IU completes sweep of Evansville with 6-5 win in extras

First came the squeegees, then came the brooms.

Indiana completed its sweep of Evansville on a soggy Sunday afternoon.

It took a while for the Hoosiers to reach that result, what with a two-hour, 15-minute rain delay to start the day, and an extra frame to finish it. But second baseman Drew Ashley made IU’s wait worth it in the bottom of the 10th, lifting a game-winning single to left field that propelled Indiana to a 6-5 victory at Bart Kaufman Field.

Not only was the sweep oh-so-sweet for the Hoosiers (24-12), winners of seven in a row, it was important, too. The Evansville series represented four high-caliber opportunities for IU to continue its climb in the RPI rankings, the backbone to any team’s NCAA Tournament resume.

The Aces (17-15) entered the series ranked 35th in the RPI, having padded their own postseason profile with a series win over baseball powerhouse Dallas Baptist last week. But Indiana seized its chance to earn quality wins, getting three straight sterling pitching performances to start the series before piecing together a bullpen day in the finale. At the plate, IU polished off the sweep with seven doubles on Sunday, climbing to No. 25 in the RPI in the process.

“It’s tremendously valuable,” IU coach Jeff Mercer said. “Obviously, winning a four-game set is really, really difficult. But winning it against a really good team – a top 35 RPI club, a club that beat a really good Dallas Baptist team last weekend.

“… We talk about putting ourselves in position to compete and, in practice, winning a conference tournament, winning a regional. And to be in those environments, you have to go play good teams. And obviously Evansville is a quality club, well-coached. It’s a huge series sweep for us.”

After starters Pauly Milto, Tanner Gordon and Andrew Saalfrank pitched IU to wins in the first three games this weekend, Mercer was unsure what to do on the mound on Sunday.

He figured it would be a bullpen day, with Milto, Gordon and Saalfrank providing ample rest for IU’s relievers on Friday and Saturday. But Mercer wasn’t sure who would start.

First, he considered sophomore Tommy Sommer, who authored six outstanding innings against Purdue on Wednesday. But Mercer ultimately decided on Sunday morning to hold off and save Sommer for Tuesday’s 6:05 p.m. home game vs. Ball State.

That left him with Cam Beauchamp, who last pitched on April 5 vs. Penn State. Beauchamp worked two innings, allowing a pair of unearned runs in the first after right fielder Grant Richardson dropped a foul ball. Tanner Craig followed the gaffe with an RBI double before the Hoosiers traded a run for an out on A.J. Fritz’s grounder to the left side.

In the second, Evansville leadoff man Sam Troyer lined a two-out double into left field that scored Matthew Jones and boosted the Aces’ lead to 3-0.

The Hoosiers did the bulk of their offensive work in the bottom of the inning, clubbing four doubles and scoring four runs. Three consecutive two-baggers from Scotty Bradley, Cole Barr and Richardson produced the Hoosiers’ first two runs, before Matt Gorski’s two-out double drove in two more runs and gave Indiana a 4-3 advantage.

IU later added insurance in the eighth when Richardson scored on a wild pitch.

In the meantime, Indiana’s bullpen was in control. Mercer used four relievers to bridge the gap to closer Matt Lloyd with two outs in the eighth. The crew of Connor Manous, Braden Scott, Gabe Bierman and Grant Sloan combined for 5 2/3 innings of scoreless work over the middle innings, yielding only two hits.

Lloyd, though, took some damage in the ninth, allowing his first two runs in his 12 2/3 innings worked this season.

Craig Shepherd led off with a double, then came around to score on Nate Reeder’s RBI single. That base hit was the first of three straight seeing-eye singles by Evansville, which tied the game when Lloyd walked Troy Beilsmith with the bases loaded and nobody out.

“Matt Lloyd is human,” Mercer said. “But I will say this: several of the groundballs they hit, three or four feet the other way (and they’d be fielded). They hit some decent balls, but when you’re a sinkerballer and they hit groundballs, sometimes they find holes.”

The Hoosiers escaped the bases-loaded jam with some nifty work in the field, beginning with second baseman Drew Ashley’s throw home for first out. Ashley quickly recognized the play at the plate, and threw a wet ball that catcher Wyatt Cross picked off the turf for the out.

“That’s a tough play,” Ashley said. “It was king of a read thing, where we were reading the runner with where we were playing. But I felt like I got a good jump on it, then Wyatt made a great pick on it to help me out with the throw.”

Then, a 6-3 double play turned by shortstop Justin Walker and first baseman Scotty Bradley got IU out of the inning without further trouble.

“We talk so much and work so much on our core being a defensive team,” Mercer said. “In those situations, there are decisions you have to make. You make the decision, ‘I’m going to be locked-in here, I’m going to compete, even though it’s a bad situation that we’re in.’

“… We’ve spent so much time working on those things, it was incredible to see the guys go out and just compete through it and make big-time plays.”

Ashley stepped up again in the bottom of the 10th, recognizing that the situation called for him to merely lift a ball to the outfield. Walker started the rally with a double down the left field line before Evansville intentionally walked Elijah Dunham, then unintentionally walked Cross.

With the bases loaded, Ashley turned on a fastball and drove it deep to left field, where it dropped in for a game-winning single. For Ashley, a product of Evansville Memorial, it was a special way to end the day.

“It’s huge,” Ashley said. “it was huge going back home Friday night and playing against them there. Just being in front of the hometown crowd and seeing all those people. Seeing all my friends at the game, really, and then I know a bunch of those guys on that team, so it’s great to see them. It’s always fun to compete against those guys.”