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Wednesday, June 19
The Indiana Daily Student

sports baseball

Connor Foley twirls career game in Indiana baseball’s series-tying win over Illinois

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After his tenth strikeout — a blistering fastball blown past Illinois junior Ryan Moerman — Connor Foley jumped up and down twice before pumping his fists and confidently strutting toward the dugout. 

That was an emphatic exclamation point on Foley’s Saturday afternoon gem, which included a career-high seven innings pitched, 10 strikeouts and 103 total pitches in the Hoosiers’ 8-1 win over the Illini at Bark Kaufman Field. 

Foley’s flamethrowing fastball, his most reliable weapon, sat in the low to mid-90s during the outing and jumped to 97 a couple of times. Mixing in his frisbee-like slider, Foley puzzled the same Illinois batters who plated nine runs in Friday’s series opener. 

For the 6-foot-5 righty, success starts with intimidation. Head coach Jeff Mercer even calls some of it crazy. 

“I love the fact that he threw an 0-2 fastball over a guy’s head,” Mercer said postgame. “There’s a little bit of crazy in that. You got to show guys you can’t be comfortable on the plate.” 

Related Even in new role as starter, Indiana baseball’s Connor Foley still plans to ‘attack’

The first part of learning anything, Indiana baseball head coach Jeff Mercer said, is to be aware. Sophomore pitcher Connor Foley knows he was over-reliant on his fastball last season. Still, the righty hurler emerged as a weapon out of the bullpen, especially in the postseason.

Indiana’s ace rarely shies away from showing emotion. In the fifth inning, after striking out the first two batters he faced, Foley surrendered a single up the middle to Illinois senior Cal Hejza.

Foley sensed Hejza creeping slightly away from the first base bag and swiftly shifted to his left to pick him off and end the inning. Walking away from the mound, Foley pounded the No. 14 in the top left of his jersey. 

“Same old Connor,” redshirt freshman first baseman Joey Brenczewski said. 

It’s no secret Indiana’s pitching has been precarious this season. Before Saturday, the Hoosiers surrendered 79 runs in seven games, an average of roughly 11 runs per contest. 

Even Foley, who began his first year as a starter with a pair of shutout outings, gave up 12 runs in his ensuing three starts. Indiana has lacked a true No. 2 starter behind Foley, and its bullpen has at times grown razor thin due to the sheer volume of work required to get out of innings. 

Having Foley take charge and shove for seven innings, Mercer said, puts the onus on the bats to pull their weight. They did just that Saturday afternoon, totaling nine hits and plating four runs in the eighth inning. 

For Indiana’s lineup, seeing Foley’s dominance, and the passion with which he enacts it, makes it easy to back him up with run support. 

“You can tell when you got a real guy, and he gets in the fifth or sixth inning of a close game and he smells it, he puts his foot down,” Mercer said. “That energy and that enthusiasm is contagious. You feel it in the dugout.” 

Defensively, Indiana made a handful of spectacular plays behind Foley. Junior centerfielder Carter Mathison made a slick diving grab in the fourth inning, and Brenczewski snared multiple difficult throws at first base. 

T4 | Dive and catch! ?@carter_mathison | #IUBase pic.twitter.com/keZd2CxLpD

Indiana has made 32 errors this season — the most in the Big Ten — and has a conference-worst .961 fielding percentage. Sophomore Tyler Cerny’s glove has been a rollercoaster this season at shortstop, but he and freshman second baseman Jasen Oliver performed admirably behind Foley. 

With Foley’s high workload, those plays were a necessity. Before this season, he had never eclipsed 70 pitches in an appearance. This year, he’s hurled over 70 in every start and thrown over 90 in all but one. 

Decreases in velocity and command come into question when a reliever transitions to starting, but Foley has quelled those concerns. His fastball carried life until the last pitch he threw, and his two walks were tied for the least he’s issued this season. 

Foley said his arm is in a good spot after the lengthy outing — not enough to step on the mound and throw an inning Sunday afternoon in the series finale, but enough to take an at-bat if needed, the former .436 high school hitter joked. 

In a far more likely scenario, Foley will rest and begin training for a start next weekend against Butler University. 

“I’m sore, I’m going to be sore. That’s just part of it,” Foley said. “Throwing 103 pitches isn’t going to feel good the next day, but you just got to recover. I’ll be good to go.” 

Follow reporters Matt Press (@MattPress23) and Nick Rodecap (@nickrodecap) for updates throughout the Indiana baseball season. 

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