Hart leads No. 16 Indiana over No. 20 Kentucky

If it seemed like Kyle Hart was pitching like he was on a deadline, it’s because he was.

The Indiana junior left-hander took the mound for a 4:05 p.m. start but had to be on campus for a 7 p.m. chemistry exam. That left no time for a walk-fest like the one he had in his first start of the season against Texas Tech. Hart had no time to mess around.

So he didn’t. Hart didn’t walk a batter in eight innings, striking out eight, scattering five hits and allowing just one earned run to lead No. 16 Indiana to an important, 7-2 win over No. 20 Kentucky in front of 2,746 at a finally sunny Bart Kaufman Field. The Hoosiers (8-6) have now won six of seven after starting the season 2-5.

The game was finished in just two hours and 18 minutes. Hart had to apologetically decline a request to speak to the media afterward, but he was done in plenty of time to make it to his exam.

In previous seasons, Hart would have had no reason to fear being late for the tests because his style is to work quickly and pound the strike zone. Last season, he walked just 27 batters in 83 2/3 innings. However, in his first two starts this season, he walked seven batters in seven innings and didn’t make it through the fifth inning in either outing.

Tuesday’s start was further evidence that he’s shaken off those troubles. He had four walks last week against Xavier, but also pitched seven scoreless innings in a 2-1 win. Against a Kentucky team that started had scored an astounding 50 runs in its previous two games, Hart had command and movement on all of his pitches, getting ahead in counts with his fastball and getting outs with his curveball, slider and change-up.

“It’s great to have him, you know, back,” junior catcher Kyle Schwarber said. “It was a rough two starts for him (to begin the season). He came out there against Xavier. He had a couple of walks and wasn’t at his sharpest, but he was still competing. Today, it was like it was old him again, back there hitting his spots, mixing every pitch for strikes. It was good.”

It was an important development for the 6-foot-5, 185-pound left-hander, who was in the Hoosiers’ weekend rotation for all of last season and who started there this year. The fact that he’s pitched Indiana’s last two mid-week games and that he was used only in relief in this past weekend’s series at Jacksonville suggests something of a demotion, but Hart’s role will be critical regardless of when he starts. The Hoosiers missed out on several opportunities at NCAA Tournament-resume building wins in the season’s first two weekends and they can’t afford slip-ups in conference play or in mid-week non-conference games.

“He’s done it before, and we’ve been looking for that consistency out of him,” IU coach Tracy Smith said. “He’s a three-pitch guy, and he had all three of them working today. We needed that. This is a big win, not just for the team, but also for him, to get him back on track personally because he struggled a little bit early. … He really commanded the zone today.”

Tuesday’s game wasn’t just a redemption game for Hart, but for the Hoosiers as a whole. They won two of three on the road against Jacksonville last weekend, but Smith said there were a lot of things about the performance and the mood in the dugout he didn’t like.

“We weren’t real team-focused,” Smith said. “Nothing overt, but in terms of approaches at the plate, in terms of just not Indiana baseball, always hustle, always paying attention, doing what we’re supposed to do. That was something we addressed during the weekend, something we addressed internally as a team. The guys, they knew it. It wasn’t just me. We did not feel good about taking two out of three down there.”

On Tuesday, they played much more like themselves and their offense looked much more like it did last season than it has at times this year. Third baseman Dustin DeMuth hit his first home run of the season in the fourth, a two-run homer that gave the Hoosiers a 4-2 lead. Schwarber crushed a first-pitch fastball well over the wall in dead center field in the fifth and first baseman Sam Travis ripped a two-run single into the left-center field gap in the eighth. Second baseman Casey Rodrigue also drove home a run in the first with a double and later scored on an RBI groundout by designated hitter Scott Donley.

Hart surrendered a solo home run to Kentucky third baseman Max Kuhn in the fourth, and the Wildcats scored a run in the fifth thanks in large part to an error by Rodrigue, but the Hoosiers otherwise played clean and took another win that will matter when the tournament field comes out in late May.

“These are wins that we need to have if we’re going to host regionals, and we want to host a Super Regional,” Schwarber said. “We’re going to start playing good baseball, Indiana baseball and good things will happen. These are the wins that we need.”

2 comments

  1. Good crowd out there yesterday. Looks like this team is starting to get things back on track. Fun to watch them yesterday.

  2. Yep, an overflow crowd on a gorgeous day and a resounding win. And they managed to move it along pretty briskly, finishing in about 2 hours, a rarity. Baseball doesn’t get much better than this (outside of Wrigley Field)!

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