Hoosiers season ends with 9-7 loss

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Indiana went down fighting. Almost literally.

Neither IU nor Louisville appreciated the decisions made by home plate umpire Ken Langford over the final pitches of Sunday afternoon’s elimination game. And once Langford and the rest of his crew left the field following the Cardinals’ 9-7 victory, the two teams turned their frustrations on each other.

Indiana’s trip to the Louisville Regional ended not with a title, or a ticket to next weekend’s Super Regional, but with a season-ending loss — and a hostile encounter instead of a handshake line.

After a contentious ending, the teams traded words on the field at Jim Patterson Stadium and had to be restrained and separated before their postgame barbs escalated into something more. At the conclusion of a three-hour, 48-minute ballgame that saw Indiana’s postseason hopes dashed on a controversial called third strike — and saw Louisville’s closer ejected in similarly controversial fashion — emotions boiled over.

“It was just the heat of the moment,” IU senior Matt Lloyd said. “Questionable call, tension was high, just emotions blowing up a little bit.”

Trailing by as many as seven runs midway through the contest, IU (37-23) chipped at its deficit over the final few innings. The Hoosiers plated four runs in the sixth, highlighted by a two-run triple by Drew Ashley, then kept coming in the eighth and ninth innings.

A botched double play ball by Louisville helped Grant Richardson score in the eighth before the Hoosiers plated two more in the final frame. A two-out solo home run by Scotty Bradley got IU within three runs, then an RBI single through the middle from Richardson inched the Hoosiers within two.

With two outs and Richardson on base, catcher Ryan Fineman represented the tying run. Fineman worked the count full against Cardinals closer Michael McAvene, taking the fifth pitch of the at-bat just off the plate for ball three. Louisville’s dugout erupted in disagreement at the call, while McAvene appeared to tell Langford that the call was “horrible.”

Langford ejected McAvene for the comment, tossing him from the game without a warning. That drew the swift and immediate ire of Louisville coach Dan McDonnell, who argued with Langford about the quick hook. Because of the ejection, McAvene will have to serve an immediate four-game suspension.

Whatever frustration Louisville held with the plate ump was immediately matched by Indiana on the next pitch, when Langford called strike three against Fineman on a ball that the Hoosiers claimed bounced in the turf.

Fineman protested the call at the plate before IU first base coach Casey Dykes exploded down the line to yell at the crew as they left the field. Louisville Metro Police tried to diffuse the situation by directing Dykes back in the direction of the IU dugout area.

Mercer said after the game that he planned to file a complaint against Langford with the NCAA Tournament site directors, among other officials.

“I don’t know what was said between their pitcher and the umpire,” Mercer said. “It’s not my place to speak on what was said, what caused the immediate ejection. That umpire will have to answer to that. But the reality is — and you can look at the video — I’m a subdued guy. I’m pretty level-headed. Both of our base coaches are very level-headed, subdued guys. The pitch just bounced. You can look at the video. I’m not saying something that’s untrue or controversial.

“When you have a game like this with so much on the line, so much at stake and you make a call like that to end guys careers — and some of these guys, end their baseball career, period; some of these guys, to end their college careers — it’s gonna be heated. There’s gonna be people who are upset. They have a job to do. I have a job to do. They get paid to do their job. I get paid to do my job. You have to be able to execute. Everyone’s held to that same standard, so it’s gonna be an emotional response when those things happen.”

As frustrating as the end of Sunday’s game was for IU, the Hoosiers have only themselves to blame for the result.

For the third time in as many games this weekend, Indiana failed to receive a quality outing from its starting pitcher. There were defensive miscues and poor situational at-bats, too.

Tanner Gordon was the latest IU pitcher to labor through a start this weekend, leaving in the middle of the third after yielding six runs, five of which were earned. The right-hander began the day efficiently, escaping the first inning on only eight pitches. But the afternoon quickly unraveled for Gordon, who was tagged with a four spot in the bottom of the second.

Across IU’s three games this weekend, Gordon and fellow starters Pauly Milto and Andrew Saalfrank combined to allow 15 earned runs on 26 hits over 11 combined innings of work.

“We had to handle the moment better,” Mercer said.

An error on Indiana second baseman Cade Bunnell started the Cardinals’ four-run second, before Louisville five-hole hitter Jake Snider put runners on the corners with a single through the left side. Danny Oriente brought both runners home with a two-run double to the right field gap. Then, moments later, Justin Lavey smacked a ball up the middle and off the glove of diving IU shortstop Jeremy Houston to drive in two more runs.

Cardinals cleanup hitter Alex Binelas extended the lead to 6-0 with a two-run homer to dead centerfield in the third.

Meanwhile, Gordon’s counterpart positioned himself for the win. Louisville starter Bobby Miller threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of the first 23 batters he faced, holding IU scoreless through the first five innings.

And while Indiana created chances against Miller, the Hoosiers mostly failed to cash in.

In the third, IU loaded the bases with no outs, but swinging strikeouts by Elijah Dunham and Cole Barr, followed by a fly out to center by Scotty Bradley, ended the threat. An inning later, Indiana wasted a leadoff single by Jeremy Houston with a double play ball off the bat of Richardson.

In the fifth, the Hoosiers put two on with one out after Lloyd doubled and Dunham was hit by a pitch. But back-to-back strikeouts by Barr and Bradley killed the scoring chance.

Eight of IU’s 11 strikeouts came in its first 20 at-bats. The Hoosiers left 10 men on base and went 4-for-15 with runners in scoring position.

And while the ending to Sunday’s season finale felt sour for Indiana, it wasn’t the only factor in the team’s final defeat.

“I know it hurts when it’s over,” McDonnell said. “Lot of emotion there at the end but, obviously, they are very deserving of being at this point. Really good team and showed how much they battle, all the way to the finish.”

8 comments

  1. A lot of unnecessary theater.

    The Hoosiers missed their moments.

    The officiating couldn’t have been addressed more poorly. Whether it impacted the final result was underscored by…everything about it.

    Too bad the season ended on this kind of note.

      1. This one can’t be put on me. I haven’t said a word about the tourney.

        Learned my lesson.

          1. I earned it.

            That’s why I kept my trap shut going into the tourney.

            If I have to watch a game standing on one foot while eating bananas well…you do what you have to.

    1. I agree Chet, it is unfortunate the season ended the way it did, but in retrospect, I believe this team overachieved greatly. The team’s ability to adapt to the different approach to the game brought by Mercer is very encouraging. If they can do this well having been recruited for prior philosophies, then the future is bright for IU baseball as Mercer recruits in players who more closely fit his approach to the game.

      The more disappointing aspect is the continued plight of B1G baseball in general. UM is the lone hope of the conference left even with 5 schools making it to the tournament. The B1G is a loss this afternoon away from being shut out from the super regional round.

      1. It’s important to remember that the Hoosiers’ trip to the CWS a few years ago was the only trip by ANY Big Ten team since 1987.

        Winning the league and going to the tournament under a new coach?

        Outstanding. Absolutely outstanding.

        If there us one thing the athletic department has done well it is finding great baseball coaches.

        This wasn’t a great post season but we seem 5o have a really good program.

  2. Fur flying isn’t a big deal. Some positive resolve can generate from the intensity of ensuing sunlight that comes from it.

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