Clark’s walk-off homer gives Indiana 5-4 win

WHAT HAPPENED: After Indiana fell behind 4-1 in the top of the ninth inning, the No. 1 seed Hoosiers rallied back in the bottom of the inning and beat No. 4 seed Valparaiso 5-4 on a walk-off, two-run home run by second baseman Chad Clark. The victory in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 3,045 at Bart Kaufman Field allows the Hoosiers to advance in the winner’s bracket of the Bloomington Regional of the NCAA Tournament. It was Indiana’s second ever win in an NCAA Tournament game and its first since 1996.

The Hoosiers play No. 2 seed Austin Peay at 6 p.m. today. No. 4 seed Valparaiso plays No. 3 seed Florida at 2 p.m.

WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: Clark, a 5-foot-7, 170-pound second baseman who came into the game hitting .237 came through with a timely single in the seventh that followed an RBI double by Indiana right fielder Casey Smith that finally got the Hoosiers on the board. However, he also made a pair of defensive miscues in the ninth that allowed the Hoosiers to fall behind 4-1. Part of the problem was positioning, as IU coach Tracy Smith usually plays Clark very deep in second base to give him time to react to hard hit balls on Bart Kaufman Field’s Turf, but he was angry at himself regardless With one out and runners on first and second, Valparaislo second baseman Tanner Vavra hit a grounder to shortstop Michael Basil that might have been a double play. Clark was slightly late getting to the bag, however. VU center fielder Bryce Hara beat the throw and that loaded the bases. The next hitter, first baseman John Loeffler, hit a bouncer toward the second base bag that Clark charged but misplayed, allowing two runners to score.However, in the ninth after a pair of RBI doubles by Smith and third baseman Dustin DeMuth, Clark ripped an 0-1 hung slider from Valparaiso closer Karch Kowalczyk over the left field wall.

Smith’s contributions were also critical. He struggled to pick up the ball hitting from the left side against Valparaiso right-handerĀ  Cole Webb, who confounded the Hoosiers for seven innings with his exaggerated over-the-top delivery and nasty cutters and breaking pitches. Smith turned around and hit from the right side in the seventh and hit the double, Indiana’s first extra-base hit of the game. He then ripped a double down the line of Kowalcyzk that cut the deficit to 4-3 and put Clark up with a chance to win it.

The Hoosiers might not have been in that position if not for a dominant relief effort from freshman right-hander Scott Effross. Starter Aaron Slegers, the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, was off his game early, giving up six hits in the first four innings. Though Valparaiso had only scored two runs, Tracy Smith pulled him after four innings in favor of Effross, who has experience as a long reliever and was a starter in high school. Effross followed with four scoreless innings before allowing a pair of runners to reach in the ninth who would later score. Both of those runs were unearned.

HOW IT HAPPENED: The Hoosiers seemed over anxious early at the plate and in the field. Slegers was off, the Hoosiers were having trouble fielding the ball and they were often foolishly aggressive at the plate, swinging at bad pitches and trying to get the 2-0 deficit back all at once. Webb was on point, but it certainly helped that they continued to swing at what he wanted them to swing at. He gave up just five hits in seven innings and walked just two batters. He threw 103 pitches, 69 of them for strikes.

Smith’s double in the seventh helped them get their confidence back, however. and even though Valparaiso closer Karch Kowalczyk had given up just one run in 25 innings this season, posting a 0.36 ERA, the change of pace to a more conventional pitcher seemed to actually put them in a comfort zone. Kowalczyk was hanging his breaking pitches and the Hoosiers were all over them with DeMuth and Smith hitting the back-to-back doubles and Clark sitting on a slider he knew he’d be able to pound.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN: The Hoosiers were evidently jittery in the first every NCAA game in Bloomington. Ordinarily they are empowered by big crowds at Bart Kaufman Field, but this time they were tense, and that was evident all the way until the ninth inning.

From a straight logistical standpoint, the win was beyond critical. Going to the loser’s bracket would mean having to win four games straight, which would be difficult because, like most college teams who average four games per week during the year, they don’t have a real fifth starter. But it was just as important for morale. Losing the first game would be crushing to the morale of a team that came in considering Omaha to be a realistic possibility. Winning the first game in dramatic fashion means, in Smith’s words “Okay, monkey off the back, let’s play.”

WHO SAID WHAT:

From the wonderful ASAP Sports people

INDIANA
COACH SMITH: Yeah, I think it’s probably
easy when a ballgame like that, especially the way
that it ended, to be getting excited.
But I always walk away from those games,
whether I’m on this side of it or the other side of it;
that that’s why we love this game and that’s why
we hate this game. It can give you such a range of
emotions in just a short amount of time, and quite
honestly, I was already — I shouldn’t say it
publically, but I was already formulating my, what
am I going to say to these guys speech at the end
of the game.
So it’s just a heck of a ballgame, and you
know, I thought Valparaiso’s pitcher did an
unbelievable job against us, kept us in check the
whole way. But I think what you see with that
game again, going back to baseball, that’s why it’s
such a great game, because you can never tell
until that last out is over with.
So, wonderful ballgame. Certainly I know
I’m speaking for these guys and everybody in that
locker room, I’m very glad we won the game, but
again, you know, I’m not going to do the — and I
know, I’ve been on the other side of that with Tracy
and how they must be feeling, but it was a good
ballgame on their end, and we just got it and we
were fortunate tonight.
Q. Chad, take us through your ninth
inning to the error and at-bat and everything
thereafter; what was that entire inning like for
you emotionally?
CHAD CLARK: Started off bases loaded
fielder’s choice. I was late to the bag and we didn’t
get that guy. I was playing back, also, to kind of
keep him from getting a base hit and kind of
overran the ball a little bit.
So I knew, I had a little motivation going
into the bottom of the ninth at the plate, and I was
pretty mad, but I kind of used that to my
advantage.
Q. What were you seeing so well off of
Kowalczyk?
CASEY SMITH: I think the easiest part for
me was just switching to the right side. I see it a
lot better, nothing to it.
CHAD CLARK: I was just looking for — I
was kind of laying off the slider, because he was
throwing it off the plate. I knew he was coming
back in a fastball, like later in the game, he was
working some right-handed hitters inside and I
swung at the first pitch up and in and just kind of —
it was more of a reaction swing than anything else.
Q. Chad, have you ever gone from the
goat to the hero that quickly, and just how
much relief did you feel, picking up your
teammates?
CHAD CLARK: That’s never happened to
me in my life. Never had a walk-off hit. Just it
feels great. Feels good to help the team out again,
kind of make up for my mistakes on the field.
Q. Casey, your dad talked last week, if
it’s not easy, it’s not as fun; two weeks ago
Ohio State, last week in the Big Ten
tournament, first walk-off win was for the Big
Ten Championship and now tonight. Does this
team feed off the drama as it increases
exponentially?
CASEY SMITH: Yeah, I’d say so. I think
we saw the people there, we wanted to give them
a show all the way down to the last out, which we
did (Laughter.).
Q. Scott, four and two thirds from you
tonight, what was working you out on the
mound, felt like you got into a groove right
away.
SCOTT EFFROSS:
Got out there and
knew I had a job to do, keep us in the game. Felt
like I did that and I knew at-bats would come
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around eventually like they did. So I tried to mix up
my pitches a lot which seemed to be working and
not keep the ball down.
Q. Who was here from California?
CHAD CLARK: My dad, my mom and my
grandma are here from California. They came in
last night at 1:00 AM.
Q. First home run of the year, when
you hit it, did you know it and when did you
know it and can you describe the feeling when
you hit it in?
CHAD CLARK: I kind of knew it. I knew I
was going to smoke the ball right right when it
came out of his hand because he hung the slider.
I knew it was coming, and then right when I hit it, I
knew it, too.
Q. When you come around the plate,
what was that like? A couple guys grabbed
you and said something to you, three or four
guys as you were walking to the dugout; what
did those guys say and what were those
moments like afterwards?
CHAD CLARK: I don’t really even know
what they said. I kind of forgot (Laughter). But it
was just all positive, like, I love you, stuff like that
(Laughter.) Great job. That was most of it.
Q. Just kind of talk about the emotions
from the start of the game, hosting a regional,
home crowd here, how much those emotions
played in, and was there a point in the game
where you had to put those emotions aside and
get into the flow of the game?
CASEY SMITH: Yeah, you look around,
it’s hard not to see everything going on. It’s hard
not to see thousands of people and where we were
last year to where we are now. The one thing I
think this team is so good at is we don’t ride on
emotion. I think we say pretty steady, as evident
tonight with the home run late in the game.
SCOTT EFFROSS: It was definitely great
to see all those people. We’ve had great fan
support all year and good to see them come out to
the regional. Obviously there was some jitters in
the beginning but we definitely settled in and were
able to play our type of baseball for the rest of the
regionals.
CHAD CLARK: Start of the game there
were definitely some nerves especially with the
crowd, but as the game went on, we settled down
and the bats started coming alive a little bit and we
kind of played our game, and basically just kept
going and kept being confident.
Q. Coach always talks about you guys
have become accustomed to having a target on
your back; did this serve as a wake-up call that
it’s post-season time and everybody is going to
bring their best?
CASEY SMITH: Yeah, I think we have got
a new life. I think that home run helped us just
push that aside, forget about it and keep moving
on for tomorrow.
SCOTT EFFROSS: Yeah, definitely with
Chad doing what he did in the last inning, it’s huge
for going into tomorrow. Like I said, we’ll have to
be more on our game tomorrow and playing
Indiana baseball like we are supposed to.
CHAD CLARK: Yeah, we got the kinks out
this game and I think we are ready to go tomorrow.
Q. When Chad comes out, does what
he does, what was that like to see a guy that
made a mistake forget about it and come with a
good approach to the plate
COACH SMITH: Well, I was going to put
my own context, because really, I think in fairness
to him before we run with the goat-to-hero
scenario, I mean, he really — the inning or the play
that we didn’t get the force at second, he was
deep.
He was playing deep.
That flip never
should have gone to second.
The play that — the only mistake he made
in that inning in my opinion was allowing the
second run to happen. They were going to beat
out the ball to first base on the other one. So I
want to be fair to him, that he wasn’t the result of
three runs. To me the mistake was not keeping
the ball in the infield.
But it was so funny, you can get a sense of
how he is right there. He’s a tough guy. There will
be days in practice where he will do things that are
the most bonehead things you’ve ever seen in your
life. And you can’t stay mad at him, because you
say something to him, and he looks right at you
and says, “That’s my fault, Coach, I won’t do it
again,” and just kind of walk away. The world we
are used to now, people make excuses and do all
these things. And so, I’m not surprised.
He doesn’t let things bother him, and
again, I don’t want him to go away thinking that he
had to do what he did right there, because it didn’t
really cost us a lot that last one. It was a big hit.

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But he won’t be like this on that. That’s just not his
personality, he’ll stay right here and that’s what I
love about that kid. But I’m happy for him. That
was a huge, huge hit.
Q. How big was it when you got from
Effross, how important was it tonight?
COACH SMITH: You know, they can say
what they want, but I would beg to differ on their
reaction to tonight and the crowd. I thought we
were — and my son probably said it the best: He
wanted to put on a show.
I felt like we were more worried about
playing well for our hometown people rather than
just going out and playing baseball. That’s all I
said, are you ready now, because we were so
caught up and Slegers is a perfect example of that.
He was around the zone and attacking the zone,
and that was not him tonight. I did not like what I
was seeing out of him. I thought he was pitching
tentatively and that’s not him. Whether it was the
nerves — I don’t think he’s fatigued. He just wasn’t
sharp tonight but that’s the beauty of this is he’s
got quality guys who come in behind him.
Q.
Casey’s first double, against a
right-hand hitter, what did you see — inaudible.
COACH SMITH: Going back to — and I’ll
probably lay awake tonight, just on what I said:
Was it our nerves, are we too anxious; or, I’m not
going to deny that that kid, he was on, and he was
on tonight. Because he had some pretty darned
good hitters coming back saying, I can’t see it.
And if you notice, we swung at a lot of — the
left-handers were swinging a lot of back-foot
breaking balls.
Casey came to me and said: “I think I’ll
see it much better right-handed.” And I actually
thought about that earlier. It looked like to me that
our right-handers were seeing the ball better. He
was on tonight and did a really good job of keeping
us in check.
Good thing he has his mother’s
genetics where he can switch around like that, hit
right-handed and left-handed.
Q.
Chad always plays back; what’s
your theory behind putting him as far back?
COACH SMITH: Turf. At that point, that
kid struck a couple balls outside. You’re just trying
to be as big as you can and give yourself a better
percentage on an angle and that was the decision
on that.
When they don’t hit it with a lot of force, it
makes you look silly but if he smokes one, gives
you an extra better angle and keeps it in the infield
right there and you throw the guy out, you look like
a genius.
I’m a percentage guy and try to play those
and I try to see what the hitter is doing, and that kid
put some pretty good swings on to the right side
and just happened to roll over that one a little bit.
But in my opinion, he was probably going to beat
that one out, anyway. The second one shouldn’t
happened, but certainly the first one, I think he was
going to be safe.
Q.
You said that you were thinking
about what you were going to say to the team
after, what did you end up saying?
COACH SMITH: And this game could be
so mental, it’s like golf, I always tell people, this
game can give you such a wide range of emotions,
and I’m human, too.
I’m sitting there the whole time, I’m
frustrating internally, trying not to show it externally
but I’m frustrated internally because I’m saying, we
are better than what we are doing right now.
These guys, sometimes I think we forget, they are
17-, 18-year-old kids, 20, this is the first time they
have seen this and they are trying to please
everybody here in their hometown.
So I was kind of running through that. But
one swing of the bat changed all that. It was the
feeling, it was kind of like, okay, monkey off the
back, let’s play. And that was probably going to be
my greatest disappointment is Webb was on but I
didn’t think that we were — we weren’t playing our
style of baseball.
We were so anxious tonight, swinging at a
ton of bad pitches, but I think it was Chad that said
that, that hit is going to help us. And not only does
it help you stay in the winner’s bracket, but I think
it’s going to help guys relax a little bit.
Q. Does this remind you of Ramos’s
slam in extra innings against Ohio State? Do
you think it’s a similar thing now?
COACH SMITH:
Probably a little bit.
There’s footage of it, but we had the Tyler Cox
home run that was on national TV in a Big Ten
tournament. I can’t remember the year, but it was
in ’08: Let a ground ball go-between his legs and
in the ninth, we brought in a closer who only had
one extra base hit all year and we had a walk-off
Grand Slam. And I heard somebody say it; that
was the Tyler Cox home run right there. Some of

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the guys had no idea who it is.
I’m happy for Chad and I’m happy for our
guys. I always say, you get what you deserve, and
had we lost the game, it would have been very
easy for me to say we got what we deserved. But
the way they hung in there and fought until the last
out, I think we got what we deserved. Our guys
stayed tough, stayed focused and they got it done
when we needed to.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports …

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An Interview With:
VALPARAISO
COACH
WOODSON:
Well,
just
disappointed, especially for the guys. Thought we
controlled the game for eight innings. We put it in
the hands of our closer and he’s been lights-out all
year and he hung up a breaking ball. But overall,
just disappointed because we had the game in
hand. We were in control for eight innings.
Q. What was working for you? Seemed
like in the end they never figured you out.
COLE WEBB: I was really locating all my
pitches well tonight. We just stuck to the game
plan and didn’t let anything affect us. My cutter
kept hitting the outside spot and it just kind of kept
repetitious and ended up doing well tonight.
Q.
Just the delivery you had, the
straight-over-the-top motion, what makes that
work as well as it does? Seems like they had
no way of just getting to you at all. How does
that usually work for you that well?
COLE WEBB: To be honest, I used to be
a quarterback and so that’s kind of the same
throwing motion.
I just brought that over to
baseball. That’s just my normal throwing motion,
so it’s normal for me.
Q. Obviously when you’re in control of
a game like that, how disappointing is it to get
there and see it fall apart like that at the end?
COLE WEBB:
It’s tough, obviously
because the guy we put in, obviously we had the
most confidence in and he’s really done it all year.
It was just one of those games where — every
closer has it, and obviously it’s pretty emotional
and it’s pretty tough, because the four versus one
and all that. But we are just going to come back
come and be ready.
Q. What was the message in the locker
room and then how do you bounce back?
ANDREW BAIN: Just have to have a short
memory, whether it’s an at-bat in a game or a loss
like tonight. We’ve just got to cut it out and be
ready to go tomorrow. Up the intensity we have
before a game to get us over that hump, but we’ll
be ready to go tomorrow for sure.
Q. What was the difference in Indiana’s
two pitchers tonight, seemed like you were
punishing a lot of swingers’ mistakes but
Effross came in, two hits, four and a third; what
was the difference between those two guys?
ANDREW BAIN: I thought Effross did a
really good job of mixing his changeup and
fastball. At first couldn’t really tell the difference if
he was throwing one or the other and that really
kept us off-balance.
And the other starter, we were just able to
hit a couple mistakes that he left up.
He
challenged us, and we were able to put some
through.
Q. What made Cole as good as he was
tonight?
COACH WOODSON: That’s the way he’s
been all year. He lost two 1-0 games early in the
year. I thought he was going to be a great
match-up especially with the left-handed hitters
because he runs the ball in on them. The cutter,
it’s probably better than a slider; it’s just hard to
pick up, and we’ve now had a couple guys that
have thrown that pitch over the last three or four
years and they have been very successful.
It gets tougher when you come, third and
fourth time around, but didn’t have that problem
tonight. We were debating whether to send him
out; he said he was out of gas, and I think the heat
got to him a little bit and we went to Mahar first.
Q. With Kowalczyk, was it a matter of
the wrong mistakes at the wrong time and just
a couple hung pitches?
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COACH WOODSON: Yeah, and if we get
the lead tomorrow, he’ll be back in there again.
He’s been that good for us; 1.30 ERA, one earned
run all year in 25 innings. You know, and I think
Indianas and the Floridas, they see guys like that
all the time. You can’t make mistakes. And the
breaking ball was up, or they swung through it or
they grounded out.
Q. Also, just from the base running
side of things, you talked a lot yesterday about
being aggressive on the bases and it felt like
tonight you kind of maybe had Indiana
off-balance sometimes, defensively and on the
mound; is that something you thought you
saw?
COACH WOODSON: We thought we had
the starter. We thought we had him thinking about
it a little bit. And then the second guy, the one
inning when he walked the first two, I think the guy
on first, bouncing around, thinking he was going to
go affected him. We needed to add runs in that
inning and we didn’t.
I can’t complain about the way our guys
played. That’s a hard game to take.

2 comments

  1. Gotta love the never say die Hoosiers. At the beginning of the year I thought I was going to Atlanta, now it looks like I’m headed to Omaha.

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