Hoosiers fall to Gophers in tournament opener

Chris Lemonis saw the play unfold like it had so many other times this season.

The Golden Gophers — and, more importantly, the umpiring crew — saw it differently.

Luke Miller’s botched tag from third base in the sixth inning Wednesday added a dash of controversy to No. 6 Indiana’s 5-4 loss to No. 3 Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament opener at Bart Kaufman Field

It was part of a late-game collapse that relegates the Hoosiers to the loser’s bracket on Day 1 for the third consecutive season. But this loss, in its totality, seemed to frustrate Indiana more than either of the previous two tournament-opening defeats.

The end of the sixth inning had plenty to do with that.

Holding a 4-3 lead in the top of the inning, IU nearly built a two-run advantage when Ryan Fineman seemed to drive Miller home on a sacrifice fly to centerfield. Fineman was jogging back to greet an excited Hoosier dugout when he heard the crowd’s confusion, stopped on the warning track and looked to third base.

There, after a Minnesota appeal, umpires ruled that Miller left the bag early.

There was no run, and the inning was over.

Miller thought he legally left the bag once the ball was in the glove of centerfielder Jordan Smith. His coach agreed.

“I saw it like every one all year long,” Lemonis said. “I thought he tagged when it was caught, and scored. They’re not even making a play at the plate. It’s a disappointing play in the game. I guess everybody’s got their opinion, but I’m not agreeing.”

It was a costly momentum shift for the Hoosiers, who watched the Gophers tie the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the inning. Minnesota used a leadoff double by Micah Coffey, who advanced to third on a grounder, then scored on a sac-fly liner to center by Matt Stemper.

Terrin Vavra drove in the go-ahead run with two outs in the seventh inning, poking an 0-2 pitch from Tim Herrin into centerfield to score Luke Pettersen for the eventual game-winning run.

Minnesota (34-19) will play No. 7 Northwestern on Thursday at 5 p.m. Facing elimination, IU (32-21-2) will meet No. 2 Michigan Thursday at 10 a.m. Pauly Milto will start for Indiana.

Though the sixth-inning baserunning gaffe will be how this loss is remembered, it wasn’t Indiana’s only undoing.

Minensota plated four of its five runs — and went 6-for-13 overall — with two outs on Wednesday. One of those two-out hits was Jordan Kozicky’s homer in the bottom of the fifth, a two-run shot that got the Gophers within 4-3.

Kozicky’s blast was the first of four unanswered Minnesota runs to close the contest.

“Letting them get up by three runs, we knew we had to get a couple guys on and hope we could find a gap or get a ball out of the ballpark,” Minnesota coach John Anderson said. “Lo and behold, he found a way to do that for us. That turnaround that inning was huge.”

And it carried into sixth as part of a deflating two-inning stretch that helped doom the Hoosiers.

“We had all the momentum, it felt like at that point,” Lemonis said. “Their No. 9 hole did a good job of getting on base, then we left the pitch over the middle of the plate and (Kozicky) did a good job hitting it at that point. That was a big momentum swing in the game. That inning and a half, or two innings right there. I thought we were close to breaking that thing open.”

The Hoosiers appeared close to doing so, battling back after Toby Hanson’s two-out single off IU starter Jonathan Stiever in the bottom of the first gave the Gophers the early 1-0 lead.

Indiana tied it in the next half inning, manufacturing a run after Miller’s one-out double down the right field line. Miller took third on a sacrifice bunt by Matt Gorski and came around to score on Alex Krupa’s single to right field.

After Craig Dedelow’s leadoff home run in the fourth gave IU a 2-1 lead, the Hoosiers got to Minnesota’s Lucas Gilbreath for two more in the fifth. After starting the inning with a four-pitch walk, Jeremy Houston moved to second on a wild pitch, then stole third.

Tony Butler worked a walk in six pitches, then stole second to put two runners in scoring position. Matt Lloyd drove them both in with a double to the left field gap, giving the Hoosiers a 4-1 advantage.

From there, the game swung back to Minnesota.

Indiana had a runner on base in each of the seventh and eighth innings, but failed to advance them to scoring position.

“We have to show up tomorrow at 10 a.m.,” Lemonis said. “We’re the king of the 10 a.m. bracket, it looks like. We’ll play and we’ll get after it. We’re playing good baseball. That’s why I’m frustrated. That’s a game I felt like we had. We let it get away from us.”

3 comments

  1. I had a baseball moment today.

    When I was 18 or so a couple of my friends took on coaching a Little League team and I agreed to help. They immediately disappeared and I had to coach or there wouldn’t be a season for these kids. This was entry level. The first year of baseball before the days of tee ball. The kids actually had to play baseball.

    I had never played organized baseball.

    Well, somehow we won the championship including a 3 team playoff. Go figure.

    I found out today that one of my players from that team is the director of logistics for Louisville Slugger.

    How fun is that?

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