Bell’s big Senior Day propels IU to series win over Illinois #iubase

While eight of Indiana’s nine seniors and their families gathered in a semicircle behind home plate for Sunday’s pregame Senior Day ceremony, the ninth toed the rubber in the bullpen, tuning out the plaudits and the cheers.

The catcher’s mitt and the opportunity before him were Evan Bell’s only concerns before the game, which stood as another precious opportunity for the tall right-hander to shut the door on another successful weekend for Indiana.

Bell’s parents, Marvin and Susan, represented him near home plate during the festivities, holding his framed No. 8 Indiana jersey while an announced crowd of 2,519 applauded his four-year college career. Out in the left field the bullpen, Bell kept throwing, laying the foundation for his most important start of the season.

Bell went the distance in IU’s 4-1 win over Illinois at Bart Kaufman Field, allowing only three hits and authoring an impressive complete-game performance that keeps the Hoosiers within striking distance of the Big Ten regular season title.

Minnesota also claimed a victory over Purdue on Sunday, allowing the Gophers to hold a half-game lead over the Hoosiers for first place atop the conference table. But Indiana (31-18, 15-6) is comfortable with its standing entering the final week of the regular season. The Hoosiers have now posted six consecutive series victories and position themselves nicely for next weekend’s final trip to Nebraska.

Perhaps for the first time this season, IU can boast of a more complete three-man weekend rotation. Kyle Hart remains the Friday night pillar and Caleb Baragar presents a steady Saturday presence. But it’s Bell’s recent emergence as a consistent series-ending option that makes the Hoosiers a threat to go down to the wire with — at the very least — a puncher’s chance.

From arriving as a reliever who toiled in the bullpen during his first three seasons, to becoming a dedicated starter in his final year, Bell’s time in Bloomington has built to this.

For both Bell and the Hoosiers it’s a nice reward after the first half of his season required patience.

As he stretched his arm and built stamina as a starter, Bell often struggled to make the needed pitches at the right times early in the year. He has also struggled to receive proper run support. While IU’s offense averages 6.6 runs per game for Hart and 4.7 runs for Baragar, it averages only 3.6 for Bell.

In each of those cases of stamina and support, Bell has found ways to deal. That much was clear against Illinois (26-22, 10-11) Sunday, when he worked his way out a series of jams during the middle innings to avoid serious trouble, keep his pitch count low and go nine innings for the second time this season. He also received a three-run cushion from his offense in the first inning, providing him all the help he’d need on this day.

And after bouncing through his first 11 starts of the season without a win, Bell has now claimed victories in each of the last two weekends.

“Great outing,” IU coach Chris Lemonis said. “We talked about it in the sixth and he felt like he was getting stronger out there the whole night.”

Bell’s only blemish came courtesy of a rocket home run off the bat of Illinois’ nuisance of a cleanup hitter, Pat McInerney, who crushed a solo home run off the right hander in the top of the second.

“The first two innings, I didn’t think I was very sharp with my fastball location or breaking ball or anything,” Bell said. “When a kid (like McInerney) puts a swing on it like that, it’s usually not located very well and that was the case today. But I started to figure it out later in the game and started to feel a lot better.”

Bell used 113 pitches, walking one and striking out six. He allowed the leadoff man to reach base four times — including McInerney’s blast — but refused to watch those innings fall apart. Credit the fielders behind him, of course, but this was also a testament to Bell’s will.

These were the kinds of early jams that may have unraveled Bell earlier in the season, but not Sunday.

“That’s what Kyle Hart is so good at,” Lemonis said. “The game gets big and runners get out there and Kyle never gives you the pitch. Evan is just learning that.”

And by the looks of it, Bell is handling the lesson well.

Though he’s not used to the early run support, Bell ran with it against the Illini. Credit the youngest among him on the roster. All four runs Sunday came courtesy of the freshmen stacked in the middle of the order, including RBI doubles by Luke Miller and Scotty Bradley in the first.

Miller’s slap down the right field line plated Craig Dedelow, who finished with a team-high three singles. Miller and Ryan Fineman scored moments later on Bradley’s two-bagger to left-centerfield.

Fineman added insurance in the seventh, lifting a sacrifice fly to left field that scored Alex Krupa for IU’s fourth run of the day.

“Sometimes when I hit all three (freshmen) together, they seem to thrive off that,” Lemonis said. “Some good ABs early. I thought Scotty Bradley’s ball was huge (because) we had one fall in. This weekend wasn’t a lot of offense and we seemed to hit a lot of balls at people with runners in scoring position. For his to fall was some nice relief.”

Essentially, it was the only relief Indiana needed with Bell dealing in his final home start.

Yes, the day belonged to Bell, who lingered on the field longer than most after the game. There he was, a man who captured Senior Day and made it his own.

“It was a special day,” he said.

2 comments

  1. Lemonis is looking like a great hire. The team seems to have steadily improved with each passing week.

  2. Today was Senior Day, and all three starting pictures of this week end’s game were in the honored seniors group, so new pitching for next year will be a big portion of the puzzle for 2017. Also one of the fans told me that Tracy Smith, ( while he was the IU baseball coach) was promised a video board for the ballpark, is that still an option??? Illinois has a video board at their ballpark. This would be a great for the fans to see replays and etc at the games.

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