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Friday, May 24
The Indiana Daily Student

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Indiana baseball gets back to doing ‘little things’, wins series over Penn State

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When Devin Taylor saw a wild pitch trickle toward first base Saturday afternoon at Bart Kaufman Field, he trotted toward home plate, threw both arms in the air and flashed a wide grin.  

Indiana baseball’s dugout swarmed to the sophomore, whose game-winning run cemented the Hoosiers’ wild 10-9 comeback win to even the weekend series against Penn State. 

The game winning run was memorable. So was the clutch, game-tying single from sophomore Tyler Cerny. But the ninth inning magic wouldn’t have been possible without a two-out walk from freshman Jasen Oliver, who started the at-bat down 0-2 and worked through seven more pitches to reach base. 

“The whole thing doesn’t happen unless that kid is tough enough to just compete his way through, foul some pitches off, work back to a walk and give the at-bat to the next two guys behind him,” head coach Jeff Mercer said after the game. “They came through for us, but that gets lost.” 

After being dominated 15-4 by Penn State on Friday night, Indiana fed off the momentum of Saturday’s comeback and trounced the Nittany Lions 12-3 Sunday. And the more overlooked details — high effort running the bases, discipline at the plate — were a major reason why. 

For a lineup that hits the ball consistently hard, the offensive production this season hasn’t entirely correlated with the talent at the plate. Trailing 8-5 in the bottom of the fourth inning, with runners on first and second, junior Carter Mathison smacked a line drive over 100 miles per hour, but it was corralled by Penn State senior infielder Kyle Hannon. 

“It is a big deal to know, ‘Hey we can do this, and the rain cloud’s not going to follow us around every day,’” Mercer said. “You feel that way sometimes.” 

In the series opener Friday night, though, that proverbial rain cloud at least partially hung over the Hoosiers’ heads. Graduate southpaw Ty Bothwell was shelled by a Penn State lineup that leads the Big Ten in slugging (.510) and ranks third in batting average (.311). 

Bothwell transitioned to becoming the team’s Friday starter and hurled eight and six innings against Butler and Maryland, respectively, in his previous two starts. Against Penn State, Bothwell worked 4 1/3 innings, but he gave up nine hits, eight earned runs and five of the Nittany Lions’ seven homers. 

His fastball didn’t carry the same life as normal, and Penn State capitalized. The first six members of the Nittany Lions’ lineup went deep with sophomore Bobby Marsh leading the way with four hits. 

The steep deficit from the outset spelled difficulties for Indiana hitters. The group batted just .161 with five total hits and struck out eight times against Penn State senior righty Travis Luensmann. 

Luensmann’s fastball set the tone in counts, and he supplemented the primary offering with a couple devastating breaking balls. The 6-foot-6 hurler mowed down Indiana’s lineup through 6 1/3 innings, only giving up four hits and three runs. 

It was a stark comparison to Bothwell’s performance, but not one that generated much worry for Mercer. 

“Some days you got C-plus stuff,” Mercer said after the Hoosiers’ loss Friday night. “They can really hit — there’s a reason they lead the league in slugging — and he didn’t have his good stuff. It’s a tough recipe.” 

The next day, Indiana sophomore ace Connor Foley didn’t have his best stuff, either. Often keeping the team’s bullpen vacant and rifling his fastball through opposing lineups, Foley’s blowup start was a bit of a surprise. 

Penn State jumped all over the righty in the second inning, totaling five hits and eight runs before Foley could complete the frame. But with a brilliant outing from graduate reliever Drew Buhr, Indiana charged to what Mercer said was the best comeback he’s ever been part of. 

Buhr came on at least a handful of innings earlier than most would have anticipated, but it didn’t matter for the Austin, Indiana, native. Buhr upped his velocity and was in the mid 90’s at times all while keeping the Nittany Lions scoreless for 4 1/3 innings. 

RelatedBuhr’s strong bullpen outing catalyzes Indiana baseball’s statement comeback winDown 8-0 after an inning and a half, things looked bleak for Indiana baseball. The Hoosiers, less than 24 hours removed from a 15-4 shellacking at the hands of Penn State’s high-powered offense, found themselves on the verge of losing their second consecutive home series against a conference opponent.

The Hoosiers plated five runs in the bottom of the second to immediately jump back into contention, and the scoreboard read zeros for both sides until Indiana freshman Andrew Wiggins launched a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh. 

Wiggins’ playing time has increased as of late, with his powerful bat giving Mercer no choice but to make him a consistent option as a designated hitter. Wiggins knew Penn State freshman righty Mason Horwat mixed in a heavy dose of sinkers, and after seeing the pitch before in the fourth inning, he said he knew he could ‘hammer it.’ 

RelatedAndrew Wiggins makes case for bigger role as Indiana baseball splits series with ButlerAndrew Wiggins was in no rush. With a slow-breaking ball looming right over the heart of the plate, the Indiana baseball freshman subtly lifted his right foot off the ground, preparing to use every ounce of power he had to punish the incoming pitch. 

“It was really cool to see that come to pass in a game like that,” Wiggins said Saturday afternoon. 

Penn State added a run in the eighth off Hoosier sophomore righty Brayden Risedorph to take a 9-7 lead. Wiggins came back to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with one out, and he was plunked by junior Anthony Steele to add a crucial baserunner. 

Wiggins, who’s now hitting .317 and has four hits and four RBIs in his last four games, appears to be taking a considerable leap. His talent — Wiggins was the No. 37 overall player in the high school class of 2023 — is evident, but Mercer has been just as impressed by his awareness and focus. 

“It’s not intimidating in a bad way as a coach,” Mercer said. “But when you talk to a really talented, capable, intelligent player and he is staring into your soul and he’s evaluating everything you say — it makes for a great player.” 

After Oliver drew a walk, Taylor ripped a single to drive in Wiggins, and Cerny immediately followed it up with a single of his own to knot the game at nine. Then, Penn State freshman Will Perkowski’s pitch to junior Nick Mitchell bounced away from the plate, and Taylor burst home for the winning run. 

Indiana got much more from its starting pitching in the series finale Sunday afternoon. Graduate righty Ty Rybarczyk surrendered a leadoff homer to Penn State junior Joe Jaconski on the first at-bat of the game, but he settled down and managed four innings of two-run, five-strikeout ball. 

Behind him, the Hoosiers once again pieced together an explosive second inning. With the bases loaded and no outs, redshirt freshman Joey Brenczewski unleashed a grand slam for his first career home run. 

Brenczewski smacked another homer in the fourth inning, this time a solo shot to put Indiana up 6-2. His mammoth day at the plate continued, as Brenczewski knocked two more RBIs in the fifth and eighth innings to move his total to seven. 

“If you ask anyone in the program who’s Merc the hardest on, they would all say Joey,” Mercer said Sunday afternoon. “I believe in him and he’s capable... I just couldn’t be happier for Joey.” 

Aside from Brenczewski, six other Hoosiers tallied multi-hit efforts. On the mound, while redshirt sophomore Grant Holderfield struggled in relief of Rybarczyk, sophomore Aydan Decker-Petty had his finest appearance of the season. 

Decker-Petty authored a 4 1/3-inning save, surrendering three hits, one run and striking out six. Mercer said the heat helped play up the velocity, but Decker-Petty's changeup was hitting spots and generating whiffs. 

And like Saturday, Indiana was excelling in fundamental play. 

“All those little things together, for a group that’s had some tough knocks — it’s a really big deal,” Mercer said. 

With the 12-3 victory, Indiana moved to 20-16 on the season and 5-4 in conference play. The Hoosiers next turn to a matchup with the University of Evansville at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Bart Kaufman Field. 

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

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