BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Name an aspect of baseball and Indiana’s Hoosiers did it well Tuesday night in pounding past Ball State, 14-3.
IU’s offense? Oh, yeah.
The host Hoosiers hit five homers, regaining the national lead in that category with 66 for the season. They also batted-around in both the second and fifth innings, totaling 12 hits in 37 at-bats.
Matt Gorski’s homer was a grand slam in the seventh. And it didn’t just clear the bases. It cleared the massive scoreboard in left.
Scotty Bradley blasted a screaming solo homer in the sixth and finished just a double shy of a cycle as BSU – with discretion perhaps the better part of valor – walked him in his final at-bat.
IU’s pitching? Pretty much lights-out.
IU starter Tommy Sommer was stellar, striking out a career-high 10 batters through six innings of work, improving to 3-1 on the campaign after successfully rehabbing a meniscus tear in his knee. Matt Liwicki and Austin Long tacked on four strikeouts in three combined innings of relief.
And IU’s defense? Goodness gracious sakes alive.
Sophomore third-baseman Cole Barr made successive superb diving snags to his left for 5-3 putouts in the top of the fourth. Gorski made a spectacular sliding snatch up the left-center alley to rob Ryan Peltier in the fifth.
“We were really good in all phases of the game,” Indiana coach Jeff Mercer acknowledged post-game. “I had one gripe.”
Because good coaches never stop coaching. Because what is already pretty doggone good can always get better.
There was the flat-out, full-extension, diving catch IU freshman Grant Richardson made of Aaron Simpson’s drive just inside the rightfield line in the eighth. Mercer certainly appreciated the spectacular effort. What Mercer didn’t like was that the play turned into a sacrifice fly.
So extended was Richardson, who landed hard on the turf, that he wasn’t able to get the ball back into the infield in timely enough fashion to prevent Erek Bolton, who had doubled leading off the inning, from tagging up and scoring all the way from second.
“Obviously, Grant made a sensational catch in right,” Mercer said. “Then, I don’t think he knew the outs, or lost his breath (with the impact on landing), whichever it way it was. It was a great catch, but we have to finish that play.
“The three runs that they scored — and that’s a really good team, and I respect those guys greatly — we gave those three runs away. Should’ve been a strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out (in the third, with a dropped tag off a low throw) … next guy singles, next guy doubles and (two runs scored.)
Offensively, we’re talented and we’re good, but you just can’t spot somebody runs and expect to score 14. That was part of our conversation (post-game.)”
Because, again, coaches coach. And good can become great.
Meantime, Mercer’s team did some serious mashing.
And it started early.
After Sommer sailed through a 1-2-3 top of the first, including two strikeouts looking, IU scored four times before a second out was made in its half of the frame.
Gorski’s one-out infield single preceded Matt Lloyd’s walk. Bradley scalded a triple up the gap in right-center to make it 2-0 and then scored himself on a wild pitch. Cole Barr followed with his 13th homer, a majestic opposite-field clout to right.
Sommer did a fine job of pitching around John Ricotta’s leadoff double to left-center in the Ball State second, but BSU (23-13) got on the board with two runs in the third with some clutch two-out hitting.
Noah Powell, after a one-out single, stole second (on the strikeout-dropped tag play) and scored on Chase Sebby’s single. Sebby scored on Ross Messina’s ensuing double to right, though IU’s relay nailed Messina between second and third to end the inning.
Ball State reliever Mike Pachmayer had allowed just one Hoosier hit – to the first man he faced – since coming on with one out in the first before the Hoosiers got to him in the fifth.
Lloyd led off the Hoosier fifth by lacing his 13th homer of the year, an opposite-field shot to left. Bradley followed with a single to center. After a walk, an error and a fielder’s choice, IU tallied again as Justin Walker laced a bases-loaded single to right. A lined 2-RBI single to center by Drew Ashley capped the rally.
At that juncture, there was some symmetry to IU’s offensive numbers. Indiana had eight hits and eight runs. It had four runs on four hits in the first and four runs on four hits in the fifth.
When Sommer recorded his 10th strikeout in the sixth, it marked the 15th time this season IU pitching had posted double-digit strikeouts.
“I love Tommy’s maturity,” Mercer said. “I love his composure. The breaking-ball wasn’t great tonight so he said, ‘Fine, I don’t need it. I’ll work a fastball, change-up.’ The command was good, not great, (but) his ability to work fastball-in, early, really opened up the rest of the plate late with the change-up.
“He doesn’t over-throw. He doesn’t try to throw ‘through’ his stuff. He’s always composed. I love how he holds the run game. (Base-runners) are always very uncomfortable over at first.
He always keeps the double-play in order. I love his competitiveness.
“And I’ll tell you this, behind the scenes, Tommy is a great pitching coach. He works a lot with Austin Long, with McCade Brown. He’s a great leader. How you do some things is how you do everything, and that’s why Tommy is excellent. Because Tommy does everything right. Everything. His diet. His nutrition. His leadership. Everything is excellent. So I’m not surprised to see him go out and do (good) things.”
It isn’t just Sommer, of course. Hoosier hurlers have now fanned 341 foes, and the single-season school record is perhaps in sight at 493.
“It’s been tremendous,” Mercer said of IU’s pitching, particularly its starting pitching of late. ” … If you look at what (assistant coach Justin) Parker has done, really everywhere he’s been, and it’s just the standard for him. The ability to tunnel pitches, call great sequences, and execute those things.
“Guys still have to go out and do that. But I’ve known Justin for a long, long time. And we’re obviously very fortunate to have him here. But that was the expectation, that we’d be able to do those things. You have to go out and execute, and they’ve done that.”
Bradley’s homer in the sixth made it 9-2 before Gorski’s slam in the seventh put the game completely out of reach. And Sam Crail’s pinch-hit solo homer to dead-center in eighth, the first of his college career, capped the night’s scoring.
The homer binge was impressive, in total, but nobody could remember seeing somebody hit the ball where Gorski did on his scoreboard-clearing shot, outside of batting practice. Nobody could recall that deed done during an actual game.
“I got to play with Luke Miller and (Logan) Sowers for a few years, and obviously they could hit them with the best of them,” Bradley said, “but that had to be the furthest one I’ve ever seen hit.
“For it to clear the video board is really impressive. Matt is one of the stronger guys I’ve been around since I’ve been here. For him to clear it, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I’ve seen it in batting practice, but to do it in a game is something special.”
And as to the 66 homers as a club, Bradley said:
“It’s just a credit to the work that the whole team put in the whole fall and entire offseason. I don’t think there was an hour in the day where you’d come in and people weren’t working and hitting off the machine and doing things like that.
“It’s just a testament to the players and the coaching staff to create that culture and stuff where we just want to be at the ball park all day long. It’s been great so far. Hopefully, we’ll keep it up.”
The next chance for Indiana (25-12) to do so comes in Friday’s 6:35 p.m. resumption of Big Ten play kicking off a three-game set at Michigan State.
The Hoosiers will face Ball State again next Tuesday, at 7 p.m. at Victory Field in Indianapolis, before returning home April 26 for a three-game series against Minnesota.
Mercer likes the direction his team is headed. But no good coach is ever satisfied.
“I think at the beginning of the season, we talked about how it’s going to be a journey, and you have to come to work every day to get to where you want to get,” Mercer said. “We’re starting to get those things.
“The starting pitching. The defense. The quality at-bats. It’s a cliché, but that’s what wins baseball games. And we’re doing them at a much higher clip than we had. But there is certainly room for us to?