IU’s losing skid reaches 4 games after 3-2 loss to Illinois

It’s a cruel way to struggle.

Indiana’s longest losing streak of the season is coming by the tightest of margins.

IU’s skid reached four games after Friday’s 3-2 loss to Illinois before an announced crowd of 2,447 at Bart Kaufman Field. For the most part, the Hoosiers played pretty good baseball, buoyed by another strong start by Jonathan Stiever.

They simply couldn’t cash in at the plate on a night when Illini pitchers induced 16 groundouts.

It wasn’t altogether different from the previous three games, which included losses to Purdue and Ohio State. Across IU’s current skid, the Hoosiers (29-10, 7-5) have dropped four straight games by a combined five runs.

“It’s been a tough week and a half, coming up on the short side,” IU coach Chris Lemonis said. “We played a pretty clean game with pitching and defense. We’re just leaving some guys out there and we’re pressing a little bit now, which we haven’t pressed all year. You gotta relax and put balls in play.”

Indiana collected six hits and scored both of its runs in the top of the first, when Ryan Fineman chopped an RBI single over first base and Logan Sowers scored on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Scotty Bradley.

But little else went the Hoosiers way, as they pounded the heavy sinker from Illinois starter Andy Fisher into the ground the rest of the night.

Indiana went only 3-for-12 with runners on base and 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position, stranding eight men on base.

“In this game the harder you try, the less you get,” Lemonis said. “Somebody’s got to get a big hit with runners out there to get some things going.”

Stiever breezed through Illinois’ lineup the first time down the order, retiring the first 10 batters he faced. Six of the right-hander’s eventual nine strikeouts came during that span, as he flashed electric velocity.

Stiever, who topped out at 97 miles per hour, struck out one of the nation’s best hitters, Bren Spillane, looking on a 96 mile-per-hour fastball over the inside corner to end the first inning.

“That’s getting up there. That’s pretty good,” Lemonis said. “Jon’s getting better every week. I thought he pitched great. They hit a couple balls on him, but it’s the same Jon we get every Friday night. It may not always be 97 (miles per hour), but it’s pretty good.”

Stiever saw his scoreless innings streak come to an end after 22 1/3 innings in the top of the fourth, when Michael Massey lined a single through the right side to cut IU’s lead to 2-1.

Spillane, who entered play with a .444 batting average and 1.026 slugging percentage, tied the game at 2-2 in the sixth with the second of back-to-back Illini doubles.

Illinois (25-12, 10-3) took the lead in the seventh when Stiever left a 1-2 fastball where Zac Taylor could get it. Taylor lined the pitch into left field, scoring Jeff Korte for the eventual winning run.

Stiever, who needed only 37 pitches to get through the first three innings, went on to throw 6 2/3 frames, scattering eight hits as Illinois adjusted the second and third times through the lineup. He threw 79 of his 119 pitches for strikes.

“The (velocity) came down a little bit, too,” Lemonis said. “It didn’t stay there the first couple innings, like it was.”

Things got interesting in the ninth against Illinois’ hard-throwing closer Joey Gerber. Luke Miller, who made his first appearance since April 6 as a pinch hitter with two outs, was credited with a double when Illinois centerfielder Zac Taylor lost his first-pitch fly ball in the sky.

But Logan Kaletha struck out on the next three pitches to end the game, as IU’s skid extended another day.

“We just have to keep fighting through it,” Lemonis said. “We haven’t faced adversity all year. Now, in the last four games, we have a little adversity. Hopefully we can fight out of it.”

NOTES: Miller, who missed 12 games due to a foot injury, will be eased back into the lineup over the coming days. He could serve as a designated hitter this weekend. … With Pauly Milto currently unavailable due to arm soreness, Cameron Beauchamp will start Saturday’s 2 p.m. game, followed by Tim Herrin on Sunday at 2 p.m.