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Indiana walks it off against Illinois for crucial series-opening win

After seeing its lead evaporate, Indiana baseball hit its first walk-off of the season courtesy of Big Ten Freshman of the Week Josh Pyne to fend off the Illinois Fighting Illini 7-6 in a game where IU led 4-0.

Early was the key word in this game. Indiana got out of two bases loaded jams in the first two innings, and followed them both up with two runs in each of the first two innings to lead 4-0. The game was originally scheduled for 7 p.m., but with inclement weather on the horizon, first pitch was pushed up to noon ET.

Hunter Jessee knocked in Bobby Whalen in each of the first two innings. Whalen would come around again to score his third and the winning run in the ninth as Pyne delivered his first career walk-off hit — a single down the left field line — to send the crowd home happy.

Jack Perkins was one out away from another quality start, finishing with 5 ⅔ innings pitched, two earned runs, and a whopping 128 pitches.

The middle of the game saw five straight half-innings where each team scored a run as Indiana's lead went back and forth from four to three before Illinois tied it up. The Hoosier bats kept applying pressure on Cole Kirschsieper, who head coach Jeff Mercer dubbed “one of the best pitchers in the league.”

Defense was a big storyline in Friday’s game. Both teams made some incredible diving plays in the outfield, but the big turning point was Max Johnson’s error to begin the eighth inning. The freshman has seen a lot of playing time in the past two weeks since Phillip Glasser’s hand injury, and although he has made the most of it, one mistake allowed the Illini to tie the game at six with three unearned runs. Johnson also tried to walk it off himself by scoring on a wild pitch in the ninth, but an unlucky ricochet made him dead to rights.

Luckily for Johnson, Pyne bailed him out by bouncing a single inside the third base line for the victory. When asked about the walk-off, Pyne acknowledged that he was indeed thinking about being in the spot, given he was due up fourth in the order. When the first three baserunners reached, it was Pyne’s time to shine.

Say what you want about this team over the course of this rollercoaster ride, but there is an obvious constant: Scoring runs late, regardless of the score.

Mercer mentioned how the attitude of the team has been the “consistent theme of the past couple weeks.” They’ve been able to overcome injuries, brutal losses decided in the late games, and the hurdle of having a lot of new faces on the team.

“The record comes and goes, but an attitude is forever,” Mercer said. “They have an attitude, and I love it.”

Indiana will look to replicate what it did last week against Nebraska: win the series on Saturday. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m., with Bradley Brehmer taking the bump for Indiana.

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