BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana University celebrates its annual “IU Day” worldwide for, among many other good reasons, encouraging charitable behavior.
The Hoosier baseball team almost took that too far, however, Wednesday night against arch-rival Purdue.
Indiana pitching issued four walks in the first and three more in the seventh to fuel Purdue rallies, and an IU error kept the Boilermakers alive in the ninth, before Hoosier senior Cade Bunnell capped a 7-6 win in the 10th with a one-out, bases-loaded single.
“Hey, we did our best to keep you guys out all night,” IU coach Jeff Mercer quipped to the media post-gamed after his team climbed to 20-12 on the season.
The night didn’t last long for Indiana freshman starter McCade Brown, who didn’t have his command and walked the first three Boilermaker batters he faced in the first. The fourth, cleanup man Zac Fascia, bounced a 2-RBI double down the first base line.
After another walk re-loaded the bases with still nobody out, stress levels were already peaking in the home dugout.
Richard III, in a different moment of acute peril, was ready to give his kingdom for a horse. Mercer found one. (And what was that Richard III said about “glorious Sommer?”)
Tommy Sommer – who made a two-inning return during Saturday’s double-header sweep over Penn State after rehabbing a knee injury that had sidelined him since March 3 – came in to fan the first two Purdue hitters he faced and then induce an inning-ending groundout.
And Sommer subsequently had a stretch of retiring 14 straight Boilermakers. By the time he exited, he had allowed just one hit in six scoreless innings of work. And his team was ahead.
“Tommy was incredible,” Mercer said. “He really won the game. He won the game for us in the first inning. Comes in and gets out of that jam … such as competitive guy. Can execute pitches on both sides of the plate. Change-up was really good.
“You really trust him to be able to pitch in big moments, and he was terrific tonight. And, obviously, getting him back from injury was huge shot in the arm for us. He was terrific.”
Indiana didn’t waste the momentum Sommer supplied in the first, taking a 3-2 lead in its half of the inning.
IU got on the board when Elijah Dunham drilled a RBI double to right-center, with Matt Gorski scoring. Gorski had reached on a fielder’s choice, had stolen second and was in the process of stealing third when Dunham delivered.
Dunham was still on second when Cole Barr then put the Hoosiers ahead, 3-2, by mashing his 12th homer of the season to left. A no-doubter.
Purdue (10-21) turn a nifty 6-4-3 double-play on a Gorski grounder to get out of a bases-loaded, one-down situation in the fourth. But with Sommer keeping the Boilers entirely in check, IU finally widened its lead in the bottom of the sixth.
Scotty Bradley rocked an opposite-field homer to left-center leading off the inning to make it 4-2. Then Gorski came up with a clutch, two out, two-strike looping 2-RBI single to center, doubling the lead to 6-2.
But after Sommer exited, having thrown 71 pitches (50 for strikes), walks arose to bite Indiana again in the Purdue seventh.
After a flyout, Gabe Bierman walked three straight Boilermakers before rallying to fan Ryan Howe looking.
Conner Manous came on in relief and Cole MacKenzie greeted him with a clutch two-out lined double to left-center that pulled Purdue within 6-5.
Manous and Matt Lloyd pitched around Bryce Bonner’s leadoff double in the Purdue eighth, so the Hoosiers nursed that 6-5 edge into the ninth.
And the game should have ended before extra innings. IU closer Lloyd got the first two men out before in the Purdue ninth before routine grounder to short was erred.
McKenzie made the Hoosiers pay for the miscue with his second RBI double of the evening, this one just inside the leftfield line to forge a 6-6 tie.
Purdue reliever Bo Hofstra struck out the side in the IU ninth, sending the game into extra frames, but Indiana’s Grant Sloan followed suit in the Boilermaker 10th.
Bradley then led off the Hoosier 10th with a double to right. Walks to Grant Richardson and Justin Walker ensued, then came a strikeout, setting up Bunnell’s big moment.
Bunnell, a senior infielder from Wisconsin with just five hits in limited play this season coming into Wednesday, had entered the game in the eighth. Facing Hofstra in the 10th, he quickly got down two strikes.
But then extra work Bunnell had put in after practice paid off.
“I walked through the (batting) cage the other day and Cade is in there on the fastball machine,” Mercer recalled. “And it’s coming, right? Coming 90 (MPH) or whatever. And Cade’s doing a no-stride swing and just hammering it … and I’m like, ‘Man, that’s really good.’
“He gets up (tonight) and the first two pitches he does his little leg lift and gets beat and I just yelled at him, ‘Widen out! Go to no-stride.’ And he just kind of (nodded and pointed) at me.”
Bonnell widened into a no-stride stance and smoked the next pitch down the left field line for the game-winner.
“It he doesn’t do that extra work, he’s not prepared for that,” Mercer said. “I was just really happy for him.”
And it ended as a happy IU Day for the Hoosiers, despite their essentially gift-wrapping six Purdue runs.
“Did we play great?” Mercer said. “No. We didn’t play well tonight, at all … but (we had) our toughness and our competitiveness and our spirit and willingness to fight – not sulk, not put our head down, not throw a fit – but to keep coming and keep coming and keep coming.
“It’s not always your best day, but it’s always a day to compete and fight. And that’s where I feel the culture is going.
“We’ve had four close games in a row, here, and offense is always going to ebb and flow. We haven’t been terrific, but we’ve won three of those four games. And in a way that I don’t know, earlier in the year, we would have. Just from our resilience and competitiveness.”
IU will likely have to show similar stuff this weekend during a home-and-away series with Evansville’s Aces, who rank No. 36 in RPI nationally. It’s a series that potentially looms large for both teams in terms of building resumes for NCAA tournament berths.
“It’s a huge series,” Mercer said. “An absolute huge series. And kudos to them. They didn’t have the year they wanted last year. But look at their toughness. Look at their culture, to be able to come back and be a NCAA (tournament) team right now.
“It’s going to be a massive, massive challenge for us this weekend. It’s four games.”
The series opens with Friday’s 7 p.m. game at Evansville, followed by Saturday’s 2 p.m. double-header at IU’s Bart Kaufman Field. Indiana will also host the Aces at 1:05 p.m. Sunday, weather permitting.