Stiever’s start wasted in 2-1 loss to Pacific

Wyatt Hoffman kept running until he touched the plate.

That the Pacific pinch runner was even able to cross it with two outs in the top of the ninth was one of the many moments that Indiana came to regret in its 2-1 loss to the Tigers on Friday at Bart Kaufman Field.

Poor defensive moments, along with a couple baserunning gaffes and three double play balls off IU bats cost the Hoosiers in a tight game on their home field. It was the kind of contest this Indiana team is more than capable of commanding, especially when propelled by one of the best starts of junior Jonathan Stiever’s career.

But the No. 18 Hoosiers (9-4) unraveled in key moments, dropping their second consecutive game since returning to Bloomington open the home portion of their schedule.

“I feel like we just didn’t play our game, got selfish at the plate and didn’t execute when we needed to,” designated hitter Matt Lloyd said. “The score reflected that.”

Pick any of the near-handful of blunders that the Hoosiers played through on a gray afternoon at the ballpark.

Or, start with the one that immediately gave Pacific (7-8) the advantage.

Reliever Cal Krueger appeared on the verge of escaping the top of the ninth with a 1-1 tie intact, but he issued a two-out walk to seventh-place hitter Lucas Halstead after getting ahead in the count, 1-2.

After yielding a single to put two on with two outs, Krueger induced a groundball to shortstop, where Jeremy Houston played it deep in the hole.

Houston appeared to have a potential bang-bang play at second base, but opted for the long throw to first, instead. When the batter, Keaton Glover, safely beat throw to the bag, first baseman Elijah Dunham made a hurried, errant throw to home to try and stop Hoffman, who pinch ran for Halstead.

The throw was low and catcher Ryan Fineman couldn’t corral it, allowing Hoffman to score on a play where he otherwise should’ve been out.

For the Hoosiers, the unfortunate nature of that sequence was matched in the bottom half.

After Lloyd led off with his third double of the game, freshman pinch runner Justin Walker was picked off second base for the second out of the inning — the second time a Hoosier was picked off second base on Friday afternoon.

It was also just one more instance of IU not playing crisp enough to prevail.

“We just gotta be better with our technique,” IU coach Chris Lemonis said. “We’re trying to steal the bag there, so sometimes you get picked off when you try to steal. In this scenario, you can’t get picked off.”

It was an instance where IU was trying to be aggressive with one out, but it clearly didn’t work.

The Hoosiers have struggled in varying phases of the game these past two contests, especially at the plate.

The Hoosiers produced five hits, including back-to-back doubles from Logan Kaletha and Matt Lloyd in the third inning that produced IU’s only run. Lloyd went 4-for-4 and Kaletha went 1-for-4. Otherwise, IU finished 0-for-21 against a trio of Pacific pitchers, while hitting into three double plays.

“We faced two sinker, two-seamer type of guys this week,” Lemonis said, also alluding to IU’s struggles against Cincinnati on Tuesday. “They’ve had us beating it into the ground. We’ve hit into six or seven double plays this week, but that’s our fault. You have to know what they’re trying to do and make some things happen.”

Locked into a duel with Pacific starter Shelby Lackey, who entered play holding opposing hitters to a .185 average, Stiever delivered a fantastic effort for Indiana.

The right-hander seemed due for an outing like this, striking out a career-high 12 batters across eight innings. His first three starts of the season produced some mixed results, but Friday saw Stiever illustrate his potential atop the weekend rotation.

“It’s just been one or two pitches in key situations that I’ve been on the wrong side of, for the most part,” Stiever said. “Today, I was able to get outs with them. I’m not sure what the difference is. There are a couple pitches throughout a game that can really dictate things.”

Stiever found his footing after the first inning, during which he saw a leadoff walk come around to score. He worked quickly and retired 11 consecutive batters from the end of the first until the middle of the fifth.

Stiever struck out at least one batter in each inning, and his 12 strikeouts were the most for a Hoosier pitcher since Joey DeNato posted 12 against Michigan on April 27, 2012.

On this day, Stiever provided his teammates a chance to do the rest.

Instead, a splendid start went for naught.

“We all really wanted to win that game,” Stiever said. “It just sucks, kind of, that it wasn’t able to go our way. But tomorrow we gotta come here early and have another game, then Sunday, too. So we still got chances.”