Indiana State’s baseball team tried to walk a double tightrope this week.
The degree of difficulty was cranked up significantly as the Sycamores played back-to-back games at Vanderbilt and Indiana, both top 25 teams.
The Sycamores tried to pull off that challenging double while saving its pitching staff. No ISU pitcher was available to go long in either contest.
It was a difficult task and the Sycamores couldn’t rise to it.
ISU fell 8-4 to No. 23 Indiana in front of a packed house at Bart Kaufman Field on Wednesday. It came 24 hours after a late-night 6-2 defeat against Vanderbilt on Tuesday.
The damage to ISU’s RPI — which was 21st entering Wednesday’s game — will be minimal. ISU had already beaten the Hoosiers 12-8 in Terre Haute on March 26 and IU’s RPI is in the top 10.
And while an RPI boost would’ve been welcome, that wasn’t really the point of the two-game challenge. Quality mid-week games are hard to come by. To play two in one week ahead of a key conference series at Southern Illinois should do nothing but help the Sycamores.
“Playing those games allows you to go into your conference games on a level playing field as opposed to some mid-week games that aren’t as tough for you. I like the fact that we played good people. We aren’t going to see anything this weekend we didn’t see the last two days. I feel good about that,” ISU coach Mitch Hannahs said.
Hannahs seemed pleased with pitching over the course of the two days. Mike Hammel might have been most impressive Wednesday as he got ISU out of a fifth inning jam. He gave the Sycamores 22⁄3 innings of work.
“I thought for the most part they minimized damage even though their stuff was marginal at times. They threw strikes and got pitches down in the zone,” Hannahs said.
Helped by a breeze that blew straight out to left field, the Sycamores (21-9) drew first blood. First baseman Manuel Estevez got a ball up into the wind and it carried over the left field fence for a solo home run in the second.
IU (19-10) tied it in the second inning, and then the wind that gaveth to the Sycamores would provide the Hoosiers with runs in the fourth. After Dustin DeMuth singled, Brad Hartong pulled a two-run home run into the IU bullpen in left field to put the Hoosiers up 3-1.
ISU could not get its offense moving against IU starter Brian Korte and reliever Thomas Belcher — the Sycamores got just one runner in scoring position from the third to seventh innings. The Hoosiers had no such problems.
ISU reliever John Patterson had a rough outing in the fifth. Leadoff singles put two on for Sam Travis, who slugged a three-run home run to right field. The Hoosiers led 6-1. Two more runs came in the seventh via a two-run Travis single made it 8-1.
“I wish we would’ve had more velocity and be able to pitch on the inner half of the plate. Their hitters can sit with the knowledge we can’t beat them with a fastball. They have good hitters and we didn’t keep runners off the bases ahead of them,” Hannahs said.
ISU added three in the eighth. The Sycamores loaded the bases with no outs. A Mike Fitzgerald single and run-scoring ground outs by Jeff Zahn and Tyler Wampler made it 8-4.
The Sycamores know their form in the Missouri Valley Conference is where their bread will be buttered. After the three-game sweep against Wichita State last weekend, the Sycamores want to keep the MVC momentum going.
“Conference is really where it’s at for us right now. It would’ve been nice to get a win over a top 25 team, but we beat Indiana before. We’re going to be ready. We’ll be fresh and will try to take one down there,” Fitzgerald said.
Indiana State’s baseball team tried to walk a double tightrope this week.
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