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Snakebit Hoosiers drop series at Ohio State: What went wrong?

What was one of the more anticipated series in the Indiana Hoosiers’ front half of the season turned out to be a dud, as the Hoosiers lost a series in a sweep to the Ohio State Buckeyes in walk-off fashion. This past weekend was the first time Indiana has been swept in Big Ten play since May of 2018.

The series against the Buckeyes was expected to be competitive and featured highly talented Hoosiers pitchers Tommy Sommer and McCade Brown. In the other dugout stood the Buckeyes’ Garrett Burhenn, Seth Lonsway, and former Texas Longhorn Jack Neely.

Here I’ll dive into and analyze the incredible pitching that was on display as well as answer the question, “What went wrong?” for the Hoosiers in Columbus.

Recaps

Game 1 — Friday, April 2:

Indiana 2

Ohio State – 3

Friday had the slow and steady pitching matchup we all expected. Buckeye right-hander Garrett Burhenn was phenomenal on the mound and the Hoosiers struggled to keep up with his fastball all game.

The Ohio State pitchers only gave up three hits the whole game. Aside from third baseman Cole Barr’s solo home run in the top of the sixth inning and first baseman Jordan Fucci’s double down the left field line in the fourth, the Hoosiers really struggled from the batters box. Indiana hit 3-for-30 (.100), which was, at the time, the worst batting average in a game for the Hoosiers all season.

Cole Barr walks to the plate against Purdue. (Ross Abdellah/HN)

Indiana outfielder Drew Ashley’s 39-game reached-base streak, which dated all the way back to the 2019 season, came to an end in an all-around rough day for the IU offense. Indiana ace Tommy Sommer (3-1) had a solid game on the mound despite picking up his first loss of the season.

Game 2 — Saturday, April 3:

****7-innings****

Indiana – 0

Ohio State – 6

Welp, scratch what I said earlier about Indiana having its worst hitting game of the season on Friday, as the Hoosiers hit 2-for-23 (.087) in Saturday’s first game. It really just seemed like the Hoosiers weren’t being aggressive enough. Four batters struck out looking and It’s almost as if the Hoosier hitters put glue on the soles of their cleats every time they went up to bat.

If I could describe the defensive effort in one word from the Hoosiers perspective it would be sloppy. Throwing errors, dropped fly balls and communication errors plagued the Indiana defense and led to three unearned runs for Ohio State.

Buckeyes left-hander Seth Lonsway had a gem of a game. Lonsway faced three batters and struck out all three, each on three pitches, in the second inning. This is known as an immaculate inning and to put in perspective how rare this really is, only 94 pitchers in MLB history have accomplished the feat where there have been 304 recorded no-hitters in MLB history.

Lonsway was impressive all afternoon, hardly behind in a count, and was pounding the strike zone. Seventeen of Lonsway’s 21 outs were strikeouts — and yes you read that correctly, 17 K’s. His off-speed and breaking balls sliced through one of the Big Ten’s best lineups and there was little the Hoosiers could do playing from behind. It was a complete game shutout gem for the Buckeye junior lefty.

So, halfway through the weekend series the Hoosiers were 0-2 against the Buckeyes and hitting a combined 5-for-53 (.094). Indiana was also shut out for the first time since a 4-0 loss at Illinois on May 3, 2019.

Game 3 — Saturday, April 3:

Indiana – 2

Ohio State – 5

Heading into game three of a four-game series in Columbus the Hoosiers needed a big game to gain some momentum. The Hoosiers hadn’t lost a series all season long and that was at risk here.

What was almost a carbon copy of Saturday’s opening game’s first inning, Hoosiers pitcher Ty Bothwell worked efficiently and quickly to get the first two strikeouts before a solo home run to right field from Zach Dezenzo opened the game up for the Buckeyes. As for Neely, he was thorough and confident. The former Longhorn looked poised and despite giving up a pair of solo home runs — one to shortstop Grant Macciocchi and the other to third baseman Cole Barr — he was overall solid and before being relieved retained the Buckeyes lead.

Indiana fell behind early once again and this game felt a lot like Friday’s about halfway through and it ended in similar fashion. Indiana’s bats were a little warm in Saturday’s backend game of the doubleheader but hitting 6-for-33 (.182) just simply isn’t going to be enough. 

The infield had been the Hoosiers’ strength all season long but in the doubleheader Indiana was responsible for six errors, which is going to be hard for any defense to overcome. This loss guaranteed IU’s first series loss of the season.

Game 4 — Sunday, April 4:

Indiana – 3

Ohio State – 4

Sunday was the day the Hoosiers could leave Columbus feeling a little bit better about themselves and the rough weekend they had been having. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the Hoosiers’ fate. What was just a weird game all around ended on a Dezenzo walk-off single down the left field line to drive in the winning run. 

Hoosiers right-hander Gabe Bierman had an awesome game, he seemed composed and very confident. The right-hander has been rattled early this season but avoided it on Sunday. Bierman whips his fastball and when his control is on he’s tough to beat. Great to see him have some confidence and go out there and pitch seven great innings. Indiana reliever John Modugno came in with a two run lead but really struggled in his 1⅔ innings; he just gave up too many hits (5) and the eventual walk-off single. 

Gabe Bierman gets set to deliver to the plate against Kent State on March 27 last year. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

What went wrong?

Shield your eyes, Hoosier fans. You may not want to read this, but Ohio State is a top five team in the Big Ten.

Coming into the game, the Buckeyes had a record of 8-7 and looked to be a middle-tier Big Ten team but they showed their full potential this weekend, especially on the mound. I am so impressed with how composed and confident the Buckeyes were on the mound. The Buckeyes’ starters showed trust in their fielders and an outstanding pitcher-to-catcher relationship. They seemed on the same page all weekend. Ohio State will be in Ann Arbor next weekend for a rivalry date with the Big Ten favorites, Michigan, so we will see how they stack up against another top-caliber opponent.

Indiana has had issues with errors in prior series (Purdue comes to mind) but when you face a good team like Ohio State the sloppy mistakes and mental lapses just can’t happen. You can’t expect to win a series that way. Yes, Ohio State is a good team, but head coach Jeff Mercer knows that the sloppy play just can’t continue.

Mental lapses like getting picked off at first base and dropped fly balls just simply can’t happen at the rate they did this weekend. Of course there will be errors and mistakes but it really just seemed like the Hoosiers were unfocused throughout the weekend. Indiana can’t get away with the mistakes and errors against opponents like the Buckeyes in the top half of the Big Ten. In May, the Hoosiers and Buckeyes will meet again in Bloomington along with the Cornhuskers of Nebraska, a team which is red-hot right now. 

Finish! It seemed like a countless amount of times the Hoosiers had two outs and gave up runs or had two strikes and walked a guy. The Hoosiers hit 3-for-30 (.100) with runners in scoring position in the weekend series. You can’t do that and win in collegiate baseball. It just doesn’t happen. The Hoosiers will need to improve their situational baseball and fix these sloppy mistakes.

Indiana will host Illinois next weekend for a three-game series, as looking to bounce back and put this weekend against the Buckeyes in the rear view mirror. 

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