EAST LANSING –– Indiana baseball head coach Jeff Mercer consulted with pitching coach Dustin Glant in the eighth inning of Saturday's game at Michigan State. The Hoosiers led 6-3, desperately seeking to avoid the three-game sweep in their final regular-season contest.
Indiana's ninth-inning comebacks crumbled in Thursday’s 8-6 and Friday’s 7-6 losses. Saturday's series-finale likewise featured ninth-inning dramatics, but the Hoosiers, with freshman right-hander Connor Foley’s nine-out save, held on to beat Michigan State 6-5.
Foley entered in the seventh inning of Saturday’s game, striking out two of the three batters he faced to begin his relief outing. Foley returned for the eighth, walked two and hit another, but his fifth strikeout stranded the bases loaded, perilously protecting the three-run lead.
"I said (to coach Glant), 'do you want anybody else?'" Mercer revealed postgame Saturday. “Glant said, 'we're gonna win or lose it with Foley.’ I said 'okay, shut the bullpen down.'”
In the top of the eighth, before Foley left three runners on base, Indiana scored two runs to go up 6-3. Sophomores Brock Tibbitts and Carter Mathison had leadoff hits that beat Michigan State’s defensive shift. Freshmen Devin Taylor and Tyler Cerny then drove in the two runs.
The Spartans welcomed Foley in the ninth, knocking back-to-back hits to position runners on the corners with no outs. Two batters later, Brock Vradenburg’s two-run double –– the junior’s first hit of the weekend –– cut the deficit to 6-5. Glant visited Foley, who remained in place.
“He's like, ‘stay confident,’” Foley said. “‘These guys still can't hit you when you're up in the zone and throwing your hardest. Just stay calm and keep going at 'em.’ (Glant) just reassured me and our defense. It gave me the confidence to go out there and get the next few guys.”
As the game-tying run stood in scoring position, Foley intentionally walked Michigan State junior infielder Mitch Jebb, who had already tallied three hits. Mercer explained that the decision to intentionally walk would be carried out if Foley fell behind in the batter’s count.
Foley’s then-pitch count was past 60 –– considerably over his career-high of 40 May 6. Help wouldn’t be arriving; that was already settled. Foley, however, wouldn’t require it. The freshman struck out the last two batters, who recorded back-to-back hits in the sixth inning.
Foley’s career-high three innings to earn his third save of the year secured the team’s 40th win of the season. That’s the program’s single-season most since 2018, one year before Mercer became head coach. Indiana's postseason doesn’t start until Tuesday.
Indiana’s two defeats did seal Maryland’s outright Big Ten regular-season title. As the Hoosiers and Terrapins entered this weekend, tied atop the Big Ten at 15-6, Maryland won two games at Penn State. Maryland lost Friday, but so did Indiana, unable to gain ground.
Maryland’s victory Saturday, which Indiana couldn’t control, clinched the outright title for the Terrapins in back-to-back seasons. Still, Indiana’s win Saturday clinched the No. 2-seed in the Big Ten Tournament. The Hoosiers were the No. 8-seed last year, the lowest possible.
“To go from where we were a year ago, where we backed into the Big Ten Tournament … to having a chance to win the regular season … and then finish second in the league has to be one of the better turnarounds, especially in the last 10-15 years,” Mercer said.
Freshman right-hander Brayden Risedorph, senior left-hander Ty Bothwell, and Foley emerged as viable arms Indiana can depend on entering the postseason, besides other go-to arms within the pitching staff. The three allowed five earned runs combined in 11 innings.
Risedorph didn’t receive help in Friday’s start; the team made four errors. Risedorph only allowed one earned run in 3⅔ innings, striking out four. Bothwell didn’t appear from April 25 to May 10, but in the senior’s last three starts, including Michigan State, Bothwell has thrown three-plus innings, allowing two runs or fewer. Foley just displayed his pitch-count capability.
Entering Michigan State, Indiana was 17-2 in contests decided by two runs or fewer this year and 7-0 in one-run games. That evened out Thursday and Friday, as the Hoosiers lost by three runs combined. Then, Indiana held on one more time, guaranteeing the No. 2-seed.
Following the 6-5 victory, Indiana ends the regular-season 40-16 and 16-8 in the Big Ten. Indiana will begin the Big Ten Tournament against No. 7-seed Illinois at 2 p.m. CST at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska. Tickets for the tournament can be bought here.