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Photo by Danielle Stockwell.
Photo by Danielle Stockwell.

Indiana wins series against Penn State with strong bullpen, run support

In the final two games, Indiana scored 22 runs while its bullpen allowed just two runs.

Several days of bad weather prevented Indiana from participating in regular outdoor practices before hosting Penn State. Indiana's midweek game against Ball State had been postponed.

“We tried to practice outside as much as we can but it literally rained five inches this week," Indiana coach Jeff Mercer said. "We’ve taken ground balls in the rain. We took fly balls in the pouring rain and we tried to do the best we can and set a bunch of stuff up indoors at Mellencamp.”

The turf dried in time for a three-game home series.

Game One

Ty Bothwell started the first game for Indiana. Bothwell entered the game coming off of two reliable starts where he lasted six or more innings and guided Indiana to wins in both.

Penn State spoiled Bothwell’s recent momentum, swinging hard early. Leadoff hitter Joe Jaconski hit a solo home run over the Bart Kaufman Field patio in right field. Penn State scored two additional runs after three singles in a row from Bobby Marsh, J.T. Marr and Adam Cecere, followed by a ground out from Grant Norris.

Indiana fought back quickly. Jake Stadler hit a two-out, RBI single, scoring Tyler Cerny to put Indiana on the board in the bottom of the second inning.

Mercer pulled Bothwell after four and ⅓ innings after he allowed eight earned runs on nine hits. Bothwell’s earned run average shot up to 6.93 following his catastrophic performance.

Indiana's poor pitching continued as relief pitchers Jack Moffitt, Eli Shaw, Ryan Rushing and Seth Benes allowed six earned runs. They weren't able to find any stability.

Mercer said he looks forward to seeing lesser-used pitchers get innings, highlighting how important it is for players to step up when needed.

“Our young guys are like our Triple-A system," Mercer said. "It’s our farm system. The second half of the season, those guys need to give us a lift, especially this year, with some of the guys that are missing.”

Indiana’s offense found hits here and there, but it was no match for Penn State. The long ball was a trend all night for the Nittany Lions, who hit seven home runs across five different players.

Penn State took game one, 15-4. 

Game Two

With ace Connor Foley on the mound for game two, Indiana appeared likely to cruise through the game. Entering the game, Indiana had a 7-1 record when Foley pitches.

Foley started his outing with a 1-2-3 first inning. However, in the second inning, Foley’s command seemed off. He walked two of the first three batters he faced. His placement issues continued. Penn State started punishing Foley after one walk and three hits. Penn State's Marr exploded with a three-run home run to center. His teammate Cecere followed with a no-doubt home run to right field. 

Indiana removed Foley from the game after less than two innings of work. He allowed eight earned runs and walked three batters. It was the shortest start of his career.

Indiana's coaching staff had to turn to the bullpen much sooner than anticipated. First, graduate student Drew Buhr needed to finish Foley’s inning. Buhr struck out Penn State's Norris to get out of the long inning.

Indiana's offense came alive with a rally, scoring five runs in the second inning after five different Hoosiers got on base. Notably, Josh Pyne ripped a double to left-center field, scoring two runs.

Buhr, who rarely pitches more than an inning or two, saved some of Indiana’s bullpen arms, lasting for 4.1 innings. He didn't allow any runs while striking out eight of 16 batters faced. Buhr’s efforts kept Indiana in a tight game.

“My job was just go out there and just try to throw up zeros and give us a chance and that’s what I tried to do today, was just go out there and compete to the best of my ability," Buhr said.

The scoreboard collected dust until the bottom of the seventh inning. Freshman Andrew Wiggins swung hard, hitting a monsoon of a two-run blast. Wiggins’ ball traveled an estimated 431 feet after being smacked 113 miles per hour off the bat. Indiana cut Penn State’s original 8-0 lead to a one-run game.

In the eighth inning, Indiana called Brayden Risedorph to try to finish the game. Risedorph, a flamethrower, topped out at 97 miles per hour off the mound, but he walked Tayven Kelley.

Jaconski hit the ball in between the gap of first and second base to get on with a single, sending Kelley to third.

With two runners on, Bobby Marsh hit a hard ground ball to shallow right field, driving in Penn State’s first run since the second inning.

In the bottom of the eighth, Cerny led off for Indiana. Cerny took a hack and pelted the ball for what was originally thought to be a solo home run. Umpires called time to discuss the play and overturned the call, ruling Cerny’s hit as a ground rule double. They explained the ball hit the top of the fence and then left the stadium.

Mercer was fired up after the call and he received a warning from the home plate umpire on the next at-bat after Nick Mitchell was caught looking for strike three.

“After the borderline home run call, I figured it was probably time to holler a little bit,” Mercer later joked. “I got one for the boys so they can get off my butt about not getting a warning.”

Heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, Indiana needed two runs to stay alive. Wiggins was hit by a pitch and he soon advanced to second base after Jasen Oliver took ball four. With two runners on base, Devin Taylor, one of the most feared hitters in the Big Ten, recorded his second hit of the game. He singled up the middle, scoring Wiggins and advancing Oliver to third base.

Following Cerny's overturned home run call in the prior inning, the clean-up hitter barreled the ball to left-center field, bringing in Oliver to tie the game. Taylor advanced to scoring position.

Mitchell had the game in his hands. A pitch from Will Perkowski was thrown low and into the ground. Catcher Matt Maloney failed to keep the ball in front of him, allowing Taylor to steal home, sealing the game-winning run in walk-off fashion.

Indiana defeated Penn State, 10-9. 

“It was probably the best comeback I’ve ever been a part of," Mercer said. "You’re down eight to nothing in the second inning to the statistically speaking probably best offense in the league. It was a little bit grim and to fight your way back in that is incredibly impressive."

An incredible comeback from Indiana tied the series at 1-1.

Game Three

Indiana hadn't announced a starting pitcher for Sunday in advance but the coaches put the ball in Ty Rybarczyk’s hand. Rybarczyk had only made five appearances heading into the start.

The first batter of the game, Jaconski, flashed his strength again, powering his second home run of the series. Penn State’s consistent lineup took charge of the game early throughout the series, scoring in the first inning of all three games.

It didn’t take long for Indiana to respond. In the bottom of the second inning, Joey Brenczewski was up after Cerny, Mitchell and Wiggins loaded the bases. On the first pitch Brenczewski saw, the freshman slammed the ball over the fence in dead-center field, hitting his first collegiate home run for a grand slam.

Shortly after Brenczewski’s moon shot, Carter Mathison annihilated a solo home run. He stood watching as the ball sailed past the right field warning track. Mathison’s eighth home run of the season extended Indiana’s lead to 5-1.

In his succeeding at-bat, Brenczewski did it again, knocking another ball out of the stadium. Brenczewski later added another pair of hits to his day, totaling four hits and seven RBI in a monster day at the dish.

“You dream of moments like this when I was a kid," Brenczewski said. "Especially growing up in Indiana, I thought about this moment, so it’s really surreal.”

After Brenczewski’s second long ball of the game, Indiana's offense continued to produce, scoring six insurance runs.

Aydan Decker-Petty’s lockdown relief pitching restricted Penn State from any late-game success. Decker-Petty threw the second half of the game, striking out six while only allowing one earned run.

Indiana rose to the occasion in the finale, knocking down Penn State, 12-3, to win the conference series.

The Hoosiers will have one day of rest before hosting Evansville on Tuesday for a midweek non-conference matchup.

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