Indiana baseball swept Friday’s doubleheader against Butler in two very different fashions.
A walk-off passed ball plated the winning run for the Hoosiers in the bottom of the ninth in game one to beat the Bulldogs 6-5. Then in game two the IU offense erupted for five first inning runs and cruised to a 13-0 win.
But between both games there was one constant factor for Indiana at the plate and in the field: junior catcher Ryan Fineman.
“He’s had a really nice week,” IU coach Chris Lemonis said. “Nice to see, it was a big swing in the first after the way we played in the first game.”
Indiana Baseball's offense gets off to a 🔥 start here in game 2 vs Butler.@ryanfineman14 with a bases clearing 3 RBI double and Justin Walker with a 2 RBI single through the left side gets Indiana out to a 5-0 lead after the first inning. #iubase pic.twitter.com/bHfoTn8yfm
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) March 30, 2018
Fineman finished the doubleheader going 6-for-8 at the dish with six RBI’s and two runs scored between both games on Friday. His bases clearing 3 RBI double in the first inning of the nightcap got Indiana out to a 3-0 lead and they never looked back.
Coming into 2018 Fineman was a career .254 hitter after batting just .239 a year ago. He lost 20 pounds in the offseason and completely changed his swing hoping to raise that average and it’s changed for the better.
Now he’s leading the team with a .347 batting average after today’s six hit performance and sits among the top-15 in the Big Ten in average, but he’s more concerned about Indiana’s strong team chemistry.
“It’s awesome, everyone clicked in the dugout,” Fineman said. “But the biggest thing is that in the 18th inning of the game you have your starters who came out of the game cheering your guys on like it’s a 1-0 game and that’s what good teams do. You have to come out tomorrow and play like you’re 0-0.”
"I found my swing again and I just want to keep it going."
Indiana baseball catcher Ryan @ryanfineman14 went 6-for-8 with six RBI's in the doubleheader sweep today vs Butler and upped his batting average to .348 on the season. #iubase pic.twitter.com/zTX1atF5dO
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) March 31, 2018
It hasn’t been all positives for Fineman at the plate this season, however. He started the year hot hitting .389 through his first 11 games with the Hoosiers on the road in South Carolina, Florida and California. When Indiana returned home, he went just 2-for-21 in his first seven home games. His batting average drop to as low as .273 at one point, but since then he’s gotten back in a groove.
“Just focusing on the little things in my swing,” Fineman said. “My main worry is always just catching well and making sure the pitchers are doing well, but I found my swing again I feel like and I just want to keep it going.”
Over the last five games, Fineman is 10-of-18 at the plate with eight RBI’s and a home run at Indiana State on Wednesday.
Not only is he getting the job done on offense, but he’s also getting it done defensively. He caught all nine innings in the first game and then seven innings in the second game, before Lemonis pulled his catcher with a twelve run lead.
Fineman said the Hoosier pitching staff makes it a little easier to withstand the pressure of catching so many innings.
“It’s definitely tiring,” Fineman said. “But when you have guys like Pauly Milto coming in the game, filling the strike zone it makes it a lot easier.”
This season he’s started 19 out of 24 games at catcher for Indiana after making 95 starts behind the plate in his first two seasons combined and its safe to say the Indiana pitchers love it when he’s back there.
“If we’re doing something a little bit different, the balls not moving the way it usually does, usually he’s the first one to tell us,” junior starting pitcher Jonathan Stiever said. “Just being able to have that sort of reassurance and just sort of instructor almost behind the plate really helps.”
With Fineman ramping up his play on offense, he’s now become one of the most dangerous players for Indiana on both sides of the diamond making the Hoosier lineup even deeper.
“Last year he had a tough year offensively, but he’s been pretty solid for us all year long,” Lemonis said. “He’s hot right now so hopefully we’ll ride him out a little longer, but his defense is always a plus.”