Indiana advances to Big Ten title game

WHAT HAPPENED: Scott Donley broke a 4-4 tie with a two-run double in the ninth inning and Indiana defeated Michigan State 7-4 in the Big Ten Touranment on Saturday at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.

The No. 1 seed Hoosiers improved to 41-13 overall and advance to play No. 2 seed Nebraska at 2 p.m. on Sunday in a winner-take-all championship game. No. 6 seed Michigan State is eliminated from the tournament.

Indiana fell behind 2-0 in the first on a two-run double by Michigan State catcher Joel Fisher. The Hoosiers tied the game in the second, however, when Donley led off with a double, went to second when third baseman Dustin DeMuth beat out a ground ball to first and scored on an RBI groundout by left fielder Brad Hartong. Right fielder Will Nolden then singled up the middle to tie the game. 

The Hoosiers took a 3-2 lead in the sixth when catcher Kyle Schwarber singled, first baseman Sam Travis clubbed a double off the left field wall and Donley grounded to second to score Schwarber. Michigan State tied it in the sixth, however, on an RBI single by right fielder Jimmy Pickens.

IU took a 4-3 advantage in the seventh when right fielder Will Nolden walked, went to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a double by center fielder Tim O’Conner. Michigan State matched that in the eighth when left fielder Cam Gibson singled, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored when IU third baseman Dustin DeMuth mis-played a grounder off the bat of MSU designated hitter Blaise Salter.

In the ninth, though, O’Conner and Rodrigue were hit by pitches to start the inning. Schwarber lined a single to right that loaded the bases. Travis hit a grounder to short that Michigan State turned into a force out at home, but Donley clubbed a 1-1 pitch from MSU’s Mick Van Vossen over Pickens head in right field to bring in Rodrigue and Schwarber. Travis later scored when MSU reliever Chase Rihtarchik badly missed when trying to intentionally walk DeMuth for a wild pitch. IU’s Jake Kelzer pitched a scoreless ninth to get the win.

WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: Donley’s double was obviously the game-changer. He finished 2-for-5 with a run scored and three RBI, and was the first IU hitter to make contact against Michigan State left-hander Anthony Misiewicz.

O’Conner’s hit was also critical, though, even though Michigan State ended up matching it. The .185 hitter battled throughout the game, fighting off pitches throughout his first two at-bats even though he struck out on both of them, and he finally squared one up in the seventh.

Schwarber was 2-for-4 with two runs, Nolden had an RBI and a run scored. Travis’ double was punished, falling just a foot short of the yellow line at the top of the left field wall.

Left fielder Brad Hartong drove in a run and also made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch in left field that turned into a double play.

IU right-hander Evan Bell got his first start of the season because senior left-hander Brian Korte was held out with minor tenderness in his forearm. Bell pitched 4 1/3 innings, giving up a two-run double to Michigan State’s Joel Fisher in the first, but only one more hit after that. He came out after he issued his second walk, the first that wasn’t intentional in the fifth. Relievers Luke Harrison, Scott Effross and Jake Kelzer held the Spartans two two runs over 4 2/3 innings.

WHY DID IT HAPPEN: This is another case of the Hoosiers’ lineup simply being relentless. Michigan State left-hander Anthony Misiewicz was outstanding in five innings of work, striking out eight batters, and the Hoosiers runs in the second were relatively cheap. The third time through the order, though, Schwarber and Travis jumped on him and sent him out of the game after Travis’s double. From there, the Hoosiers kept scrapping, with O’Conner’s big hit at the bottom of the order and Donley’s double after Van Vossen got past Schwarber and Travis without allowing a run. All of the Hoosiers’ top seven hitters bat .270 or better and when even O’Conner is doing some damage, it’s an exhausting lineup for a pitcher to deal with.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN: The Big Ten gets the championship game it wanted. On some level it loses luster because both teams are shoo-ins for the NCAA Tournament and both will likely be pitching their mid-week starters and not their aces, but both still have daunting lineups and pitching depth. And the crowd should be strong with Nebraska support having been the anchor for the attendance this entire tournament.

Smith said he wanted this game, because it means the Hoosiers will have to play in a hostile environment to try to win the tournament, and that could help them eventually. Ironically, though, by getting to this game, the Hoosiers probably ensured that they will not have to play a road game at all in the NCAA Tournament. Heading into conference tournament weekend, they were considered a certain lock to host an NCAA regional and a likely national seed. By reaching the title game of the Big Ten Tournament, the Hoosiers have by the accounts of several projections made themselves a lock for one of those spots. They find out on Monday at noon during the selection show, but there might not be much suspense.