Baragar deals IU a 3-1 win over Illinois #iubase

Caleb Baragar needed this.

It had been a month since the left-hander last looked the part as one of the Big Ten’s better arms. Betrayed by his off-speed pitches, his feel and command, the last four weeks have functioned as an exercise in baseball problem solving.

But the Baragar of old returned on a windy and chilly Saturday afternoon at Bart Kaufman Field, where an announced crowd of 2,398 watched the senior deal the Hoosiers an important 3-1 win over Illinois and even the weekend series at a game apiece.

The victory keeps Indiana (30-18, 14-6) a half-game out of first place in the Big Ten standings after Minnesota charged from behind to beat Purdue in West Lafayette. From a big-picture perspective, this was certainly a response IU needed after it settled for an extra-inning loss despite Kyle Hart’s outstanding start in the series opener. Less than a day later, Baragar matched Hart’s will, while rediscovering his own set of complementary pitches to earn his first win since April 16.

“I just had some rough outings and I hadn’t been able to really find my off-speed stuff,” Baragar said. “I just wasn’t really trusting it as much. I worked on it a lot in the bullpen — like, a lot. I think I threw it more than I threw my fastball. It was just kind of getting comfortable with it and knowing that I have another pitch to throw for a strike. I threw a few good changeups today, too, which really helped me in some big situations.”

Logan Sowers helped Baragar by driving in a pair of runs, including a third-inning solo home run that tied the game at 1-1. By that point, Baragar was cruising through the Illinois (26-21, 10-10) lineup.

He lasted seven innings, allowing only the single run on five hits, while walking one and striking out three. Baragar labored through his first inning, throwing 25 pitches. The left-hander retired leadoff man Jack Yalowitz before yielding three consecutive hard hits, including an RBI single to cleanup man Pat McInerney for the game’s first run.

From there, the day belonged to the IU starter.

He retired 15 of the next 16 batters he faced, including nine in a row between the first and fourth innings.

“I think that first inning just made him fight a little bit,” IU coach Chris Lemonis said. “They had a couple good swings. I thought his stuff was good in the first. I don’t think he was missing, but he just settled down. It was nice because he’s had a couple rough starts and some tough scenarios the last couple weeks. For him to give us that one was awesome.”

Especially because of what it means for IU’s weekend. The Hoosiers can clinch the series with Evan Bell on the mound at 1 p.m. Sunday, and potentially jump back into first depending on how Minnesota fares in its finale at Purdue.

Although the Hoosiers were tough-luck losers on Friday, they responded Saturday like they have all season. At this point, that’s what Lemonis and his crew have come to expect.

“Every game we play has a sense of urgency to it,” Lemonis said. “We’ve played like this at least the last couple weeks, and probably also the whole last half of last year, too. So this team is used to playing with that same mindset. When you’re in a good program, you’re playing for something usually every day. They’re ready for it.”

With Baragar dealing, Sowers’ third-inning home run gave the Hoosiers an edge they needed the rest of the afternoon. After IU left a trio of runners on base between the first and second innings, Sowers mashed a 2-1 offering from Illinois’ Doug Hayes to dead centerfield, leaving little doubt about its trajectory as it jumped off his bat. It was Sowers’ eighth home run of the year, tying him with No. 8 hitter Brian Wilhite for the team lead.

“That thing was a monster shot,” Lemonis said.

And Sowers was only getting started.

IU jumped ahead 2-1 in the fifth when Craig Dedelow led off with a double and scored two batters later on a sacrifice fly from Ryan Fineman. Then Sowers added insurance in the seventh, driving in Alex Krupa on a sac-fly to centerfield. Dedelow led the Hoosiers with three hits, while Wilhite and Luke Miller each added two apiece.

“We’re playing each game like it’s a huge game, which it really is,” Sowers said. “The Big Ten standings are so close now that you can jump from first place to third place or fourth place. It’s really tight right now. We’re just trying to come out here and play our butts off every game.”

The Hoosiers did that Saturday, following Baragar’s lead to the win column.