Errors doom IU to tournament-opening loss to Illinois

For Indiana coach Chris Lemonis, there are three keys to a successful run at the Big Ten Tournament — strong starting pitching, solid defense and timely hitting.

The Hoosiers demonstrated only one of those key qualities in Wednesday night’s opener, making a long stay in Omaha more difficult than they hoped.

Despite a quality start from Jonathan Stiever, a pair of costly two-out, sixth-inning errors doomed No. 5 IU to a 7-1 loss to No. 4 Illinois at T.D. Ameritrade Park. With the loss, Indiana will face No. 8 Michigan State in an elimination game on Thursday at 2 p.m.

“You hate to have that game here, opening night of the tournament, but like we talked about on the field, the hardest game for us will be (Thursday), through the whole tournament,” Lemonis said. “It’s getting back and getting our feet back under us and going out and really playing a good game (Thursday). That will be important for us, because we have pitching that can run through a tournament. We just gotta play better.”

Not only were the Hoosiers held to only two hits, they couldn’t make routine plays when they mattered.

After working around a leadoff double to Zac Taylor in the bottom of the sixth, Stiever should have been out of the inning on a textbook two-out groundball to Jeremy Houston at shortstop. Houston scooped the ball cleanly, but his throw to first pulled Matt Lloyd off the bag. When Lloyd couldn’t snag the ball, Taylor and Michael Massey — who reached on a walk and took second on a wild pitch — both came around to score.

The inning went from bad to worse moments later when Logan Sowers couldn’t catch a fly ball in the right field corner. Although the ball was tailing away from the IU right fielder, it should’ve been caught. Instead, the ball dropped in and Illinois’ Michael Michalak scored from first.

“We feel like we got one of the best shortstops in the country, defensively. Tough play,” Lemonis said. “I’ve coached Logan and started (him) every game of his career, pretty much and that’s the first time I’ve seen that. It’s just a tough two plays for us, but we’ll bounce back.”

The sixth inning turned out to be the last for Stiever, who yielded only three hits, walked one and struck out two. None of the three runs against the right-hander were earned.

“They’re an aggressive lineup,” Stiever said. “I just wanted to locate pitches early in the count and get them to swing at quality pitches and hopefully get outs that way. For the most part, I was able to do that.”

IU’s frustrations Wednesday began at the plate, where the Hoosiers struggled to do much with the heavy sinker of Illinois starter Quinn Snarskis.

IU didn’t hit a ball out of the infield against Snarskis until Sowers led off the fifth with a fly ball to right field, and six pitches later, Luke Miller supplied IU’s first hit of the night on a line drive single to left field.

The Hoosiers loaded the bases after Scotty Bradley worked a walk and Ryan Fineman was hit by a pitch. But sure enough, IU’s next two batters, Drew Ashley and Houston, pounded Snarskis’ sinker into the turf to let the Illini right-hander off the hook.

Indiana chased Snarskis an inning later once he walked Lloyd on seven pitches with one out in the top of the sixth — an abrupt turn of events after such a smooth start from Snarskis. But the Hoosiers still couldn’t immediately cash in against the Illini bullpen when Matt Gorski hit into a 5-4-3 inning-ending double play on the first pitch he saw from Illinois reliever Ryan Thompson.

“We have been really good offensively for the last two weeks, played well and had good swings,” Lemonis said. “You gotta tip your hat to their guy. He pitched well. But also, we could do a better job.”

Illinois broke the game open with a four-run bottom of the seventh, as reliever B.J. Sabol struggled with his control. The left-hander, who entered the tournament having allowed only three runs in 26 2/3 innings this season, was tagged with four runs in the frame. Sabol walked the first two batters he saw, setting the stage for Ben Troike’s one-out RBI single before Michael Massey’s three-run homer to right field lifted the Illini to a 7-0 lead.

Indiana’s lone run came after Fineman led off the eighth with a double down the right field line. He scored three batters later when Logan Kaletha reached on a fielder’s choice.

“Disappointing performance,” Lemonis said. “Just not typical of us. Very non-competitive at the plate, defensively, then late. Just didn’t compete enough. Hopefully we can get a good night’s sleep and wake up and be ready to go.”

2 comments

  1. Wow……….They are going to get bounced by Michigan State down 5-1 in 7th inning………..This team just can’t hit quality pitching. So sad.

  2. Only thing I can say is either the early season opponents were overrated or something is seriously wrong with the team. Haven’t followed the team super close but thought some of the early competition was fairly well respected.

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