May 26, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio -
Indiana Baseball (32-28) scratched and clawed its way through 20 innings in the sweltering heat of 90-degree weather on Saturday. The Hoosiers began the seven-hour trudge by pulling out all the tricks in an 11-inning win over Michigan State (37-21) to advance to the Big Ten Tournament title game against #18 Purdue (44-12); coming up one more short in the bottom of the ninth.
Jonny Hoffman, Micah Johnson and Will Nolden were each voted to the All-Tournament team. Hoffman pitched in all five games, allowing just two earned runs in his 10 innings on the mound. Nolden and Johnson both made SportsCenter Top-10 worthy defensive plays while also cranking clutch RBI-hits to earn their spots on the All-Tournament team.
The Hoosiers ended the season playing some of the best baseball in the country, winning 15 of their last 20 games overall and 13 of 17 conference contests.
Indiana's first elimination game of the postseason was a rematch with Michigan State, a team IU had defeated two days earlier in the second round. Johnson, Nolden and Dillon Dooney powered Indiana to a pair of runs in the second inning. Nolden's RBI-liner into center capped the inning, scoring Dooney who had help drive in Johnson earlier.
The Spartans came right back though, notching two runs of their own in the home half of the inning. Michigan State managed two hits off of senior IU hurler Chad Martin in the second, but were blanked the next six innings. Martin grinded out eight innings, allowing just four hits and two earned runs in his final outing as a Hoosier.
Martin received some help from the defense behind him in his final inning of work. First was Nolden tracking down a shot into the right center power alley on a dead sprint. Johnson quickly one-upped his fellow Indianapolis native though with a glove-hand shovel to nab the speedy Anthony Cheky (15 steals in 18 attempts) on a threat-ending web gem.
Dustin DeMuth cranked a two-out, stand-up double in the top of the ninth to chase MSU starter Mick VanVossen off the mound. VanVossen's walk to the dugout was accompanied by a much-deserved applause from both schools' fans as he came up a lone out of the complete game. Nolden stepped into the box next and wasted no time, tagging Bryce Jenney's first offering out of the pen into right field as DeMuth wheeled around to home for the go-ahead run.
The bottom of the ninth would be anything but orthodox, however. After a pair of IU errors escorted the tying run across the dish, Head Coach Tracy Smith dipped into his bag of strategical tricks. The bases were plump full of Spartans and only one out on the board. Smith elected to send Chad Clark onto the field as IU played with five infielders and two outfielders. Indiana's defense corralled the subsequent groundball and forced out the runner coming home for out number two. Then, pitching ace Joey DeNato was scribbled onto the lineup card to play left field as the Hoosiers reverted back to a standard defensive set-up. And wouldn't you know it, the very first pitch to Joel Fisher was sprayed down the left field line, snared by a diving DeNato and bringing the Hoosier faithful to their feet.
Following a scoreless 10th inning, Johnson opened the 11th by watching ball four on a full-count to take his free pass to first. Dooney then laid down his eighth successful sac bunt of the season to move Johnson into scoring position. Michael Basil, who stroked the game-winning hit against MSU on Thursday, did it again on Saturday. His chopper up the middle reached center field, driving in another Spartan dagger.
Ryan Halstead hurled a 1-2-3 bottom of the 11th to set up a date with the Purdue Boilermakers in the nightcap.
The Hoosiers fell behind early, spotting Purdue three runs before getting on the board in the bottom of the fifth on Tim O'Conner and Justin Cureton's run-scoring base hits to make it a one-run game at 3-2.
Both squads would score again in the sixth, one for Purdue and a pair for IU knotted the game at four tallies apiece.
Big Ten Player of the Year and the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, Kevin Plawecki, broke up the stalemate in the eighth by blasting a solo shot into the left field stands.
The Big Ten's Freshman of the Year, Sam Travis, would shine on the big stage as well. In the home half, Travis slapped an 0-2 pitch into right for a lead-off double. A groundball from Johnson pushed Travis to third and Basil's unconventional sacrifice fly made things all-square once again. Basil sliced a foul ball down into the visiting bullpen deep enough for Travis to tag up at third.
In the top of the ninth, a sacrifice bunt sandwiched by two infield hits placed Boilers on the corners with one out. One of the craziest and most unexplainable plays then occurred as multiple run-downs and an eventual errant toss ultimately resulted in three outs, but also the go-ahead run touching the dish. Here is the play-by-play from the official scorebook:
CHARLES reached on a fielder's choice, advanced to second, out at second 3b to c to 3b to c to ss (2-2); DIXON advanced to second, advanced to third on a throwing error by 3b, scored, unearned; MILLER out at third 3b to c to 3b.
The Cream and Crimson's latest come-from-behind attempt failed in the bottom of the ninth, putting to rest a wild and crazy day at the ballpark. Purdue's 6-5 victory clinched its first Big Ten Tournament title in school history.