IU claims 1st place after series win at Minnesota #iubase

It took three months, 12 starts and 68 1/3 innings before Evan Bell could claim his first win of the season.

And it couldn’t have come at a bigger moment.

Bell’s fine start — and a shut-down finish from Indiana’s bullpen — helped the Hoosiers reclaim first place in a 3-2 victory over No. 19 Minnesota on Sunday at Siebert Field in Minneapolis.

IU (28-17, 13-5) clinched the series against the Gophers (30-15, 12-5), taking a half-game lead at the top of the Big Ten standings entering the penultimate week of the regular season.

After offense owned the first two games of the weekend, pitching and defense claimed the rubber match. Bell scattered eight hits across 5 2/3 innings, but allowed only a pair of runs while walking one and striking out four.

“This was a huge game, probably one of the biggest starts of my life,” Bell told BTN Student U after the game. “I like those pressure moments. I was just trying to give my team the best chance.”

The senior right-hander did exactly that through limiting one of the nation’s most productive lineups — the Gophers entered the weekend averaging seven runs per game. Bell battled throughout the afternoon and overcame an early deficit after Minnesota’s Connor Schaefbauer’s one-out single gave the Gophers a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third. IU avoided further damage when third baseman Luke Miller helped turn a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.

Bell found help in the top of the fifth, when IU answered with a two-run rally against Minnesota starter Toby Anderson. Tony Butler walked with one out and Alex Krupa put him on third with a single through the right side. That allowed Butler to score on Craig Dedelow’s ground-rule double before Krupa supplied the go-ahead run on a throwing error by Gophers shortstop Luke Pettersen.

Schaefbauer added another RBI single against Bell to tie the game in the bottom of the fifth, but Brian Wilhite’s single through the middle supplied the go-ahead run the Hoosiers needed in the top of the sixth.

From there, the rest of the afternoon belonged to Indiana’s bullpen.

The Hoosiers’ ascent to the top of the conference has become a product of their ability to win close games. IU has now won 12 one-run contests, including victories in four of the last six conference games. Credit the pitching staff, which delivered in the series finale.

With a handful of left-handed hitters peppered through the Gophers’ lineup, Indiana coach Chris Lemonis said prior to departing for Minneapolis that he anticipated counting on his southpaw relievers in key situations.

B.J. Sabol answered that call on Sunday.

The sophomore tossed 1 2/3 hitless innings, striking out four of the five batters he faced before giving way to Jake Kelzer with one out in the eighth. Kelzer worked the final 1 2/3 innings, recording two strikeouts to earn his third save of the season.

Indiana, which out-hit Minnesota 37-33 this weekend, collected 10 hits on Sunday. Krupa went 3-for-4 with a walk atop the lineup, while Luke Miller finished 3-for-3 with a walk.

The Hoosiers return home to close their Bart Kaufman Field schedule with four games this week. Indiana hosts Kentucky at 6 p.m. on Tuesday before welcoming Illinois for a three-game weekend series beginning Friday evening.