Hoosiers walk off with 5-4, extra-inning win over Wolverines

Early Thursday morning, before the rain had stopped and the longest game in Big Ten Tournament history was complete, Chris Lemonis reminded his Indiana baseball team of its greatest strength.

These Hoosiers are at their best when their backs are against the wall.

Facing elimination, No. 6 seed Indiana affirmed that simple truth once again on Thursday, using a walk-off single by Alex Krupa in the bottom of the 13th to eliminate No. 2 Michigan, 5-4, at soggy Bart Kaufman Field.

The Hoosiers (33-21-2) made habit of quickly bouncing back from losses during the regular season with enough resiliency to still claim valuable wins through the course of Big Ten play. In a game that took 4 hours and 28 minutes to complete, Indiana did it again with their conference tournament lives in the balance.

And in doing so, the Hoosiers likely solidified their resume for Monday’s NCAA Tournament selection show.

“We’re almost better with our backs against the wall,” said Krupa, who endured an ugly day at the plate and in the field until he sliced a pitch down the left field line to win the game deep in extras. “That’s what (Lemonis) said this morning. To be honest, I think we kind of are, too. We don’t give up and that says something about us.”

IU will play the loser of No. 3 Minnesota and No. 7 Northwestern on Friday at 1:30 p.m. Lemonis was not yet ready to announce a starter after the Michigan win.

For approximately half of Thursday’s game, it didn’t look like IU had enough to advance. The Hoosiers trailed for the first six innings and hardly threatened Wolverines left-hander Oliver Jaskie, who struck out nine, walked one and scattered four hits across his seven innings.

“I think he had a good mix with his off-speed,” Krupa said. “He threw the fastball away to us, mostly, and then to righties he dropped in that changeup. Especially to us lefties, buckling in on our knees with that slider.”

Jaskie’s grip on Indiana’s lineup loosened in the seventh inning, when he issued a four-pitch leadoff walk to Luke Miller and yielded a two-run homer to Craig Dedelow to tie the game at 2-2.

The teams traded runs over the next two innings before the Hoosiers finally walked off with the win in the 13th.

“They usually play a little bit better when there’s a little bit of pressure,” Lemonis said. “The way it’s been, it just feels like it’s been like that all year long. … We have an older group of kids, our culture is really strong right now and our kids believe in each other. I think that’s a big piece.”

IU’s confidence remained intact even after Michigan erased the Hoosiers’ newfound momentum with an RBI single from Jake Bivens that gave the Wolverines a 3-2 lead.

Indiana answered by manufacturing a pair of runs to reclaim the advantage.

First, an RBI groundout by Matt Lloyd scored Jeremy Houston for the tying run before back-to-back two-out singles by Miller and Dedelow set the stage for Logan Sowers, who drove a pitch to right field to score Miller and put IU up 4-3 entering the ninth.

The Hoosiers’ resolve was tested again in the ninth, an inning that saw Indiana nearly end the game before a blown save by Lloyd extended the day.

With two outs, Drew Lugbauer’s single off Lloyd shot through the left side and scored Ako Thomas to tie the game at 4-4 and force extra innings.

But strong work by IU’s bullpen, especially the three scoreless innings from Cal Krueger, helped preserve the score until Krupa could deliver.

“It’s tough that somebody has to lose a game like that, because I think both teams competed, fell behind, came back,” Lemonis said. “Just a very resilient effort by our group. Everybody’s backs are against the wall, so to come out and play the way we did, I was excited to see that, especially after the great start by the Michigan pitcher.”

Although IU will continue to face elimination throughout the rest of their conference tournament stay, the Hoosiers should feel relaxed knowing they got at least one win — against arguably the Big Ten’s top team, no less.

At No. 27, the Hoosiers remain the top RPI team in the league, with six top 50 wins and 15 victories against the top 100. Even with a loss Thursday, Indiana may have been safe.

Holding on to beat the Wolverines likely eases any qualms.

“I do believe we’re in this position to where we have enough top 50 wins, our RPI (is strong),” Lemonis said. “We’ve challenged ourselves. Everything the committee has asked us to do — we’ve gone on the road, we’ve played, we’ve played hard and we’ve won. I think those things will come out on Monday.”

In the meantime, the Hoosiers will keep playing — with their backs against the wall.

Just as they like it.