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Indiana's infield meets at the mound during Sunday, June 4th's game against Kentucky in the NCAA Regional. (Photo via Olivia Bianco)
Indiana's infield meets at the mound during Sunday, June 4th's game against Kentucky in the NCAA Regional. (Photo via Olivia Bianco)

Indiana pitching aids Kentucky outburst, sets up winner-take-all Regional final

“Sometimes games go sideways,” Jeff Mercer said Sunday. “Today was one of those games.”

LEXINGTON – When Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer emerged from the dugout in the top of the seventh inning, the frustration of an evening gone awry had reached its limit.

A Hoosier pitcher had just hit their ninth Kentucky batter of the evening – sophomore right-hander Adrian Vega had just plunked Wildcat hitter Reuben Church, his third time taking the painful trip to first on the evening. Jase Felker had just been hit for the third time as well earlier in the frame, meaning Church and Felker accounted for six of the nine occurrences Sunday night.

If anything, Kentucky was prepared. The Wildcats had intentionally implemented getting hit by a pitch into their pregame batting practice routine. Catcher Chase Stanke's idea, UK’s Hunter Gilliam was clear with his message – the Wildcats feed off of it, and it’s a part of their game. Nolan McCarthy agreed.

“It’s a free base,” McCarthy said Sunday night. “Why not take whatever they give us?”

But when the home plate umpire issued a warning to both the dugouts, the emotions of a spiraling contest sometimes become a lot to handle at once. Kentucky had put up five runs in the frame, but Indiana veteran catcher Peter Serruto – the hero from the night before – wasn’t backing down. He and a Wildcat hitter shared words, demonstrating the contentious nature of the weekend.

“Pete’s gonna stick up for his guy,” Mercer said postgame Sunday night. “(The umpire is) doing his job, trying to keep everything de-escalated. It’s heated. It’s a big moment and guys are frustrated.”

Ryan Waldschmidt homered in the immediate aftermath, scoring the Wildcats’ 15th and 16th runs of the evening. An overjoyed Kentucky Proud Park crowd was on a starkly different end of the spectrum than the night before, celebrating what was the final nail in a coffin already closed. 

Kentucky would go on to secure a 16-6 victory, setting up a winner-take-all NCAA Regional championship final on Monday.

“Sometimes you’re on top of the hill and sometimes you’re on the bottom of the hill. You can’t ride the waves,” Mercer said postgame. “You’re not the best team in the whole world when you win, and you're not the worst team in the world when you lose – even when you get your butt kicked.”

For the first time all year long, Indiana’s back is up against the wall – facing elimination and the conclusion of their season. Although the opportunity to play in a game with stakes as high as they were on Sunday and will be on Monday is fresh, the necessity to overcome adversity and obstacles with their play is familiar.

“I talked to them afterwards,” Mercer continued. “They’re great. They understand. They’ll move on and let’s go play tomorrow.

“If you’ve been good enough, if you won enough games to get to this point in the season, then you’ve had to persevere through obstacles throughout the course of the year.”

When Luke Sinnard’s Friday outing was shortened due to injury, the Hoosiers found themselves in a predicament. Mercer used two starters to pick up a chunk of the innings Sinnard would’ve likely accounted for, but the importance of winning the weekend’s first game trumped the desire to hold back any arms. 

But the loss of innings was always going to catch up to Indiana. With two games to win one, Mercer and his staff made the decision to withhold guys that could’ve possibly come back on Sunday – Ty Bothwell, Ryan Kraft, Connor Foley and others. Instead, IU will be ready with whatever bullets they have Monday evening.

“We read the game, decide where it goes,” Mercer said. “If we don’t have a window, then we push to tomorrow and we go try to win the Regional.

“You have to be able to, if you get into a position where you have to take it on the chin, you have to take it on the chin, because as a coach your job is to give your team and the boys the best opportunity to win their Regional.”

Sunday's result was more reminiscent of the March meeting between the two programs, a contest Kentucky won going away and in run-rule fashion. Now, with everything to play for on Monday night, Indiana will hope for a performance more reflective of Saturday’s spirited victory rather than the one on Sunday night. 

After Monday, one team will see the curtains close on their season and the other will have the chance to write another act to their terrific season. If Indiana hopes to be the latter, they must be intentional in flushing Sunday night’s result quickly.

“We have an opportunity to win a Regional and that’s why we came here,” senior shortstop and leader Phillip Glasser said Sunday night. “I know our guys, we’ve done it all year, to regroup and refocus and go on to tomorrow.

“The only voices we listen to are the ones inside the locker room. This team believes we can go as far as we want to.”

Mercer’s program has a standard they hold themselves to – “You don’t get to mail it in or you don’t get to wear “Indiana” across your chest or cash in your chips because you’re frustrated or the score is out of hand,” he says.

Feelings don’t matter anymore, only the chance to be Super next weekend. To do so, Indiana will have to come out victorious on Monday night over the same team that is the reason their frustrations reached this point in the first place.

“We’ll line up tomorrow, see if we can make a run at it, go win it.”


Indiana and No. 12 Kentucky play Monday, June 5 in game seven of the Lexington regional. A berth in the NCAA Super Regionals is at stake. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. eastern.

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