Hoosiers fall apart late in 7-6 loss to Wolfpack

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Ryan Fineman spiked his catcher’s mask as he chased the wild pitch to the backstop, the go-ahead run scoring mere feet behind him.

There, at home plate, Indiana closer Matt Lloyd stood with his hands on his hips, striking a frustrated pose at the end of a long night.

Another close game got away from the Hoosiers late when No. 3 seed North Carolina State scored twice in the top of the 12th to dump No. 2 IU, 7-6, in extra innings Friday at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

After bullpen troubles plagued Indiana (33-23-2) during last week’s Big Ten Tournament, the Hoosiers blew another lead late in their NCAA Tournament opener. Now, after a marathon contest that lasted four hours and 33 minutes, they face a quick turnaround with an elimination game against No. 4 Ohio on Saturday at noon.

“It’s frustrating,” said IU outfielder Logan Sowers, who finished with a pair of RBI doubles. “It puts us in a tough spot, but we’ll bounce back tomorrow.”

The Hoosiers carried a 5-4 lead into the top of the eighth inning, when N.C. State All-American Joe Dunand crushed a solo homer off reliever B.J. Sabol to tie the game and, eventually, force extra innings. In his two innings of work, it was among the few mistakes Sabol made. But it was a costly one, and in a postseason environment when the margins are thin, it represented another hiccup by an Indiana bullpen that has struggled to do its job across the past couple weeks.

But it wasn’t just the pitching that hurt Indiana on this night.

An uncharacteristic error by shortstop Jeremy Houston put runners on the corners with no outs in the 12th. Moments later, N.C. State’s Garrett Suggs scored on Lloyd’s wild pitch. Brad Debo later added valuable insurance with his RBI single to right field.

The Hoosiers got a run back in the bottom half when Craig Dedelow lifted a two-out fly ball to the left field corner. N.C. State left fielder Brett Kinneman whiffed on the diving catch, allowing Luke Miller to score from first base and get the Hoosiers back within one run.

But the game ended when Sowers struck out, putting the Hoosiers on the brink of elimination.

“Great college baseball game,” IU coach Chris Lemonis said. “It stinks to be on the bottom side of it, I can tell you that. We just didn’t finish well.”

Of all the contributing factors to a loss, a late-inning error by Houston may have been the least likely. The freshman has emerged as one of the best defensive shortstops in the Big Ten, but he got caught in between hops trying to turn a double play in the 12th inning, allowing N.C. State (35-23) to generate momentum during its winning inning.

“I saw our shortstop make an aggressive play,” Lemonis said. “He went for it and got caught in between. He’s one of the best shortstops I’ve ever coached. I never walk out there just to talk, but I could see all the heads go down. I told Jeremy, ‘That’s how we play. We’re aggressive. We go for it and that’s just a tough bounce for us.’ He can be my shortstop out there any day.”

The 12th inning also marked the 10th time Friday that an N.C. State leadoff man reached base against Hoosier pitching, an ominous statistic that finally bit Indiana in the end.

“It’s tough,” Lemonis said.

Especially on a night when Indiana’s bats seemed able to respond.

Trailing by a run after the first half inning, the Hoosiers chased Wolfpack starter Johnny Piedmonte after only one-third of an inning, smacking a series of hard-hit balls to the left field gap. Indiana clubbed three consecutive doubles to begin the bottom of the first, including a two-run double by Luke Miller that put Indiana on the board. Miller later scored on a fielder’s choice.

The Wolfpack got a run back in the next half inning on Evan Mendoza’s RBI double before Sowers supplied his first run-scoring double of the day, giving IU a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the third.

After N.C. State’s Will Wilson clubbed a two-run homer to tie the game at 4-4 in the fourth, Sowers responded with his second RBI double of the game in the fifth, giving the Hoosiers a lead that would stand until the eighth.

IU got a decent start out of Pauly Milto, who had been the Hoosiers’ Saturday starter down the stretch. By starting Milto, Indiana saved Jonathan Stiever for either a showdown with host Kentucky or an elimination game against Ohio — the latter being the situation Stiever walks into Saturday.

Milto battled for six innings, striking out a career-high nine batters, walking none and scattering seven hits.

The Hoosiers have spoken previously about being at their best with their backs against the wall.

When they return to Cliff Hagan Stadium on Saturday morning, it’ll be time to prove it again.

“We’ve played this game, it feels like, all year,” Lemonis said. “It’s just normal for them. I think that’s the biggest piece for them. They’re used to playing this and it hasn’t been easy for this team all year long. They’re going to have a quick night, a little nap and then we’ll get up and play baseball.”

4 comments

  1. Hoosiers received favorable seed and still are just a level below. Not quite good enough. Pitching lacks but also not an offensive power when game is on line either. However, hail to IU baseball future as in response of IU major sports. Currently, Maybe IU ladies basketball has the edge.

    1. Do you think so, t?

      Nice “appearances,” but Is this simply the final door closing on the residual uptick from the Tracy Smith era…?
      Will we witness the same false positives for Allen’s first years as the metamorphosis Wilson brought to IU Football fades into mediocrity again?

      Basketball should have always been the supreme focus to put IU back on track …and back on national stages.

      Leadership? Phooey!

  2. Interesting that UK named its stadium after a former Jeffersonville HS basketball coach. Hagen coached former Red Devil Cotton Nash who went on to be (at the time) the all time leading scorer for the Cats.

Comments are closed.