Indiana beats Nebraska 8-4 to clinch Big Ten Tournament title

WHAT HAPPENED: Indiana scored four runs in its last four innings after blowing a 3-0 lead and defeated No 2 seed Nebraska 8-4 in front of 19,965 fans on Sunday at TD Ameritrade Park — an NCAA record for a baseball conference title game — to win the Big Ten Tournament championship.

The No. 1 seed Hoosiers swept the Big Ten tournament and regular season championships for the second straight year. The last Big Ten team to do that in consecutive years was Ohio State from 1993-95. Indiana gets an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, though the Hoosiers were already a sure thing to not only play in an NCAA regional but host one. Both Baseball America and Perfect Game wrote even before Sunday’s game that the Hoosiers were a lock to be a national top-eight seed, meaning they would also host a super regional if they would advance that far. 

Catcher Kyle Schwarber and Scott Donley drew walks in the first and third baseman Dustin DeMuth drove both of them in with a double to the right center field gap.

In the third Indiana scored another run when right fielder Will Nolden singled to left, went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Nick Ramos, third on a fly out to left by Tim O’Conner and home on a wild pitch.

Nebraska answered in the fifth. Center fielder Ryan Boldt singled to open the inning and moved to second on a walk to Nebraska third baseman Jake Placzek. Left fielder Michael Pritchard loaded the bases with a perfect bunt down the third base line for a single.

Nebraska second baseman Pat Kelly hit a grounder to second that should have been a double play ball. However, it rolled through the legs of IU second baseman Casey Rodrigue and brought home Boldt and Placzek. The next better, Nebraska first baseman Blake Headley, grounded to IU first baseman Sam Travis for a 3-6-3 double play. Travis apparently thought there was one out, however, and Pritchard scored from third to tie the game.

Indiana took the lead back in the fifth when Schwarber unloaded on a home run down the right field line and over the bullpen, flipping the bat after he made contact. In the sixth,they added three more runs on an RBI groundout by center fielder Tim O’Conner, a fielding error on a grounder by second baseman Casey Rodrigue and an RBI single by Schwarber.

Nebraska put up a fourth run in the seventh. Center fielder Ryan Boldt doubled, then scored on a throwing error by Indiana shortstop Nick Ramos. However, IU added one more run in the eighth on an RBI single by Casey Rodrigue.

WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: Schwarber’s home run in the fifth gave the Hoosiers’ the lead and the momentum back after they had lost it. He finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored and a pair of RBI, winning Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors. He finished the tournament with five hits in 15 at-bats (.333), two home runs, five runs scored and five RBI.

DeMuth had two hits and two RBI. Will Nolden was 3-for-4 with three runs scored. Shortstop Nick Ramos was 2-for-2 with a run scored. Rodrigue made up for his critical error with his eighth inning RBI, and he also hit the grounder that Reveles misplayed for a run in the sixth.

The Hoosiers pitched by committee on Sunday. Left-hander Sullivan Stadler pitched just two innings in the start and walked three batters, but gave up just one hit and left without giving up a run. Right-hander Luke Harrison gave up three runs, but only one of them was earned. Right-hander Thomas Belcher gave up a run in 1 1/3 innings, but redshirt freshman right-hander Jake Kelzer pitched  2 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out two and pitching out of an eighth-inning jam after having to sit on the bench for 42 minutes during a lightning delay.

WHY DID IT HAPPEN: IU coach Tracy Smith complimented pitcher Joey DeNato on Wednesday night by saying that one of his biggest strengths is that he keeps opponents from scoring after they’ve scored, meaning that even after he makes a mistake, he keeps his head in it and doesn’t allow a big inning. That was what the Hoosiers did collectively on Sunday. They didn’t give up on innings when things went wrong.

Rodrigue’s fifth-inning error was a humiliating and costly one, but the Hoosiers didn’t get much worse. Sam Travis’s decision to turn two instead of cutting off Michael Pritchard at home was accidental because he thought there was one out, but it still helped end the inning without allowing Nebraska to take the lead. The Hoosiers could have had bigger problems in the seventh after Nebraska center fielder Ryan Boldt scored on Nick Ramos’s error and they could have given up a run in the eighth with two out and runners on second and third, but they kept focused on pitching and defense and got through it.

On offense, they didn’t give up on innings with two outs. Six of their eight runs were scored that way. DeMuth’s two-run double, the error Rodrigue reached on, Schwarber’s RBI single and Rodrigue’s RBI single all came with two outs. Nolden also scored on a wild pitch with two outs.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN: The Hoosiers were already pretty safe in all regards when it comes to NCAA Tournament seeding. It’s almost assured that they’ll be a national seed — projections suggest the No. 5 spot — and they didn’t need to win Sunday to do that.

But winning the Big Ten Tournament still mattered to them symbolically. The Hoosiers didn’t want to let anyone else call themselves Big Ten champions and they didn’t want to miss out on a championship moment with a group that has already achieved more than any in Indiana history.

The Hoosiers also wanted to win this game specifically. Smith knew that if Indiana got Nebraska in the Big Ten title game in Omaha, the atmosphere was electric and it went well beyond expectations as the best attended baseball conference championship game in NCAA history. Winning in that environment is one more piece of evidence of their own mettle the Hoosiers can point to in their run for a return to Omaha.

3 comments

  1. No panic in this team or coach. When Nebraska tied the game there was no panic in the dugout. Schwarber channeled his inner Ruth in the top of the 6th (bat flip) and essentially broke the spirit of the Nebraska fans, which trickled down to the players. This team is special ( and fun to watch). Go Hoosiers!

  2. Congrats to a teams which consists of solid, substantive players who never give up. Well done! Go Hoosiers!

  3. Congrats to to IU Baseball for winning both the B1G regular season and tournament championships – now let’s make our way back to Omaha and win the real BIG one!

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