Bunnell, Sommer lift IU to 7-6 win over Purdue in 10

Earlier this week, Jeff Mercer was walking through Indiana’s batting cages when he saw something that he liked — something that would come in handy against Purdue.

Cade Bunnell was in the cages working on a no-stride swing, teeing off on a fastball machine and the series of heaters it produced. It was a bit of a change in approach from Bunnell’s normal stance, but one that would pay dividends in a matter of days.

Fast forward to the bottom of the 10th inning of Wednesday’s game against Purdue. With the bases loaded, one out and Bunnell facing an 0-2 count, Mercer hollered from his perch in IU’s dugout: “Widen out! Go to no-stride!”

Bunnell simply nodded his head.

Then, he lined the next pitch he saw off the left field line for the winning run in Indiana’s 7-6 walk-off win at Bart Kaufman Field.

“If Cade Bunnell is not in the cage working his butt off on a no-stride swing when he needs it against a guy throwing the ball 94 miles per hour and overpowering him, he’s not prepared to go do that,” Mercer said. “I was just really happy for him to step in and be prepared for that moment.”

For Bunnell, who entered Wednesday’s game as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the eighth, it was only his third hit since March 2. But it sure was a big for for Indiana, which has now won three straight entering this weekend’s split series against Evansville.

While Bunnell’s single in the 10th served as the game-winner, Mercer was just as pleased with reliever Tommy Sommer’s work out of the bullpen. For good reason.

The sophomore southpaw entered with the bases loaded, nobody out and Purdue leading 2-0 in the top of the first. In a matter of pitches Sommer stopped the bleeding in a hurry.

“Tommy was incredible,” Mercer said. “He really won the game. He won the game for us in the first inning.

IU freshman starter McCade Brown couldn’t locate the strike zone in his abbreviated outing, issuing four walks on 30 total pitches. As Brown was in the process of issuing a four-pitch walk to Cole McKenzie, Sommer sprinted from IU’s third base dugout to the bullpen in left field. He couldn’t warm fast enough.

Zac Fascia doubled down the right field line, just beyond the reach of first baseman Scotty Bradley to drive in Purdue’s first two runs of the game. After walking his fourth batter of the inning, Brown got the hook.

Enter Sommer, who promptly shut down Purdue’s lineup. The lefty quickly cleaned up the mess in the first inning, notching a pair of strikeouts and a groundout to second to escape the frame.

“He comes in, bases loaded and gets out of that jam without giving up a run,” Mercer said. “He is such a competitive guy. He can execute a pitch to both sides of the plate. His changeup was really good. You really just trust him to be able to pitch in big moments.”

Sommer went on to retire 18 of the 19 batters he faced over six scoreless innings, including each of the final 14 men who stepped to the plate.

Altogether, Purdue managed only one hit against Sommer, who struck out six and walked none while throwing 50 of his 71 pitches for strikes.

“He was terrific tonight,” Mercer said.

Indiana quickly erased its early deficit. An RBI double from Elijah Dunham, followed by a two-run homer by Cole Barr put IU ahead 3-2 in the bottom of the first.

For Barr, it was his Big Ten-leading 12th home run of the year — another no-doubt-about-it blast to left-centerfield.

Indiana added to its advantage with a three-run bottom of the sixth that started with a solo homer by Scotty Bradley. A two-run single by Gorski increased IU’s lead to 6-2.

The two home runs on Wednesday give the Hoosiers 58 on the year, the most in the nation.

It was all-important insurance for Indiana, which needed every run after Sommer left at the end of the sixth.

The Boilermakers put three runs on the board in the top of the seventh against reliever Gabe Bierman, who issued three consecutive walks to load the bases. A passed ball by Wyatt Cross allowed one run to score, then Cole McKenzie’s two-run double off Connor Manous inched Purdue within one run.

Manous found himself in further trouble in the eighth after yielding a leadoff double to Purdue’s Bryce Bonner. Pinch runner Seth Gergely advanced to third on a groundout, but was stranded there when reliever Matt Lloyd stuck out pinch hitter Johnny Sage to end the inning.

However, Lloyd’s fortune only lasted so long.

After quickly recording the first two outs in the top of the ninth, a fielding error by IU shortstop Justin Walker put Purdue’s Ryan Howe on first. And just like that, McKenzie lined a double off the left field line that scored Howe and tied the game at 6-6.

Soon, though, Indiana would offer a response. It came from Bunnell, and served as a nod to all of his work behind the scenes.

“You show up to work every day because you don’t know what day it’s going to be that you figure it out for the rest of your career,” Mercer said.