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Ty Bothwell throws a pitch in Friday night's win over West Virginia. (photo via Olivia Bianco)
Ty Bothwell throws a pitch in Friday night's win over West Virginia. (photo via Olivia Bianco)

‘At the end of the day, we have a ballgame to win’: Indiana rallies past West Virginia in NCAA opener

Despite losing their starter early, Indiana rallied to overcome the Mountaineers

LEXINGTON – Facing a 3-2 count in the bottom of the sixth with the game-tying run on third base, Indiana’s Ty Bothwell is facing West Virginia’s Tevin Tucker in the evening’s most momentous at-bat. 

Bothwell is in the game for his fastball profile – something pitching coach Dustin Glant and company have identified by this point is the way to attack a heavy-hitting Mountaineer lineup. 

So of course, it only makes sense that Bothwell would twirl a breaking ball that got Tucker to check his swing a fraction too late, ending the frame with an emphatic strikeout.

He’s in the game much earlier than anticipated, following up a mammoth effort from Brayden Risedorph. In truth, Risedorph wasn’t supposed to be in the game that early either – starter Luke Sinnard’s night ending prematurely due to injury. With head coach Jeff Mercer acting out of precaution instead of necessity, the Hoosiers turned to the freshman.

But the scenes as Sinnard left the mound are much different than when Risedorph and Bothwell eventually left the hill.

Sinnard left the hill overwhelmed with emotions. Risedorph left to a raucous applause for his efforts. But Bothwell didn’t wait for a crowd reaction – he was busy with his own.

LET”S F**KING GO!, Bothwell exclaimed as he returned to the dugout after the strikeout as the game flipped to the seventh inning. At that point, Indiana was clamoring to a 6-5 lead.

“We all want to go out there and have a lot of fun and play with a lot of pace and get a lot of things done and win the game,” Bothwell said Friday night. “Every out is going to be a determining factor. You’ve got to celebrate the small victories, win the battle in the end. That’s basically how I treated it.

“It was just a fun experience all around.”

Few things test the mettle of a young team like losing a bonafide starter in the blink of an eye, but Indiana has been in the arena before this season. As the Hoosiers huddled around their starter, exchanging supportive hugs and back pats with the 6-8 sophomore, Indiana’s gut was checked. It always will be in a postseason environment, but nothing quite prepares you for the fire drill that comes with only getting two innings out of your stretched-out workhorse.

Indiana had to react quickly, and the Mountaineers were primed to pounce. So, they relied on themselves to persevere through. 

“Luke has won us a lot of games this year. He’s been an unbelievable competitor for us,” shortstop Phillip Glasser said. “Obviously in that moment you’re emotional for him, to see him go down like that. But we had the guys come up together and say, ‘At the end of the day, we have a ballgame to win.’

“We were all rallied behind Luke. And just playing with that emotion and just rallying with the guys, we were able to pull it out.”

Don’t discredit Risedorph’s efforts, either. Despite a rocky start – it’s a tough ask for any freshman to be inserted into that situation – Risedorph calmed himself and the team behind him on his way to an impressive performance that was crucial to the victory as well.

Through an unusual use of small ball and a combination of situational hitting and purposeful baserunning, Indiana was able to benefit off of West Virginia mistakes and their own labors to exchange the lead back and forth throughout the contest. The Hoosiers aimed to put pressure on the Mountaineer defensive efforts, and in turn, were able to play more loose themselves. It ended up being to their advantage.

“They can give you a window, an avenue, an opening, but your guys sill have to go through and walk through the door and capitalize,” Mercer said. “We did a really good job of doing that, staying calm, staying collected in a big environment and finding a way to just be dutiful. You preach every day to the guys, the more fundamental team has the best opportunity to win outside of a heroic performance on the mound from one team or another.

“We were able to come out on the right side of it today.”

It wouldn’t be until the ninth inning before the Hoosiers pulled away, a five-spot coming with two outs to seal the result on a 12-6 victory.

Three consecutive hits – a Brock Tibbitts triple that scored Glasser and Bobby Whalen, Carter Mathison’s single scoring Tibbitts, and Josh Pyne’s two-run shot that clanged off the left field foul pole – all came with two outs. Suddenly, thanks to a sophomore class that’s been so instrumental in spearheading Indiana offense efforts in the past, Indiana’s ascension into the winner’s bracket was suddenly certain.

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Josh Pyne celebrates after hitting a home run in the ninth inning of Friday's win over West Virginia. (photo via Olivia Bianco)

“That’s our model, that’s what we’re going to do,” Mercer said Friday night. “We’re going to play young guys, go through the process with them… If you do that, you’ll build a program. You’ll build something that’s sustaining in perpetuity.”

It’s the first time Indiana has opened a Regional appearance with a victory since 2015, and the first time in six tries that Mercer has done the same. He’s been in this spot before, as a player, assistant coach and now head coach. He entered the night 0-5 in these situations, but he left Kentucky Proud Park on Friday night having notched the first in the left column.

Mercer knows it’s a big deal for his program. They’ve been diligent with their process, sticking to their guns and building a program the way they feel it should be done, the way it needs to compete at a national level.

That work to put Indiana in a position where they aren’t only in the national spotlight as they are this weekend, but to find success as well, is challenging. Mercer doesn’t mince for words, calling it an “arduous, grueling, painstaking” journey. 

“You have to be committed and be willing to go through the hard stuff to get there,” Mercer said. “Every now and then, you get these little moments where you get to really enjoy them. It’s a big day for us. I’m proud of the kids for sticking to it, fighting through it and doing those things.

“I’m really proud of the program for sustaining itself and being able to go back and compete at this level.”

Now, in the first dose of tournament experience for nearly the entire roster, Indiana finished Friday’s contest with a 1-0 record attached to their name. They’ll hope to go 1-0 on Saturday.

“You’ve got to win today,” Mercer said. “You can’t leave it on the field.”


Indiana continues NCAA Regional play Saturday, June 3rd. First pitch between the Hoosiers and regional host No. 12 Kentucky is scheduled for 6 p.m. eastern.

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