Walker’s hot streak continues in 6-1 win over Sycamores

His confidence has been bubbling for months.

Now, Justin Walker is feeling it in full.

With a firm role in the middle of Indiana’s infield and a bat as hot as anyone’s in the IU lineup, the freshman is emerging as a key contributor at the right time. Tuesday served as further evidence, with Walker supplying a clutch two-run double to send the No. 16 Hoosiers to a 6-1 over Indiana State on a chilly evening at Bart Kaufman Field.

Since making the starting shortstop job his own beginning with the second game of the March 30 doubleheader against Butler, Walker has added a new dimension to the bottom of the Indiana (23-6) lineup.

Walker has driven in at least one run in each of the six games he’s started during the past two weeks, recording 12 total in that span. He’s made solid contact while doing so, going 9-for-23 (.391) during his current six-game run as a starter.

“At this point, baseball is fun,” Walker said. “I love the game. Just out here playing well and we’re really enjoying it, so it’s a good time right now.”

Naturally, that kind of loose, easygoing approach feeds the confidence Walker is enjoying as a college freshman.

For Walker, it also helps that he’s receiving regular at-bats.

Right now, he’s making the most of them.

“Getting all the at-bats, you get more and more comfortable with the pitching and the college atmosphere,” Walker said, ‘because that’s a big difference between high school and college, just the atmosphere. So being able to play in front of a lot of people and play with some pressure, it’s big.”

Walker felt the pressure on Tuesday night.

With the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the sixth, the Lafayette Jefferson product approached the plate with two outs and the bases loaded.

Indiana State reliever Tyler Whitbread fell behind 3-1 in the at-bat before Walker took a fastball for strike two. The freshman figured he’d see a fastball on 3-2 — and he was correct.

Walker drove the pitch into left-centerfield, allowing Matt Gorski and Ryan Fineman to score easily and give the Hoosiers a 3-1 advantage.

“I thought the hit of the game was Justin’s,” IU coach Chris Lemonis said. “That two-out hit when we were just struggling along.”

Altogether, it was a solid night for IU’s middle infield of Walker at shortstop and Jeremy Houston at second base. Those two give Indiana plus-defensive upside, which they demonstrated against the Sycamores (16-11).

“When they’re playing good, it’s exciting,” Lemonis said. “So it’s nice to have them out there. They’re pretty versatile, too. They can do some different things.”

Houston also got into the fun at the plate. Despite entering Tuesday’s game without a hit in his last 14 at-bats, Houston ripped a two-out, two-run double to cap IU’s scoring in the bottom of the eighth.

One of the runners to score on the play was Walker, who was simply happy to see his friend find some success.

“At first, I didn’t know where it even went,” Walker said. “I just put my head down and started running. When I saw it was a triple, I was like, ‘Good.’ He needed that.”

Indiana received a solid start from lefty Tim Herrin, who held his hometown school to only one run during a season-high five innings.

The Terre Haute native made his third start of the season and first since Feb. 25, matching up with the Sycamores for the second time in as many weeks.

The only damage done against Herrin came after a leadoff walk to Luke Fegen in the top of the fifth. Fegen took second on a fielder’s choice before darting home on a two-out single through the middle by ninth-place hitter Hayden Jaco.

Herrin allowed only the one run on two hits, walking two and striking out four.

“The last couple of weeks have been great (for Herrin),” Lemonis said. “Came back, off for the holidays, and just didn’t have it. But I thought he’s been really good over the last couple of weeks. I think it started, really, with Indiana State the last time (on March 28). Kind of got him going. But he had been making strides before that and added to that tonight.”

Lemonis stuck with southpaws after Herrin departed, turning to Tommy Sommer and B.J. Sabol to close the game. Sabol, who normally sees the bulk of his action on weekends, didn’t make it onto the mound against Purdue.

But he went the final three innings on Tuesday, allowing one hit and walking two.

“(That’s) the way you match up with them,” Lemonis said. “Last weekend was a lot more right-handed pitching, but with Indiana State, the lefties are more effective. So you saw us throw all the lefties.”