Bradley helps Hoosiers walk off as 4-3 winners

It can be lonely in the background. Scotty Bradley knows the feeling well.

That’s where Bradley stood last spring, while recovering from a back injury that cost him all but five games early in his sophomore year. Watching games from the dugout, knowing you can’t contribute? It can breed feelings of detachment and disconnection.

Now healthy and active, Bradley is where he wants to be.

And on Sunday, the spotlight belonged to him.

Bradley’s ninth-inning, walk-off single clinched a 4-3 win over Northern Illinois and a series sweep for the No. 18 Hoosiers, winners of six in a row.

“It’s just good to be back,” said Bradley, who earned All-Big Ten Freshman Team honors as the Hoosiers’ designated hitter in 2016. “Being away from baseball that long, you kind of re-fall in love with the game, which I was very fortunate to do last year. I’m just coming back this year very excited as a much more motivated player.”

The bases were loaded for Bradley in the ninth inning after IU rallied with two outs. A four-pitch walk by Matt Lloyd, followed by a single from Luke Miller and an intentional walk to Logan Sowers set the stage for the redshirt sophomore.

After entering as a late-inning replacement at first base, Bradley took a big hack at the first pitch he saw from NIU’s Nate Thomas, fouling it into the screen behind home plate. Bradley then saw the second pitch, an 0-1 off-speed offering, and lined it down the right field for the game-winning hit.

“The first pitch I got was a really good one to hit,” Bradley said. “No question, I was a little over-anxious on it and tried to do a little too much, but I believe it was a changeup, the second pitch that he left up. Just trying to get my swing off and luckily I got some barrel on it and it worked out.”

Bradley’s knock sent the Hoosiers pouring out of their third-base dugout to chase him, and for at least a few moments, Bradley managed to avoid the impending dog pile. He playfully tossed his helmet at Sowers and darted into right field, before bending his course into right-centerfield. That’s where Sowers eventually caught him, wrapping both arms around Bradley’s upper body to hold him in place.

That allowed the revelry to commence.

“I was just trying not to get tackled, I guess,” Bradley said. “I don’t know. Can’t really explain that walk-off. Lot of excitement.”

Rightfully so for a player rediscovering his niche on the roster.

Bradley, who has started five of the 10 games he’s played this season, is batting .286 with a homer and four RBIs. He’s among the handful of players IU coach Chris Lemonis is trying to situationally work into the lineup on a deep and balanced IU roster.

“Scotty’s started some, has been on the bench some,” Lemonis said. “We’ve talked a lot about about preparing yourself and keeping yourself ready to play and that’s a great example of an older player. And he’s a good player. It was good for him to get that big hit.”

It was one of the many IU produced with two outs on Sunday.

All four Indiana runs came with two outs, with the Hoosiers (15-4) producing eight two-out hits in 16 chances against the Huskies (4-14). Matt Lloyd doubled off the left field wall in the fifth before Ryan Fineman and Justin Walker sliced sixth-inning singles to give IU a 3-0 lead at that time.

Both sides, meanwhile, enjoyed fine pitching from starters Cameron Beauchamp of Indiana and Michael Lasiewicz of Northern Illinois.

Beauchamp tossed six shutout innings, scattering four hits with three strikeouts and zero walks. The Huskies did their only damage two innings after the right-hander departed, smacking three consecutive extra-base hits — two doubles and a triple — to cut IU’s lead to 3-2 early in the eighth.

Matt Lloyd replaced reliever Kade Kryzsko and nearly escaped the jam until Tommy Szczasny lined an RBI single up the middle to tie the game.

But Indiana’s penchant for late-game victories saved the day. Sunday marked the eighth time — and second in as many days — that Indiana has won a game in which it was tied or trailing in the seventh inning or later.

“It’s a tight group,” Bradley said. “It’s a veteran group as well, so we all feed off one another and we’re picking each other up, whether you’re going good or going bad.”