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Photo by Kallan Graybill.
Photo by Kallan Graybill.

Indiana baseball dismantles Middle Tennessee 12-5

Indiana looked like a rejuvenated team with 15 hits and its pitchers striking out 18.

After Indiana dropped its opening Big Ten series against Illinois, it looked as if the team had lots of weaknesses as it struggled to score runs in key situations. The Hoosiers allowed a combined 30 hits, 24 earned runs and 16 walks in Friday and Sunday’s games. However, Indiana made up for its recent mistakes and showed signs of stability in Tuesday’s midweek game versus Middle Tennessee.

Indiana's offense sparked early, led by first-inning singles from Devin Taylor and Brock Tibbitts. With a runner in scoring position, Nick Mitchell hit a double, driving in Taylor to put the first run on the board.

The following inning, Jasen Oliver extended his hitting streak to seven games. He roped a single to left field, 105 miles per hour off the bat. Carter Mathison followed with a base hit. Tyler Cerny continued the rally, hitting a hard infield ground ball to shortstop and Mathison beat the throw to second. With the bases loaded, Taylor walked, scoring Oliver. With runners on, Tibbitts drove the ball to center field for a double, scoring Mathison and Cerny.

With no runners on in the bottom of the third inning, Oliver swung hard, knocking a ball just over the fence in right field for his first collegiate home run. Oliver, who started the season on the bench, recently established himself as an everyday starter.

Indiana starting pitcher Ty Rybarczyk started the game by throwing three hitless innings while striking out four batters.

Rybarczyk found trouble in the fourth inning. Gabe Jennings hit a single, ending Rybarczyk’s no-hit bid. While keeping an eye on Jennings at first base, Rybarczyk attempted a pickoff move but he made a wild throw, allowing Jennings to advance to second base. This error hurt Rybarczyk. Briggs Rutter hit a single, driving in Jennings. Middle Tennessee's offense continued to roll. Jackson Galloway added another single, advancing Rutter to third base. Trace Phillips extended the inning by hitting the ball out of the infield to score Rutter. 

After the game, Indiana coach Jeff Mercer explained his reasoning for keeping Rybarczyk in the game for longer than usual.

“We wanted to get him to his pitch limit… I thought he set the tone on getting fastballs in and executing fastballs in and working off of that, and it opened up the plate for us," Mercer said.

Rybarczyk, who hadn’t thrown more than two innings in a previous appearance this season, is coming off of Tommy John surgery last season.

“It’s just good to be back out there competing for this team… just happy that I can be out there for them and give them a chance," Rybarczyk said.

Middle Tennessee ended Rybarczyk’s outing. Drew Buhr, a graduate student, relieved Rybarczyk and escaped the jam. He struck out Jared Vetetoe and got Luke Vinson to ground out.

After Middle Tennessee scored two runs in the fourth inning, Indiana's batters stayed confident. Taylor drew his second walk of the game, putting a runner on for Tibbitts. Tibbitts belted a double off the wall, his third hit of the game, that was inches away from being a home run into the Indiana bullpen in left field. Tibbitts’ double brought in Taylor.

Buhr continued his excellence in relief, striking out both Luke Vinson and Eston Snider in the fifth inning. Ethan Phillips relieved Buhr in the sixth inning. He retired Briggs Rutter and Jackson Galloway with strikeouts. Phillips was rolling until Jared Vetetoe obliterated a two-run home run 432 feet, out of the inside of Bart Kaufman Field. Phillips rebounded quickly, striking out Cale Vinson on the next at-bat.

Indiana's offense fought back. Mitchell hit a sacrifice fly to score Cerny. Joey Brenczewski hit a ball up the middle to drive in Taylor.

Indiana's pitching stayed strong. Graduate student Ty Bothwell entered the game in relief and he shined. He struck out two batters then he attempted a pickoff that ended in a rundown in Indiana’s favor. Brayden Risedorph replaced Bothwell after one inning and Risedorph struck out the side in the top of the eighth.

After Oliver entered the game without a home run in his collegiate career, he mashed a two-run shot to right-center field for his second home run of the game. Sam Murrison, who entered the game as a pinch hitter, recorded his first at-bat of the season. It ended with the best result possible: a home run off the scoreboard. Mathison proceeded to hit a solo home run to left-center field, his sixth of the season.

Coach Mercer praised Oliver and gave insight on his workload.

“Jasen spent six hours in the cages the last two days," Mercer said. "He was in there all day today, and I told him after the game, ‘It’s not shocking when you put in work like that.’ ... [He's] obsessed with success, I mean truly motivated to succeed… I gotta hit him higher in the lineup obviously.”

Risedorph struck out the side for the second time in the game.

Mercer explained why Risedorph has found success following his transition from starting pitcher to the bullpen.

“I think he’s better in the fight when it’s a one-run game… he’s a big, tough, strong, competitive kid, and he just works better like that," Mercer said.

Indiana will stay close to home, traveling to Butler on Thursday for the start of a four-game series.

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