Indiana baseball entered this season with modest expectations, but suddenly, the Hoosiers are on the precipice of history.
The Hoosiers advanced to a regional final for the first time since 2018 with a dramatic 5-3 win over Kentucky on Friday. IU (43-18) will face the winner between UK (37-19) and West Virginia (40-19) on Sunday at 6 p.m. A win would send the Hoosiers to Super Regionals for the first time since 2013, when they went to the College World Series. A loss would set up a winner-takes-all rematch on Monday.
Saturday’s showdown was not easy for Indiana. This game had tension every step of the way, with each move, each pitch, each swing feeling critical to the outcome.
Indiana was up against a lot throughout the evening. Kentucky starter Zack Lee locked in after allowing a first-pitch home run. The Hoosiers picked up just three hits off Lee in the first six innings, including shortstop Phillip Glasser’s home run.
Meanwhile, Indiana had to work around a lot of traffic on the basepaths in several innings. But the Hoosiers often escaped unscathed, and minimized damage when they didn’t.
UK took the lead in the seventh on a fielder’s choice and an error, and made it 3-1 on a sacrifice fly. It felt inevitable, in a way — IU stranded Big Ten Freshman of the Year Devin Taylor at third base in the sixth, and it was just unsustainable to keep working out of trouble defensively without more of an offensive threat.
But the Hoosiers did what they’ve done so many times this year — stayed even-keeled and bounced back. Catcher Peter Serruto stepped up with two outs and two runners on in the bottom of the seventh. The fifth-year senior put together a nice at-bat, and blasted a go-ahead home run to make it 4-3 IU.
Jeff Mercer’s team has faced numerous adverse situations this year, both in the big picture and within individual games. And while the Hoosiers don’t have a perfect record in responding, IU has found answers on so many occasions. When Maryland ran the Hoosiers off the field in IU’s biggest regular-season series of the year, they came back with eight straight wins. When ace pitcher Luke Sinnard had to leave the game early during Friday’s regional opener and West Virginia took back the lead, IU didn’t flinch and found a way to win.
And IU did the same thing Saturday. Serruto was the catalyst this time, with the biggest swing of Indiana’s season. But IU has had different guys step up across those difficult moments throughout the season, part of what’s helped this team grow up.
This Hoosiers team is young, and doesn’t have much experience playing this deep into a season. Five of Indiana’s starting nine hitters are underclassmen, and one more (Serruto) transferred in this year. Many key cogs of IU’s pitching staff are also underclassmen. Sophomore Ryan Kraft started on Saturday, and freshman Connor Foley closed out the win.
The Hoosiers have plenty of talent, but Mercer has been open about his team’s youth this season and about how they’re learning how to play in big games.
In some ways, Indiana is playing with house money. IU entered this season four years removed from its last NCAA Tournament appearance, and getting back to a regional was a priority. The Hoosiers could drop both games in the regional final, and while the outcome would be disappointing, this would still be considered a good season with a future looking even brighter.
But the Hoosiers have shown this weekend that they’re good enough to make a run right now. They’ve already beaten both teams they could face in the regional final, in two very different games — a slugfest on Friday and a pitcher’s duel on Saturday.
IU did not carry lofty projections into this season, ranking sixth in the Big Ten preseason poll. And suddenly, this team is on the doorstep of something very big. The 2013 run is the only time IU has gone to a Super Regional. These young Hoosiers can make it two on Sunday.
More challenges lie ahead — postseason baseball is full of them. And Indiana is still learning what these moments feel like.
But the Hoosiers, despite the inexperience, have answered challenges all year.