Hoosiers Play Comeback Kids AgainAt The Ballpark
I began the fifth weekend of this 2017 college baseball season out in paradise. No, not sitting inside TD Ameritrade Park on a June afternoon. I was able to make a trek to the Hawaiian islands and while I’m out here I decided to check in on two really intriguing teams for this college baseball season: Indiana and Hawaii.
I had already seen the Rainbows at the Dairy Queen Classic in Minneapolis two weeks ago, where they beat the host Gophers twice, while losing to Iowa and beating Oral Roberts. I was impressed with the Rainbows bats and some of their starting pitching was outstanding, especially Neil Uskali, who shut down a really potent Minnesota batting order that weekend. But Indiana was a team I hadn’t seen yet. They had a pair of heartbreaking losses to Oregon State, who is now in the top five, and also beat a good Gonzaga team twice and split three games at Florida Atlantic (one win, one loss and a tie). So I know these guys are going to be another pretty good Big 10 team this year.
Here is how things went on Thursday night out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean while most of you slept..
WHAT I SAW AT LES MURAKAMI STADIUM
Hawaii and Indiana got their series off to a rollicking start the previous night with the Hoosiers tagging UofH for a hard-fought 7-6 win which featured a white-knuckle finish. Today, it was more of the same as the game turned on a dime and went back-and-forth in the late innings. And let me say this… Indiana is a team that appears as if it will never quit. Warning to future IU opponents: stay on top of these guys.
Indiana – 001 000 021 – 4 10 2
Hawaii – 012 000 000 – 3 10 1
WP: Matt Lloyd, 1-0
LP: Kyle Mitchell, 1-2
– Alex Krupa, 3-for-5, RBI
– Ryan Fineman, 3-for-4
– Jeremy Houston, 1-for-1, 2SBs, BB
– Luke Miller, 1-for-4, HR, 2RBI
– Marcus Doi, 2-for-4, RBI
– Dylan Vchulek, 2-for-5
– Dustin Demeter, 2-for-5, RBI
– Indiana, 8-7-1
– Hawaii, 10-7
HOW IT WENT DOWN:
I wasn’t here for the Wednesday night game which featured a back-and-forth battle that came down to the last out. IU was down 3-2 and made a late inning come back and eventually pulled out a 7-6 win. On Thursday night, things didn’t look so well for the Hoosiers, who limped out to a 3-1 deficit against UofH starter Brendan Hornung, who had 10 Ks and gave up just two earned runs in a performance that should have resulted in a win.
But I’ll give the IU pitching and defense credit, they never did allow Hawaii to get the big hit that helped blow the game open. IU starter Tim Herrin, who coach Lemonis told me was really a Sunday starter for his squad but injuries have forced some role shifts, gave up the three runs to the Rainbows on five hits and two walks in his 3.0 innings stint. It was Marcus Doi who provided the initial run for the Bows, slapping an RBI single in the second inning. Doi, who had been on the shelf for half the season so far and was hitting just .208 coming in, ended up with a pair of hits and an RBI, shaking a tough start.
Dustin Demeter and Adam Fogel added a pair of RBI singles in the third inning to make the score 3-1 in favor of the Islanders.
From that point on, Rainbows starter Brendan Hornung seemed like he was going to cruise to a victory, going four-up, three-down in five of his seven innings. He even threw in a three-up, three-down inning in there as well.
But then in the eighth inning with Hornung cruising along merrily merrily, a throwing error to help leadoff batter Matt Gorski reach base was followed two batters later by a monstrous Luke Miller home run that instantly slumped the shoulders of Hawaii left field Alex Fitchett and tied the game at three apiece.
It happened so sudden and out of nowhere the Rainbow fans seemed stunned to silence. And I mean more silent than most opposing team home runs are. It was really bizarre. In fact, Fitchett made a step or two toward the fence, but then quickly just went limp and stopped his tracks. That was a moon shot by Miller.
With the game tied at three, and an eminent extra innings looming ahead, IU was able to scratch across a small-ball run in the top of the ninth, getting a lead-off walk from eight-hole hitter Tony Butler. After a sac bunt by Colby Stratton and a single by Alex Krupa, Matt Gorski came up with men on first and third with two out and chopped a grounder to shortstop. But Gorski was able to beat out the relay throw to first which allowed Butler to score from third. All safe, one run ahead.
With that padding, Matt Lloyd closed things down in the bottom of the ninth for the Hoosiers without any drama, picking up his first win of the season and giving the Hoosiers a 2-to-nothing lead in the four-game series here in Manoa.
– Hawaii came into this series with a 10-5 mark, their best 15-game start since 2012.
– Though their starts to the season haven’t been overly sexy, both Indiana and Hawaii have done fairly well in the still-too-early-to-take-it-too-serious RPI rankings. Going into tonight’s game Indiana was ranked No. 58 and Hawaii was ranked No. 64.
– Tough slates so far. In Boyd Nation’s slightly more-sane ISR rankings, Hawaii is ranked No. 57 with a strength of schedule at No. 114. But IU has had an even tougher road, sitting at No. 78 in the ISR, playing the 24th-toughest schedule in the country.
Caught up with Indiana head coach Chris Lemonis to talk about his team.
On his team so far:
“Well it’s been good. I mean, we’ve had our injuries… but everybody can say that they have their share of injuries. Our closer has been out with a blister and because of that we’ve given up two jacks in the ninth inning of games on the road this year. We’ve played hard, we have. I checked the numbers today and it says that our schedule has been one of the toughest in the country at No. 28 or so, so we’ve also played some really good people. And our best player, Logan Sowers, has been in a funk all year so far, hitting in the .160s and has 20 strikeouts in 54 at-bats. He was our MVP last year. So I actually told him to sit this one out tonight. I said, ‘Just sit and watch the game tonight and enjoy the game of baseball. We’ll get you back out there tomorrow.’ It’s been a real grind for him.”
On having to start Tim Herrin in this week’s second game:
“He is normally our Sunday starter but because of having a few injuries on the hill, we had to go with him second in the rotation this week. But he’s been good, even with her numbers up around five ERA but he has got good stuff. He’ll give you a couple of shutdown innings here and there, but just needs to shut people down
On the trouble with maintaining a winning program in the Big 10:
“Most of the coaches in our league have just taken over their programs in the last three or four years, so there is a lot of new energy in the Big 10. But without the ability to oversign like most conferences do, we’ve had great coaches do great things and then the bottom falls out and they get fired. It happened to Rich Maloney at Michigan. It happened to Schreiber at Purdue, after he got his program to host a Regional. And even Illinois is a little down after hosting a Super Regional a couple years ago. It’s hard to keep things going in our league… you just don’t see things like that happening in other conferences because they are able to over-sign kids. We got a little bit more the last few years, but it’s still limited. My last year at Louisville we had five over the limit. It’s difficult to manage but it helps having those numbers.”
– On what will be the key to his team’s season the rest of the way:
“We have got to get healthy on the mound. That’s first and foremost. I think when we get Jonathan Stiever back as our Friday ace and Luke Stephenson as our closer it really makes the pieces fall into place for us. When we get them back to 100% it will be really big. I also think we need to get the middle of our batting order back to hitting like they normally do. Logan Sowers, Craig Dedelow and Luke Miller as the middle guys in our lineup, they’re as good as anybody in our league and can hit with anyone. They’re starting to get there and get back to being themselves. If they do that, we’ll be tough. I mean Sowers is a top round or two guy for the draft, he’s a beast.”
A few more images from tonight’s game out here in paradise.