Entering the Big Ten Tournament, everything was going Indiana’s way.
The Hoosiers had won five of their last six, swept Rutgers at home to end the season and pulled out an unlikely regular season Big Ten title in the first season under new Head Coach Jeff Mercer.
All of that momentum vanished Tuesday night when No. 1 seed Indiana lost 4-2 to the last and No. 8 seed Iowa at T.D. Ameritrade Park in Omaha.
In the regular season, Indiana had virtually no trouble with the Hawkeyes. They swept them by a combined score of 23-4.
The only trouble in that series for Indiana came from one Iowa pitcher, Cole McDonald, who kept Iowa in a close ball game on March 22 with his eleven strikeouts. Indiana did end up winning that Friday match-up, 3-2, on a Logan Kalehta walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth.
The same trouble for Indiana, McDonald, got the better of the Hoosiers this time around.
Tonight, the senior righthander was stellar from the mound once again against IU as he earned the win. He allowed only five hits and one run while striking out nine batters and walking just one in eight innings of work.
McDonald seemingly has had the Hoosiers’ number all season long, his two highest strikeout totals in individual outings this year have both come against Indiana.
The senior didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning and maintained control of the game the whole way through.
He had one rough inning, the top of the sixth, that saw the Hoosiers’ Drew Ashley triple and Matt Gorski single up the middle
to score him and go up 1-0 with no outs.
McDonald wasn’t fazed though; he would follow by getting Indiana’s Matt Lloyd to hit into a double play and Elijah Dunham to fly out to center to end the inning just two batters after the run scored.
That 1-0 lead wouldn’t last long either as Iowa’s offense exploded in the top of the seventh, where they scored three of their four runs. After the offense’s help, McDonald went right back to work, allowing no more runs and only one more hit for the rest of his outing.
Coupled with McDonald’s dominance from the mound, Indiana’s offense struggled tremendously again without any home runs and another lackluster performance against an opponent’s ace.
IU, the nation’s home run leader with 90 thus far, has a losing record in games where they don’t hit a home run this season. It’s no secret that Indiana is reliant on the long ball and today was yet another example of it.
Fortunately for Indiana, they have not been eliminated from the Conference Tournament. The Big Ten Tournament is a double-elimination format, so with one more loss in the tournament, Indiana would be eliminated.
The Hoosiers will look to rebound Thursday at 2 p.m. CDT, Indiana will play No. 4 Minnesota in an elimination game. Minnesota won the first game of the series this season with their ace Max Meyer on the mound. Matt Lloyd walked off to complete a huge Hoosier comeback in game two, and Indiana ran away with game three.
From here on out, it’s do-or-die for the Hoosiers.