IU bats come alive in 9-2 win over Illinois

The first-pitch fastball left in a hurry, a fortunate omen for an Indiana lineup desperate for runs.

And at the end of a frustrating week for IU hitters, the No. 18 Hoosiers scored plenty of them.

Scotty Bradley’s two-run homer in the bottom of the second kickstarted Indiana’s offense in a 9-2 victory over Illinois, clinching a series win over the Illini.

After Saturday saw IU (31-10, 9-5) snap a four-game losing skid — during which they dropped all four games by a combined five runs — the Hoosiers reversed course on a 12-inning walk-off home run courtesy of Drew Ashley.

In the rubber game, Indiana rode the long ball to victory.

Bradley’s two-run shot was the first of back-to-back second-inning homers for the Hoosiers, who also enjoyed Matt Gorski’s solo blast to left-centerfield.

Indiana smashed three home runs on the afternoon, finishing with a Justin Walker solo shot that led off a five-run bottom of the seventh.

The nine-run, 10-hit offensive output complemented another strong start from left-hander Tim Herrin, who worked a career-high seven innings without walking anyone.

“We had a rough week,” IU coach Chris Lemonis said. “So coming in and winning and fighting after that really tough Friday night loss was huge for us. It keeps us resume building and keeps us in the upper half of the Big Ten.”

Indiana’s return to form comes at a most important time, with a trip to Minnesota looming next weekend. The Golden Gophers are mashing as well as anyone, entering Sunday’s action ranked 17th nationally with a .303 team batting average.

Sunday’s effort illustrated that Indiana is up for the challenge.

The Hoosiers made quick work of the Illini (25-14, 10-5) at the plate, on the mound and in the field.

Bradley, Gorski and Walker each collected two hits. Gorski drove in three runs, including a seventh-inning RBI single that capped IU’s scoring. Luke Miller and Logan Sowers also notched run-scoring singles, while Jeremy Houston drew three walks and flashed his glove at shortstop.

Herrin, meanwhile, yielded only a fourth-inning sacrifice fly and a fifth-inning wild pitch that allowed a run to score.

Otherwise, Herrin further established himself as an arm Indiana can trust to close down a weekend series.

“I told the team out there, he’s come so far,” Lemonis said. “When he was a freshman, we couldn’t pitch him. He pitched like that against Notre Dame last week and he was really good at Ohio State, too. (He’s) a big piece for us right now as he continues to improve.”

With heavy sink on his fastball, Herrin induced 11 groundouts and kept the nation’s leading hitter, Bren Spillane, from breaking out against the Hoosiers.

Herrin continued Indiana’s weekend success against Spillane, who entered the series pacing the country with a .444 batting average.

Across the three games this weekend, Spillane went merely 2-for-10 with two RBIs.

“Don’t let him beat us. That was our biggest approach going into this weekend,” Herrin said. “We knew their whole lineup is good, but we knew he was one of the best in the country. So we wanted to go into the weekend and not pitch around him so much as just not let him be the one guy that beats us this weekend.”

And what an important weekend it was for the Hoosiers.

Not only does IU’s series victory keep top-tier Big Ten Tournament seeding within reach, it boosted the Hoosiers’ RPI to No. 20 nationally.

Now, a weekend test at Minnesota awaits.

“I think it’s huge for us to get this series win against a really good Illinois team,” Herrin said. “And going up against Minnesota next weekend, that’s one of the best teams in the country right now. Their offense is one of the best in the country. So we’re excited to go up to Minneapolis to play them.​”