Lloyd’s blast lifts Hoosiers to 7-5 win over Rutgers

The 2-2 fastball came in letter-high and departed in a hurry.

When Matt Lloyd made contact, he left little doubt.

In a back-and-forth ballgame, Lloyd’s league-leading 16th home run propelled Indiana to a crucial 7-5 series-opening victory over Rutgers at Bart Kaufman Field.

For an IU club in the hunt for the Big Ten regular season title, Lloyd’s two-run shot in the sixth inning proved to be the difference. Thursday’s win keeps the conference crown within reach for Indiana (34-19, 15-7), which needs a series sweep of the Scarlet Knights, coupled with a Nebraska series win over Michigan to clinch the league championship.

Indiana did its part in the first game of this weekend’s three-game set, and received good news from Lincoln, Neb., where the Cornhuskers won their series opener against the first-place Wolverines. IU is now a half-game behind Michigan with two to play.

The Hoosiers out-hit Rutgers 12-7, using four extra-base hits in the sixth inning to take the lead for good. IU entered the frame trailing 5-4 before tying the game on Matt Gorski’s double to centerfield. Lloyd stepped to the plate next and mashed the seventh pitch of his at-bat over the centerfield fence to give IU the night’s final advantage.

The series continues on Friday evening, when IU’s Tanner Gordon (5-4, 3.42) faces Rutgers’ Tevin Murray (4-4, 2.31) at 6:05 p.m.

After suffering through a self-inflicted 12-inning loss to Louisville on Tuesday, the Hoosiers endured another late night at the park on Thursday. A two-hour, 10-minute weather delay paused action in the top of the second, but the Hoosiers were ready to pounce when play resumed.

A two-run double by Justin Walker pushed Indiana to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning, providing early run support for starter Pauly Milto.

The IU right-hander cruised until the top of the fifth, when Rutgers dinged him for four runs. Kevin Blum supplied an RBI single, followed by a three-run homer by Kevin Welsh — his first of the season. The Hoosiers tied the game in the bottom half, using a run-scoring double by Cole Barr and an RBI groundout by Sam Crail to make it a 4-4 game.

The see-saw contest continued in the sixth, with the Scarlet Knights receiving a measure of good fortune. After leading off the frame with a double to right-centerfield, Rutgers’ No. 5 hitter Tyler McNamara advanced to third on a grounder by Victor Valderrama and scored when Luke Bowerbank’s RBI grounder bounced off the third base bag.

That was the final inning for Milto, who scattered seven hits and was charged for all five Rutgers runs. The senior walked two and struck out six, inducing 10 groundouts and throwing 59 of his 84 pitches for strikes.

IU relievers Grant Sloan and Connor Manous combined for three perfect innings to close the contest.

Elijah Dunham collected four of IU’s hits, including a pair of doubles. The Hoosiers put runners on base in seven of the nine innings, hit .429 with two outs and scored five of their runs with two outs.

Indiana has claimed each series in which it has won the opener this season.

The Hoosiers need a sweep this weekend, and Thursday was the first step.