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Pitching holds serve, big bats deliver as Indiana baseball evens series at Purdue

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The great thing about baseball is there is (almost) always an opportunity to rebound from a difficult loss. After four committing errors and letting the series opener slip away in a 7-4 loss at Purdue (31-16, 12-5 Big Ten) on Friday night, Indiana (26-19-1, 11-6 Big Ten) bounced back with a decisive 10-2 victory to remain within striking distance in the crowded conference title race.

In his first outing since a season sausage showing vs. Penn State on April 13, Indiana starting pitcher Connor Foley worked four efficient innings, allowing one run on two hits, with a pair of walks and strikeouts. Usually strikeout-heavy, Foley induced weak contact and kept his pitch count down, exiting the game with Indiana trailing 1-0. He threw just 58 pitches, well below his season average of 91.

“His stuff was good, he executed pitches when he had to and he got out of jams,” Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer said postgame. “Overall, he was huge.”

Mercer said Friday that Foley would be on a pitch limit and the bulk of the workload would fall on the experienced shoulders of southpaw Ty Bothwell. The Hebron, Indiana, native delivered just one hour south of his hometown.

The Indiana bats were dormant in the first two-thirds of Saturday’s game, and Bothwell kept Purdue from capitalizing and extending its lead. He turned in five strong innings, allowing five hits, one walk and striking out two Boilermaker batters, surrendering just one run for the second time in three appearances.

“When (Foley and Bothwell) can cover a game, it makes your weekend go a lot easier,” Mercer said.

Purdue starting pitcher Luke Wagner did more than go toe-to-toe with Indiana’s pitching tandem; he was clinical. Wagner shut down Indiana for six innings, efficiently attacking the strike zone and facing the minimum 18 batters in two efficient trips through the Indiana lineup.

“He was doing exactly what we knew he was going to do,” Mercer said. “We’re not great against soft-tossing lefties and he was hammering the bottom of the zone.”

As surgically precise as Wagner was, offenses have much more success when facing a starting pitcher for a third time and that was when the Hoosiers finally broke through.

“As a coach, you’ve got to remind the players: We’ve got to hit line drives the other way,” Mercer said.

After going one-for-18 with a double play through the first six innings, Indiana cracked the code on Wagner in the seventh, repeatedly using the opposite field to pick up base hits. After a pair of one-out knocks, Purdue called upon righty Jackson Dannelley out of the bullpen.

Clinging to the 1-0 advantage that his squad held since the fourth inning, Dannelley had the daunting task of trying to retire the heart of Indiana’s lineup, where RBI machines like shortstop Tyler Cerny and designated hitter Joey Brenczewski lie.

Cerny lined out sharply to first, one of the first hard-hit balls of the day for Indiana. Brenczewski found the green grass in left field, tying the game with an RBI single. First baseman Brock Tibbitts suit, giving Indiana the lead with followed his first run-scoring knock since March 30 after a lower body injury kept him sidelined for all of April.

“He’s battling out there on one leg,” Brenczewski said postgame. “It shows Brock’s leadership and how badly we want this series.”

Then, Carter Mathison blew the game open. The Indiana outfielder belted a three-run homer to right-center field, his 12th of the season and 41st of his career, passing Kyle Schwarber for sixth place all-time in Indiana history.

Second baseman Jasen Oliver doubled home catcher Jake Stadler, who scored the final run against his former team in a six-run, seven-hit seventh inning that put the Hoosiers in front for good. All four of Indiana’s run-scoring knocks in the seventh came in two-strike counts with two outs. The Hoosiers added four more insurance runs in the ninth and Bothwell closed the door to cap the 10-2 Indiana victory.

Now back within one game of first place in the Big Ten, Indiana is set for a rubber match versus Purdue at 1 pm Sunday. Neither team has announced its starting pitcher, though Mercer said postgame Indiana will use a combination of Ty Rybarczyk, Ryan Kraft, Aydan Decker-Petty and Jacob Vogel. Both bullpens will likely be busy. The series finale will be streamed on Big Ten Plus.

Follow reporters Matt Press (@MattPress23) and Nick Rodecap (@nickrodecap) for updates the Indiana baseball season throughout.