LEXINGTON –– Entering the final inning of Indiana baseball's regional opener against West Virginia University Friday evening, the Hoosiers led 7-6. They’ve been here before. Not in the NCAA Tournament — the Hoosiers haven’t contended for the postseason since 2019. But prior to Friday, Indiana was 9-1 in one-run contests this season –– the latest being on May 23.
Indiana’s three sophomores in the starting lineup, Brock Tibbitts, Carter Mathison, and Josh Pyne, didn’t let redshirt senior reliever Ty Bothwell — or any Hoosier reliever in the bullpen — try for the one-run save. The three former All-Americans knocked three consecutive hits in the ninth: Tibbitts doubled, Mathison singled and Pyne homered — scoring five ninth-inning runs. Bothwell returned to earn his first save this season as Indiana won 12-6.
“Baseball is a crazy game and the guys played well,” Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer said postgame. “Find a way to pull it out there at the end kind of with some tough circumstances but I was very proud of them. It was just a tough game. They did a really good job.”
It marked Indiana’s first regional-opening win since the 2015 NCAA Tournament –– produced by players that haven’t played in an NCAA Tournament game in their careers: Tibbitts, Mathison, Pyne, Bothwell, but also freshman right-hander Brayden Risedorph. Indiana sophomore Luke Sinnard had started Friday’s contest. Sinnard’s first of five strikeouts positioned the right-handed ace as Indiana’s all-time single-season strikeout leader with 110.
Despite Landon Wallace’s first-inning solo home run to put West Virginia up 1-0, Sinnard retired hitters with ease, requiring just 25 pitches through the first two innings. Indiana’s lineup soon negated the homer in the second inning, as senior shortstop Phillip Glasser’s bases-loaded single brought in two runs to put Indiana up 2-1. Upon returning in the third, Sinnard’s 26th pitch was the sophomore’s last, who exited due to injury precaution.
So, here entered Risedorph, the 6-foot-3 right-handed rookie. Prior to Friday, Risedorph recorded 46⅓ innings –– which is considerable –– but Friday, Risedorph was hastily plugged into the game amidst an untimely departure by the team’s ace. Last Monday, Mercer even ‘lightly-penciled” Risedorph as the starter for the team’s second game in the regional.
Even if the right-hander was allotted plenty of time to throw warm-up pitches on the field at Kentucky Proud Park, this entrance to an outing was demanding: one on, no outs as West Virginia’s top of the lineup loomed in the dugout. Risedorph hit two batters in the third inning, walking another with the bases loaded. The next batter’s sacrifce-fly tied the game, 3-3.
In the fourth inning, West Virgina's first-and-third double-steal gave the Mountaineers the lead, 4-3. The Hoosiers were unprepared, as momentum developed for West Virginia at the Park. Risedorph, however, stranded the remaining runner in scoring position. Indiana bunted twice in the top of the fifth to score three runs –– an error on the second bunt led to the game-tying run. Risedorph again stranded two runners, one in scoring position.
“Luke gave us a great start,” redshirt junior Bobby Whalen said postgame. “He went down. Risedorph came in and he calmed the whole group down. It's really impressive coming from a freshman. Calmed all of us down and we rallied behind him and Luke… our hitting came late. I would say Luke and Risedorph really, really slowed it down and let all of us play loose.”
Risedorph exited the game in the sixth inning, once West Virginia pulled within 6-5. Bothwell struck out the last batter to strand another West Virginia runner in scoring position. The Mountaineers went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position Friday evening. Indiana was 1-for-10 prior to when the sophomores in the ninth improved that category to 3-for-12.
Risedorph’s box score wasn’t flawless. Three walks and two hit batters compared to just two strikeouts. But the freshman –– who abruptly entered Friday’s game –– labored 82 pitches across 3⅔ innings, allowing just three earned runs as Indiana’s lineup battled to retake the lead, 6-4, in the top of the fifth. The Hoosiers never relinquished their lead after that.
Risedorph sat underneath the Park, straight-faced, stoically answering questions. It’s as if Risedorph was still pitching on the mound, trying to remain focused. Not quite, however.
“Well, honestly, I didn't think a whole lot,” Risedorph said during the postgame of his NCAA Tournament debut. “I'm just happy to be out here. So (I’m) just enjoying everything I can. I mean, any time I get to go out on the mound, it's like it's still a game at the end of the day.”
It was arguably Indiana’s most important game for the program in years, protected by one of its freshmen, and later won by veterans — who collectively all played in their first postseason game. Following the 12-6 win, Indiana plays regional host No. 1-seed University of Kentucky Saturday in the winner’s bracket of the double-elimination regional. First pitch is set for 6 p.m.