Both Illinois and Indiana came into Friday night’s game needing a slumpbuster.
Illinois had lost four of its last five while Indiana had lost its last three ballgames. Something had to give. The Hoosiers and Illini are two teams locked in the middle of the Big Ten. Each team needed a win, but the Hoosiers dropped their fourth straight ballgame instead.
IU ace Jonathan Stiever took to the hill, but it wasn’t enough as the Fighting Illini took game one of the three game series, 3-2, Friday night in Bloomington.
“It’s been a tough week and a half,” IU coach Chris Lemonis said. “We just came up on the short side and we’re playing a pretty clean game, pitching and defense, but we’re leaving some guys out there.”
Stiever was on his game early. His fastball reached 97 MPH and his control was spot on. Through the first nine hitters, Stiever faced the minimum and struck out six, including all three batters in the first.
Early on, everything was going IU’s way. The Hoosiers scored two in the first on RBI singles from catcher Ryan Fineman and first baseman Scotty Bradley. IU was rolling in the first.
Stiever, however, ran into trouble as his night progressed. Once Illinois got its first hit, it was a domino effect. They scattered three runs across three innings. Stiever’s night ended after 6.2 innings pitched as he gave up three runs on eight hits while striking out nine and walking two.
“Jon is getting better every week,” Lemonis said. “Thought he pitched great, they hit a couple of balls on him, but it’s the same Jon we get every Friday night.”
Illini starter Andy Fisher didn’t have his best stuff early, but it turned around after that first inning. Fisher’s scouting report is ground ball heavy. The Hoosiers didn’t hit a ball in the air until junior Luke Miller’s pinch hit double in the ninth. In all, there were 16 groundouts.
Fisher was absolutely dealing over 6.1 innings pitched giving up two runs and five hits while striking out four and walking four. He threw nothing overpowering, but it was effective.
“It’s a lot of sink,” Lemonis said. “That ball was moving all over the place. That’s why we tried to bunt a little bit early, but just trying to get some things going – a lot of double plays out there.”
The Hoosiers have now dropped a season-high four games. Pauly Milto’s status is still up in the air this weekend and the bats have fallen silent. IU tallied just six hits Friday.
But the great thing about baseball is the Hoosiers play again tomorrow. The caveat? They need to get back in the win column.
“We’re pressing a little bit now,” Lemonis said. “We haven’t pressed all year. Got to relax and put balls in play.”