Illinois wins extra-inning pitching duel, 2-1 #iubase

It was a good swing, one that may have plated the two runs Indiana needed had it been directed almost anywhere else.

Instead, the ball left Brian Wilhite’s bat on a line to Illinois centerfielder Doran Turchin, who took a dozen steps toward the warning track and made the routine catch that sealed the 2-1 win for the Illini in the bottom of the 11th Friday.

Although the Hoosiers have made a habit of punching back and winning one-run games during their late-season surge, that streak of opportunism was not found on Friday. In a brilliant pitching duel between IU senior left-hander Kyle Hart and Illinois’ hard-throwing top prospect Cody Sedlock, it was the Hoosiers (29-18, 13-6) who walked off the field wondering what could have been.

“It was a great college baseball game on both sides,” IU coach Chris Lemonis said. “… It was just two great college pitchers in a great environment. It was a great game.”

It was also a game the Hoosiers hope they won’t regret come Sunday evening. The loss knocks IU a half-game out of first place with five games remaining in the conference.

An announced crowd of 2,918 watched Hart and Sedlock go pitch-for-pitch, blow-for-blow in a showdown between two of the Big Ten’s top pitchers. Hart struck out nine batters — finishing one shy of his season high — over eight innings, while walking only one. He scattered four hits, while throwing 75 of his 112 pitches for strikes.

The only blemish on his line was a pitch to Illini cleanup batter Pat McInerney, who drilled a solo home run to right-centerfield with one out in the fourth inning.

“That kid is strong as an ox,” Hart said. “To be honest, I had gone away, away, away and I thought I’d show him something in to set something else up away. …. If I had just thrown a fastball away there, we’d be at 30 wins. As much as I know the offense wants to score more than one run on nine hits, I kind of feel a little bit of weight on my shoulders because I should’ve thrown a different pitch.”

But it’d be hard to fault Hart for much on a night when he was in vintage form. Hart, a fifth-year senior and a holdover from the Sembower Field era, pitched outstanding in his final outing in Bloomington.

His offense bailed him out in the bottom of the fourth when catcher Ryan Fineman legged out a leadoff double, moved to third base on a grounder and scored on Luke Miller’s chopped infield single down the third base line.

Yet, despite his fine form, that lone run forced Hart — the BIg Ten wins leader — to settle for the no-decision.

“There’s been a few games this year when I’ve pitched so-so and got a win,” Hart said. “That’s kind of how it falls. I thought about this a lot, but wins are somewhat of an inflated stat. I will say that consistently winning does speak to something. I think that’s a big part of who I am, but I think it would be a little bit cooler if I was leading the nation in K’s per 9, or WHIP, or ERA or something that was probably a little more meat and potatoes for pitching statistics. Certainly, this team comes out and plays great for me any time I throw and that’s just something that I’m very proud of them for.”

Illinois played equally well behind Sedlock, the reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Week, who worked the first 9 1/3 innings, striking out 12 and walking three. The league’s strikeout king yielded seven hits and nearly found himself in a hole during the seventh before the Hoosiers bailed him out with a baserunning gaffe.

Miller singled to lead off the inning and moved into scoring position on a sacrifice, but Illinois catcher Jason Goldstein caught him veering too far off the bag for the inning’s second out. At the bottom of the order, Tony Butler followed with a walk and Alex Krupa delivered a single to center that may have put IU ahead if not for the mistake.

“That was a big play in the game,” Lemonis said. “I don’t know if you get the hit after it every time. I don’t know if that’s always the case, but we just had a couple mistakes in there that cost us tonight.”

Indeed, the 12 strikeouts also hurt a Hoosier lineup that out-hit the Illini, 9-5.

Thomas Belcher followed Hart with three solid innings of relief, with his only mistake coming on a leadoff walk to Trent Hammond in the top of the 11th. Hammond moved to second on a bunt and scored the go-ahead run moments later on Michael Hurwitz’s single down the left field line.

Days after walking off against Kentucky on Tuesday, Indiana threatened in its final at-bats. A pair of singles by Logan Sowers and Austin Cangelosi and a two-out walk by Miller loaded the bases for Wilhite, who put a healthy swing on a pitch from Illinois reliever Nick Blackburn.

But there was Turchin in centerfield, retreated and reeling in the ball to end the game and put the Hoosiers in need of two important wins to close the weekend.

“I think we’re in a good spot,” Hart said. “You come out and face a guy that has 12 Ks through 9 and a half innings, you just can’t let that get to you. That game has to stay on this field as we go into tomorrow and shake it off.”