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Three takeaways from Indiana Baseball’s early exit in Omaha

Matt Lloyd stands in. (Josh Eastern/HN)

Indiana Baseball exited the Big Ten Tournament in a surprising 9-4 loss to a shorthanded and desperate Minnesota baseball team today at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha.

The Golden Gophers simply wanted the game more. With a 27-26 record, Minnesota now has no choice but to win out in the Big Ten Tournament if the Gophers have hopes of playing in an NCAA Tournament Regional. The Gophers showed that determination against Indiana as they exploded for nine runs and limited IU to just three hits all day.

What’s even more impressive is that Minnesota is without its best pitcher and player, sophomore utilityman Max Meyer, who is injured and unlikely to play the rest of the week. Meyer holds the best ERA in conference at a 2.28 mark, and hits for a .256 average.

Unlike Minnesota, Indiana was anything but impressive during its brief stint in Omaha. The No. 1 seed Hoosiers looked nothing like the regular season champs that they were, as they easily bowed out with two losses in as many days to No. 8 seed Iowa on Wednesday 4-2, and No. 4 seed Minnesota Thursday afternoon.

Fortunately for Indiana, the Hoosiers are a lock for the NCAA Tournament and will receive some extended rest, as the NCAA Regionals don’t start until May 31.

Before then though, let’s take a look at what Indiana struggled with today and what needs fixing before the NCAA Tournament gets underway.

Pitching and defense struggle mightily

It was an uncharacteristic day for Indiana’s defense as it allowed nine Minnesota runs, nearly five more than its 4.2 average runs allowed per game. The defensive lapse can be attributed to a lackluster pitching performance and a number of errors. The Hoosiers used five different pitchers and just about all of them had trouble against the Golden Gophers.

Tanner Gordon got the start and went 4.1 innings while giving up four runs (two earned) on five hits, striking out four. The next three arms used — Gabe Bierman, Tommy Sommer and Grant Sloan — all went less than two innings, and each gave up runs. Bierman and Sloan gave up two, and Sommer gave up one in his first batter faced, a solo shot over the left field fence off the bat of Eli Wilson. Alex Franklin only faced two batters, the last two of the game for Minnesota, both of which resulted in strikeouts.

Indiana’s errors didn’t help out the struggling pitching either. The Hoosiers’ three errors committed Thursday equaled their number of hits. Drew Ashley, Cole Barr and Grant Richardson all accounted for the errors which haunted Indiana all afternoon.

Ashley’s error would prove to be costly. With one out and a routine ground ball to second, Ashley couldn’t make the play. Had he converted, there would’ve been two outs and no runners on base. Instead, Minnesota’s Zack Raabe reached first base and then scored on an RBI double from Jordan Kozicky to tie the game at 3-3. Minnesota would build off the momentum and go on to score two more runs in the inning, taking a lead Indiana would never get back.

Reliance on long ball evident

The Hoosiers just can’t seem to find a way to win baseball games when they aren’t hitting the ball deep. Once again, Indiana didn’t have a home run today and the offense struggled because of it.

Still, the Hoosiers did make some strides to have a more balanced offense. For example, in the bottom of the fourth inning, they took advantage of walks from Matt Lloyd and Elijah Dunham, and a single from Cole Barr to load the bases with no outs.

From there, a RBI ground out from Scotty Bradley and a missed catch in shallow left from the Minnesota defense allowed Indiana to tie it at 2-2. With Justin Walker getting into a run-down between first and second, a bad throw allowed Barr to score from third to take the lead.

The problem was that the Hoosiers didn’t have enough of those strong offensive sequences throughout the entire game.

Beyond the absence of the much-needed home run, the bats just weren’t there for Indiana at all. The team recorded a total of three hits for the entire game from Ashley, Walker and Bradley.

What may be concerning for Indiana moving forward is that in conjunction with the home run reliance, the Hoosiers may be too reliant on their comfortable home of Bart Kaufman Field. At home, Indiana is 21-5, but away from Bloomington the Hoosiers are just 15-16. Indiana is going to have to embrace neutral site games moving forward with the NCAA Tournament quickly approaching.

Looking ahead

As previously mentioned, because of the early exit from the Big Ten Tournament, Indiana will receive plenty of rest and won’t start regional play until May 31.

The focus now shifts to where Indiana will end up for regional play. Any chance at being one of the 16 national seeds and hosting a regional vanished with the performance this week in Omaha. The Hoosiers likely would have needed to win out in the Big Ten Tournament to have an opportunity of hosting a regional.

Indiana will likely be a two seed, but with two straight disappointing losses, the prospects of slipping to a three seed isn’t out of the realm of possibility, either.

Regardless of seeding, Indiana has a chance of being slotted in two nearby locations in either Louisville or Nashville, the locations of the University of Louisville and Vanderbilt University, respectively.

Both schools are essentially locks to be national seeds and would be challenging places to play even if close in proximity to Bloomington.

Louisville is obviously far closer to Bloomington than Nashville, but the Cardinals are no easy contest, currently ranked as the No. 9 team in the country. Louisville and Indiana played earlier this season in Bloomington, on May 14, where Louisville won 8-7 in 12 innings.

Vanderbilt is currently ranked as the No. 2 team in the country and has a stellar 45-10 record. The Hoosiers actually played in Vanderbilt’s regional in 2015 where Indiana went 1-2 to end their season.

The NCAA Tournament Selection Show airs Monday at 12 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

For now, all the Hoosiers can do is wait.

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