Stiever, Sowers lead Hoosiers to 11-2 win over Bobcats

LEXINGTON, Ky. — It was after midnight by the time Indiana settled in at its team hotel following Friday’s late-night loss.

With first pitch of Saturday’s elimination game less than 12 hours away, there was no time to dwell on what had become of their course through this NCAA Tournament regional. The text message waiting on Chris Lemonis’ phone served as a good reminder.

A friend of Lemonis sent him a pick-me-up message, rhetorically asking the IU baseball coach what he was doing this time last year. The answer? Indiana wasn’t a tournament team last June, and Lemonis spent some of that time sitting on his couch, watching everybody else play.

After a tough loss, it was a reminder to make the most of the remaining opportunities. And that’s what Indiana did on Saturday afternoon.

Jonathan Stiever tossed a complete game, Logan Sowers hit three home runs and No. 2 Indiana remained alive in the NCAA Tournament with an 11-2 win over No. 4 Ohio on Saturday at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

The Hoosiers (34-23-2) will play the loser between host Kentucky and No. 3 North Carolina State on Sunday at 1 p.m.

With the text from his buddy still fresh in his mind Saturday morning, Lemonis asked his Hoosiers to seize the day. Every year, he told them, a team seems to come out of the loser’s bracket and upset the field.

“We didn’t take any feel-sorry-for-ourselves approach this morning when we went into our meetings,” Lemonis said. “We got an opportunity to play, and I challenged them.”

On Saturday, Stiever and Sowers answered.

Stiever had to settle in to do so. His first inning was a maze of missed pitches and uncharacteristic walks. The sophomore has built a reputation as a strike thrower during his first season in IU’s weekend rotation, but he labored through that initial inning, hitting the zone on only 13 of his 25 pitches.

Stiever, who entered the outing with only six walks on the season, issued three free passes in the first inning alone. With the bases loaded and no outs, he walked in Ohio’s first run before yielding an RBI sacrifice fly to Bobcats cleanup batter Michael Klein.

“I was probably a little too pumped up for the first inning,” Stiever said. “I missed some balls and spots, but after that I was able to get into a groove and let the defense play behind me.”

Although he allowed the two runs, it could’ve been worse.

It took a pretty 4-6-3 double play to help Stiever get out of the inning without further damage. At that point, right-hander Cal Krueger had been warming in the IU bullpen and, without that double play, Stiever may not have seen another inning — or another batter.

“That was close. It was close,” Lemonis admitted. “… But we were real leery to take him out because it would have been hard to win.”

From there, Stiever settled in. After throwing 40 pitches across his first two innings, he needed only 39 more to get through the next four innings. He retired nine in a row at one point during the middle innings and provided Indiana the platform to begin its comeback.

“Jonathan just kept getting stronger and stronger and stronger as the game went on,” Lemonis said. “It sets us up a lot better going into the game tomorrow, giving us some fresh arms.”

Sowers also helped the Hoosiers see another day.

After an ugly Big Ten Tournament, where he went 1-for-15 across IU’s three games, Sowers is dominating at the plate so far this weekend. He’s 6-for-8 with seven RBIs after hitting two solo home runs and a three-run shot on Saturday.

“I’m just trying to stay a little bit more relaxed,” Sowers said. “I think I was trying to do too much in the Big Ten Tournament, pulling off the ball a little bit. Here, I’m trying to stay in the middle and work through the back side.”

Sowers and Craig Dedelow helped erase IU’s early deficit beginning in the top of the second, when Sowers lined a shot that just cleared the wall in right-centerfield. In the fourth, Dedelow went deep to right for his team-best 18th home run of the season.

Dedelow’s blast was the beginning of a three-run rally for the Hoosiers, who took a 4-2 lead on Jake Matheny’s two-run single through the left side. For Indiana, the fourth inning began a string of five consecutive innings with at least one run.

Matt Gorski added an RBI double in the fifth before Tony Butler scored on a fielding error by Ohio third baseman Connor Callery in the sixth.

Sowers added his second solo home run of the day in the seventh before Luke Miller drove in Tony Butler on an RBI single to left field in the eighth. Later, Sowers followed with his three-run homer over the fence in left.

It was one more blast in a game full of them, helping to keep the Hoosiers alive, while answering their coach’s challenge.

“Somebody is coming out of the loser’s bracket and winning a regional somewhere,” Lemonis said. “There are 16 sites and somebody is coming out of the loser’s bracket. That’s our goal.”