to bring Indiana within a run. The Hoosiers took the lead on Taylor’s second homer of the night, this one an opposite-field shot of the two-run variety.
For the third consecutive weekend, a series-opening win was not on the cards. With redshirt senior Craig Yoho on the bump in the eighth inning, Indiana looked to hold on to its one-run lead. Redshirt junior Jacob Schroeder had other plans. He sent a three-run blast over the wall in left, giving the Illini the lead for good. Yoho suffered his first loss of the season in the 7-5 affair.
Game one of the Saturday doubleheader saw an uncharacteristically laborious outing for sophomore righty Luke Sinnard. Usually a pitcher who works into the middle innings, the Western Kentucky transfer went just three in this outing, allowing four runs on five hits over 72 pitches. Two of those runs were scored on Schroeder’s second homer in as many plate appearances.
Sinnard being chased was not a problem for the Hoosiers. Fellow sophomore Ryan Kraft, a closer by trade, hurled six shutdown innings to earn the win. His pitch count totaled 73, just one more than Sinnard’s through twice as many innings. Saturday’s outing was Kraft’s longest of the season.
The Hoosiers opened the scoring in the first inning thanks to a triple from Taylor and a first-pitch single from sophomore first baseman Brock Tibbitts. Indiana took a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the third on a two-run shot from sophomore third baseman Josh Pyne, scoring Tibbitts.
After Illinois evened up the ledger and chased Sinnard from the ballgame, they were shut out. Tibbitts picked up two more extra-base hits, giving the Hoosiers the lead in the top of the fourth on an RBI double and then hitting a home run for added insurance in the sixth. He finished the game a triple shy of the cycle. Game two, like its predecessor, was won by two runs. Indiana prevailed by a final tally of 6-4.
Prior to game three of the series, Indiana decided a pair of two-run contests was enough. Junior Brooks Ey, a Fordham transfer, toed the slab in the rubber match. He threw six innings, allowing just a pair of runs on five Illinois hits.
The Hoosier starter did not record a strikeout until the third inning and ten of his 18 outs were groundouts. None were bigger than a third-inning double play that stalled a potential Illini rally. Freshman Tyler Cerny started the twin-killing, one half-inning removed from picking up the first of four hits in a 4-for-5 performance that included a solo home run.
A leadoff walk from senior catcher Peter Serruto along with Cerny’s single in the top half of the third catalyzed an offensive explosion. Senior shortstop Phillip Glasser picked up the first of his three hits on the day, a single that loaded the bases. The bases remained juiced after redshirt junior outfielder Bobby Whalen grounded into a fielder’s choice. Next to hit was none other than Taylor. On a 2-0 pitch, the freshman hit the first grand slam of his career.
The fifth run of the frame was scored on a single from Pyne and these offensive fireworks in the top half of the inning made the double play in the bottom half that much more important. Illinois could have made it a closer game but was forced to settle for just one run. After Whalen scored Glasser on a fourth-inning RBI single to chase Illinois junior Jack Wenninger from the mound, Ey shut down the Illini in the bottom half.
Indiana sent 11 men to the plate in the top of the fifth. Seven came around to score. Serruto tallied his eighth RBI of the season on a double that scored junior outfielder Hunter Jessee. After Cerny singled to advance Serruto to third, Glasser blasted his fourth home run of the season as part of a three-RBI performance.
To cap off the scoring in the fifth, Pyne scorched a two-run single as part of a three-RBI day of his own. After sitting in the dugout for an extended period on account of all the scoring and a mid-inning Illini pitching change, Ey delivered a 1-2-3 bottom of the fifth, retiring the side in order.
Cerny went yard in the top of the sixth as part of his four-hit afternoon, putting any rumors of a slump to rest.
Illinois’ second run of the afternoon came on a double play, pulling the home nine to within 12. A seventh-inning solo shot from junior Drake Wescott brought the Illini to within 11. Nonetheless, the Hoosiers took the series decisively, winning game three by 13 runs, a 16-3 final.
“Video game numbers” would be an understatement for Taylor’s slash line this weekend — he recorded a batting average of .500, an on-base percentage of .533 and a slugging percentage of 1.357. The freshman went 7-for-14 with three home runs, five extra-base hits and eight runs batted in. His on-base plus slugging (OPS) was 1.890.
Not bad for a player who wasn’t an everyday starter until the Hoosiers’ four-game series versus Bellarmine University a month ago. Taylor’s .376 batting average leads all qualified Hoosier hitters. He joined Glasser and Tibbitts in the .370 club this weekend and Indiana’s team batting average is now north of .300.
With the series finale being played a day earlier than originally scheduled, Indiana has an extra day to rest before a midweek matchup at home against the No. 10 University of Louisville on Tuesday. The Hoosiers then head to the University of Cincinnati on Wednesday before returning home to host Ohio University on Little 500 weekend. Tuesday’s game will be televised on ESPNU with Wednesday’s on ESPN+ and the series versus Ohio on B1G+.
Follow reporters Matthew Byrne (@MatthewByrne1) and Nick Rodecap (@nickrodecap) for updates throughout the Indiana baseball season.