Milto pitches Hoosiers to 3-1 win

An expected strength of this Indiana baseball team is proving to be exactly that.

IU is getting the most out of its starting pitchers this weekend at Bart Kaufman Field.

Jonathan Stiever set the standard on Friday, before Pauly Milto ran with it on Saturday, guiding the Hoosiers to a 3-1 win over Pacific before an announced crowd of 1,650.

On a team that features an impressive degree of balance, starting pitching is one of the primary reasons these Hoosiers have a chance to realize their own high expectations of winning the Big Ten and progressing deep into the NCAA Tournament. During the past two games in Bloomington, Stiever and Milto have shown why those beliefs are warranted.

Stiever, of course, settled for a no-decision in Friday’s frustrating 2-1 loss to Pacific (7-9) despite authoring one of the best starts of his career, highlighted by a personal-best 12 strikeouts. Had the Hoosiers (10-4) been a bit more crisp in the field and at the plate, Stiever might have earned a more promising result.

A day later, Milto did his best to top him.

The junior right-hander worked seven strong innings, matching his career with nine strikeouts, while allowing only one run one three hits.

“We talk about being the lead duck all the time,” Lemonis said. “Usually when your starter goes out there the day before and does well, it has that trickle-down effect and everybody follows him.”

Now, it’ll be up to freshman left-hander Tommy Sommer to continue IU’s run of strong starts in Sunday’s 1 p.m. rubber game against the Tigers.

Milto did his part, locking in early with his assortment of pitches. Coming off last weekend’s rather unfortunate start at San Diego, where he struggled with his command and allowed 12 hits and six runs in only 4 2/3 innings, Milto sought to establish himself in the zone early.

He struck out five consecutive batters between the second and third innings and didn’t allow Pacific to notch its first hit until Lucas Halstead’s sixth-inning leadoff single.

It illustrated that last week’s outing on the West Coast was an aberration for Milto, who has otherwise been outstanding on the young season.

“It’s gonna happen,” Milto said. “You’re gonna have ups and downs. You gotta ride the rollercoaster and forget about it and move on. I was able to readjust and come back to being myself.”

His command had a lot to do with it.

Milto threw each of his three pitches for strikes, providing Indiana the outing it needed in another close contest with its opponent from the West Coast Conference.

Milto’s only trouble came in his final inning, when a leadoff double by Tyler Ryan came back to get him. Ryan moved station-to-station on a pair of groundouts, scoring on the second grounder by Nate Verlin.

That tied the game at 1-1 on a day when IU struggled to cash in with runners on base.

The Hoosiers put the leadoff man on in four of the first five innings, but struggled to bring him home until Logan Kaletha led off the fifth with a double to left and scored two batters later on a sacrifice fly by Logan Sowers.

After Pacific tied the game in the seventh, IU swung back in the bottom half thanks to a leadoff double by Bloomington North product Colby Stratten. Pinch runner Laren Eustace came around to score the go-ahead run when Jeremy Houston’s chopper to the right side gave trouble to Verlin at first base.

Indiana added an insurance run later in the inning when Houston scored on a fielder’s choice.

All told, IU went 2-for-20 at the plate with runners on base, and merely 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position.

The good news what that, on a day when its pitching was in fine form, Indiana didn’t need much.

Stratten finished 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles.

“We had some white knuckles up there today,” Lemonis said. “I don’t understand why. They were swinging a little hard, gripping a little too hard. We need to let the game come to us a little bit. I’ve got guys who played and started for three or four years. They’ll be alright. They usually come through.”

On Saturday, Milto certainly did. So, too, did Indiana’s bullpen duo of B.J. Sabol and Matt Lloyd.

Sabol worked a quick eighth inning, striking out two with a two-out walk. Lloyd, who is being used in the field more often this season, took the mound for only the third time on the year.

Although he put two on with one out via a pair of singles, Lloyd fired back-to-back strikeouts to close the game. That earned Lloyd his second save of the year, while preserving the win for Milto, who did his part to match Stiever’s strong start and pave the way to an IU win.

“They run out there, fill up the zone and compete,” Lemonis said of his weekend starters. “They both had good starts with locating. They’ve both been very good their whole careers, but we’re seeing the best of them right now.”