When Maryland swept Indiana baseball two weeks ago, the Big Ten regular-season champion was seemingly crowned. The Terrapins outscored the Hoosiers 43-12. Maryland overtook former-first-place Indiana by two games in the league standings.
Perhaps one disheartening series didn't indicate the Hoosiers would implode over their final nine conference contests. But could they catch the Terrapins, who performed exceptionally at Indiana — and would likely employ that momentum to persist in playing excellent baseball?
Well, Indiana has caught up.
Since then, Indiana has swept Northwestern and this past weekend, Purdue: 26-11 Friday, 15-3 Saturday and 10-2 Sunday. Meanwhile, the Terrapins went 4-2 over that six-game stretch. Indiana and Maryland sit tied at 15-6 in the Big Ten, each with three conference games left.
"We played our best baseball this weekend of the season," Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer said postgame Sunday. "When you talk about it in the very first meeting in the fall, you just want to play your best baseball in the last couple of weekends. I don't throw those kinds of compliments haphazardly. We were excellent really in all phases and especially offensively."
Indiana slugged eight home runs in Friday's victory, the only time since 1897 the Hoosiers scored 20-plus runs in any game against Purdue. Senior outfielder Hunter Jessee hit two home runs in the same inning, prompting senior right-handed reliever Craig Yoho to sprint outside to the dugout. Yoho had been listening to the radio broadcast in the locker room.
Indiana's ace, sophomore right-hander Luke Sinnard, tossed six innings, allowed four earned runs and struck out nine. Though junior right-hander reliever Brooks Ey gave up five earned runs without recording an out, freshman right-hander Cooper Katskee and senior left-hander Ben Seiler tossed the remaining three innings combined, allowing just two hits and one run.
Freshman Brayden Risedorph started Saturday's Senior Day and threw four innings, striking out four batters, while allowing one earned run. Mercer pulled Risedorph in the fifth inning, once the right-hander walked the leadoff batter. Like the season-high 2,434 fans in attendance, Mercer applauded as Risedorph strode from the mound. Indiana led 9-0.
“I was just incredibly proud of him,” Mercer said Saturday. “He’s on short rest. He's been closing, he's been at the back end. Now he’s starting and then he goes into the fifth inning, which is honestly beyond what I thought we would get. He deserved to be applauded and deserved to be thanked. I wanted to make sure that he knew and that everyone else knew.”
Sophomore left-hander Ryan Kraft relieved Risedorph in the fifth. Kraft walked the bases loaded, struck out the next two batters, then hit the following batter to score Purdue's first run. Couper Cornblum's two-run triple almost cleared the bases, though the umpire ruled Mike Bolton Jr. missed home plate. Once cutting Indiana’s deficit to 9-3, Purdue didn't score again.
Indiana knocked four home runs Saturday, three in the eighth inning. Sophomore infielder Brock Tibbits tallied his 10th home run this year. In 2022, Tibbitts hit nine — one shy from the exclusive all-time list of freshmen to reach 10 home runs in their first season. Four batters later, freshman infielder Tyler Cerny became the sixth Indiana freshman all-time to hit 10.
Last season, Indiana lost two-out-of-three games at Purdue: 17-0 and 16-15. Cerny wasn’t on the team then, but still soaked in the mindset of the veterans approaching this series.
“They embarrassed us last year,” Cerny said. “So we just made it our mindset to not have that happen again, and we just took it to them. We're going to continue to do that (Sunday).”
Indiana tallied double-digit runs for the third straight game Sunday. Sophomore infielder Josh Pyne hit the team’s lone home run, leading with his career-high five runs batted in. The Hoosiers scored three runs in the second inning, four in the third, and another three in the fourth inning to lead 10-2. Neither team scored for the remainder of Sunday's contest.
Senior left-hander Ty Bothwell, who started three innings of one-run ball at Xavier University Tuesday, started another three innings Sunday, allowing two runs. Yoho pitched three shutout innings in relief, striking out five. Freshman right-hander Connor Foley, who pitched two shutout innings at Xavier, tossed the final two innings Sunday scoreless, with four strikeouts.
This past weekend marks Indiana’s first series sweep over Purdue since 2016. Indiana’s 51 runs across the three contests set the program’s new series-high against the Boilermakers.
The Hoosiers have been victorious in three stages this season. The first had standout performances from some players, while others were static. Midway through the season, that evened out. This past weekend, Indiana entered the third stage: excellent baseball accompanied by collective team swagger — like Maryland had shown at Indiana.
"I don't want to say we needed to lose because, obviously, I never want to lose," Pyne said Sunday. "But you know, going in towards the end of the year, we needed to realize, like, this is what real baseball looks like. To do what we want to do… it's really going to take offense clicking, pitching clicking and just everything firing on all cylinders. We really bounced back in a positive way after the Maryland series, and we've been playing really good baseball."
Indiana is 38-14 and 15-6 in the Big Ten following the sweep over Purdue. The team’s schedule continues Tuesday at home against Evansville. First pitch is at 6 p.m. and will air on Big Ten Network. Indiana’s regular season ends later that weekend at Michigan State.