Indiana sophomore ace Luke Sinnard's 109th strikeout of the season in the fifth inning of Thursday's Big Ten Tournament contest against Iowa positioned the right-hander into the tie for Indiana baseball's all-time single-season strikeout record, which has lasted 89 years.
Pitcher Vernon Wilshere, one of Indiana’s greats, struck out 109 batters in 1934. Eric Arnett tied that record in 2009. Nearing 100 pitches, Sinnard returned for the sixth inning Thursday, needing just one punchout to break the record. The right-hander induced three flyouts.
Nevertheless, Sinnard’s six-inning, no-earned-run, 117-pitch outing, marked the sophomore’s sixth quality start in 15 starts this year. Entering Thursday, Indiana was 11-3 in contests Sinnard started. By the time of Sinnard’s exit, he was in line for the win. Indiana led 4-1 after the sixth inning.
Instead, Sinnard received the no-decision. No. 3-seed Iowa scored eight unanswered runs across the final three innings to beat No. 2-seed Indiana 9-4 in the winner’s bracket of the double-elimination Big Ten Tournament. Indiana had bested No. 7-seeded Illinois Tuesday.
Sinnard encountered, but evaded, multiple threats across his six-inning start –– stranding nine Iowa runners on the basepaths. Already in the top of the first inning, an error, walk and base-hit loaded the bases for Iowa with no outs. Yet, Sinnard retired the next three batters.
Indiana promptly supplied Sinnard with run support in the first inning against Iowa sophomore starter Brody Brecht, who was projected in the top-20 2024 MLB Draft prospects in February, according to D1Baseball. Brecht’s seven-inning, one-run start bested Indiana 7-1 in the regular-season. Indiana batted 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position in that loss.
Indiana’s bats, however, converted instantaneously Thursday. Sophomore infielder Brock Tibbitts, the team’s RBI-leader, doubled to put Indiana up 2-0. Iowa redshirt junior outfielder Brayden Frazier misjudged the ball as it hopped to the wall. Had it been played correctly, Indiana would’ve likely only brought in one run on the potential sacrifice-fly.
The Hawkeyes broke their shutout in the next half-inning. Freshman right-fielder Devin Taylor’s errant throw sailed to the backstop, allowing Iowa junior outfielder Kyle Huckstorf to score. Huckstorf initially didn’t tag up from third base on the short fly-ball, but perhaps Taylor believed Huckstorf would try to score. Still, Indiana’s second-inning run leveled the error.
The following three innings stayed scoreless. The Sinnard-Brecht pitcher’s duel was absent from the regular-season, as the two aces didn’t throw against each other in Indiana’s 2-1 series victory in April. Sinnard stranded six runners total from the third to fifth innings, while Brecht allowed just one hit in that span. Brecht was pulled before the final out of the fifth, his final scoreline: 4⅔ innings pitched, three earned runs, three walks and five strikeouts.
After Sinnard's sixth-inning exit, Indiana scored for the final time to lead 4-1. Senior infielder Phillip Glasser’s softly-hit single brought in one run against newly entered Iowa redshirt junior reliever Will Christophersen. Glasser was the first batter Christophersen faced midway through the sixth. After that, the Iowa reliever didn't allow any more runners for 2⅓ innings.
Meanwhile, Indiana senior right-handed reliever Craig Yoho was chased from Thursday’s contest, as redshirt junior infielder Sam Hojnar’s run-scoring single closed the gap to 4-2. Freshman right-hander Connor Foley, who struck out eight batters in three innings in the 6-5 win at Michigan State May 20, relieved Yoho. Huckstorf’s 3-RBI double cleared the bases.
Trailing 5-4 in the ninth inning, Indiana was mere feet away from escaping the frame without any harm. Sophomore infielder Josh Pyne made an impressive grab down the third-base line, tagging the lead runner caught in the rundown. On the next play, Glasser nearly completed the back-handed, off-balance throw to first base, but it pulled Tibbitts away from the bag.
Two batters later, outfielder Sam Petersen’s two-out, three-run home run put Iowa up 9-4, the sophomore’s 11th this year. As Indiana lost in the winner’s bracket by that score, the Hoosiers will play No. 6-seed Michigan in an elimination game at Charles Schwab Field Omaha at 3 p.m. EST Friday. This game, as all in the tournament, will air on Big Ten Network.
Regardless of Indiana's tournament results, the Hoosiers are considered to be safely secured to land in the NCAA Tournament. Sinnard would have at least one more outing in the NCAA Tournament regional to break the single-season strikeout record, just one shy from 110.