Hoosiers sweep doubleheader with Nittany Lions, clinch series

Matt Lloyd powered Indiana to victory at the plate and on the mound.

The two-way utility man has done it before, swinging away from his spot in the middle of IU’s lineup and sealing victories in his role as Indiana’s closer.

Only Saturday, he did it twice — propelling Indiana to the top of the Big Ten standings in the process.

At the plate, Lloyd mashed a three-run homer in the first game of IU’s doubleheader against Penn State, then delivered the eventual game-winning two-run single in the nightcap. On the mound, he notched saves in both contests, leading the Hoosiers to a crucial doubleheader sweep and series victory. Indiana won the first game, 5-3, followed by a 3-2 victory in the finale.

For Lloyd, it was quite the performance, the kind of all-around effort Indiana has come to expect from the senior.

“Matt Lloyd is the perfect Hoosier,” Indiana coach Jeff Mercer said. “He is the absolute perfect Hoosier. He’s everything we want to model our program after and I’m daggone proud of him.”

That’s because Lloyd has made a habit of surfacing during clutch moments. His three-run blast to right-centerfield in the third inning of the opener gave Indiana the game’s first lead, and after Penn State came back to tie it with a three-run fifth, Lloyd shut things down out of the bullpen.

The right-hander entered after back-to-back run-scoring doubles by Cole Barr and Scotty Bradley gave IU a two-run lead in the bottom of the eighth.

Lloyd walked the leadoff man, Mac Hippenhammer, then bounced back with a three-pitch strikeout of Justin Williams. With Hippenhammer still on first, he induced a Conlin Hughes into a tidy 6-4-3 double play to end the game.

And he did it all without one of his best pitches — his slider.

“We talk about creating a culture of toughness and competitiveness, no matter what’s happening,” Mercer said. “If you don’t get a strike call, if you don’t have a slider, you’re always accountable for the attitude you bring. Matt Lloyd is the embodiment of that. He didn’t have a slider in either game. It’s no mystery we’re banged up in the pen. It’s no mystery, and that dude takes the ball twice and has five RBIs today. He hits the three-run home run, he hits the game-winning hit there. Every pitch of every game, Matt Lloyd is the most accountable, competitive guy on the field on our team, on the other team, it doesn’t matter where we’re at. That shows his resiliency.”

There was Lloyd again in the nightcap, delivering the knockout.

Indiana came back from a 2-0 deficit, recording its first run on Matt Gorski’s RBI double in the bottom of the fifth. With Gorski on second and Drew Ashley on third, Lloyd lined a two-run single to center that gave IU its 3-2 advantage.

He returned to the mound in the ninth, this time relying almost exclusively on his fastball. Nothing about the final frame was easy for Lloyd after leadoff man Kris Kremer reached on a throwing error by Cole Barr. Kremer then took second on a passed ball with no outs, and Penn State appeared poised to score.

That’s when Lloyd locked in and struck out the side.

“Before the game, (Mercer) asked me if I was good to go and I just said, ‘Yeah. If we need it, I’ll be good.’ And that’s what happened,” Lloyd said. “I threw a couple of (sliders) in the game and they just weren’t where I wanted them, so I basically wrote that one off and just stuck with the fastball.”

Andrew Saalfrank, IU’s starter in Saturday’s second game, worked in opposite fashion. The junior left-hander leaned on his loopy curveball to notch 13 strikeouts, one shy of tying his career high.

Saalfrank worked through a tough couple innings to start the nightcap, and ended up throwing 105 pitches over seven innings. Grant Sloan then worked a scoreless eight inning to bridge to Lloyd.

“(Saalfrank) didn’t have great fastball command,” Mercer said. “He was throwing the breaking ball. He got some back tightness in the middle of that thing, and he comes and says, ‘I’m fine. I got this.” He just slams the accelerator and competes his way through it.

“Then ol’ mad dog Sloan comes in throwing absolute fuzz. He just competes to the zone and says, ‘Here it is boys. If you can hit 95, I tip my cap, but you’re gonna have to hit 95 in the middle of the plate.’ As good as they are on the mound — and they’re terrific on the mound — we were just as tough and competitive on the mound.”

Mercer was pleased to see it, especially with his Hoosiers entering the twinbill on a two-game skid.

Yet again, Indiana responded, with Lloyd leading the way.

“I just think it shows the tremendous toughness that our team has,” Lloyd said. “I don’t think teams win doubleheaders very often, especially to clinch a series. It just shows how tough we are, our resiliency, for sure.”