Indiana drops tournament opener to Michigan, 4-1

Indiana’s defense of back-to-back Big Ten Tournament championships will have to come out of the loser’s bracket.

A three-run homer by Michigan’s Johnny Slater and a lack of timely hitting of its own sent Indiana to a 4-1 loss in the conference tournament opener Wednesday morning at Target Field in Minneapolis.

The Hoosiers will face Ohio State in an elimination game on Thursday at 10 a.m. Eastern. The game will be broadcast online via BTN Plus.

As a team that spent the latter part of its season trying to reverse a skid of misfortune that nearly collapsed its postseason hopes, IU must now draw upon that experience to extend its tournament life.

“We’ve been punched in the nose more than once and they’ve responded all year,” IU coach Chris Lemonis said.

Indiana never formed a meaningful response Wednesday after Slater took IU starter Luke Harrison deep in the bottom of the second and put the Wolverines ahead for good. IU didn’t get its first hit off Wolverines starter Brett Adcock until Logan Sowers’ fifth-inning double, and settled for only four hits — its lowest output since April 26.

Sowers collected two of those hits for Indiana, which recorded its only run on Austin Cangelosi’s RBI groundout in the top of the seventh.

“(Adcock) was throwing a lot of strikes early and we just weren’t taking advantage of that,” Sowers said. “We were watching too many pitches. That hurts.”

Harrison, a former setup man who made his first start of the season last week against Ohio State, pitched well except for Slater’s blast. He threw 63 pitches over four innings, scattering only three hits, walking one and striking out four. Bloomington South product Jake Kelzer added four innings of relief, allowing Lemonis to save the rest of his arms for Indiana’s climb out of the loser’s bracket.

Kelzer yielded five hits, including an RBI double to Carmen Benedetti in the bottom of the sixth. Lemonis said both Kelzer and Harrison could be able to return to the mound by the weekend, if Indiana can stay alive. Left-hander Kyle Hart is expected to start Thursday’s elimination game.

“We’ve got a pitching staff set up to come through the loser’s bracket,” Lemonis said. “We’ve been lacking that Friday night starter, so we’ve got a lot of guys who have started some, relieved some and can bounce back. Even today, we’re throwing Jake Kelzer out there in the middle of the game and he was our Friday night starter a couple weeks ago. So we’ve got a lot of pieces.”

What the Hoosiers need from here is better situational hitting. Two-out hits were a staple of Indiana’s run into the conference tournament, when it won nine of the final 10 games of the regular season. The Hoosiers had those same types of opportunities once they solved Adcock and dipped into the Wolverines’ bullpen, but couldn’t bring another run around to score.

“We just couldn’t get that hit today,” Lemonis said. “That’s what we’ve done so well lately.”

Indiana threatened in three of the final four innings, beginning when Brian Wilhite and Casey Rodrigue opened the sixth with back-to-back walks. Neither advanced following three straight outs to end the frame.

Sowers and Craig Dedelow produced back-to-back singles to start the seventh, and moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Will Nolden. That’s when Cangelosi stepped up and brought Sowers to the plate on his grounder to shortstop. Dedelow moved to third, but couldn’t score after Wilhite flied to centerfield to end the inning.

Another two-out rally fell short after Brad Hartong doubled and Scott Donley walked in the eighth inning. Sowers came to the plate in his final at-bat and grounded back to Michigan reliever Jacob Cronenworth, who threw to first for the third out of the inning.

“This time of year, you have to have a short-term memory,” Lemonis said. ” I didn’t even yell at them after the game. I just said, ‘Hey, you gotta forget it and be ready to move on.’ … We’ve got a good team. I’m confident in our team. I think we can get on a roll and play well. We’ve done that lately, so I’m excited to see them respond tomorrow.”

4 comments

  1. So much for making the NCAA tournament.

    By the way, why was this game and tomorrow’s game on BTN Plus? Why isn’t BTN showing the games?

  2. They are still in pretty good shape to make the tourney…. and to answer your question $$$. I’m sure they’ll have the evening games on BTN.

  3. Unlike basketball there are only about 19 automatic bids for baseball. With their high RPI IU is still in good shape for the NCAAs.

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