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Ninth-inning surge powers Indiana baseball past West Virginia in NCAA opener



The Indiana baseball program settled in and used a big ninth inning surge to move past West Virginia in its NCAA Tournament opener. (Indiana Athletics)

After four years without an NCAA Tournament appearance, the Indiana baseball program came out with a vengeance on Friday night in its 2023 tournament opener.

The Hoosiers took down West Virginia — the 2-seed in the region — 12-6. Despite the score, it was a one-run game entering the ninth inning until Indiana put up five runs in the top of the frame to secure the win.

After lead changes or ties for each of the first four innings, three straight runners reached base for Indiana in the fifth resulting in a three-run inning. That would cement the final lead change of the night.

With both pitching staffs struggling early on, both teams were able to get on base easily … and often. But, it was the Indiana baseball program with a clear advantage after. The Hoosiers were 5-of-18 (.278) with runners on base while West Virginia was just 3-of-14 (.214).

Indiana was also 3-of-13 with runners in scoring position while the Mountaineers were 0-of-11.

After giving up four runs through the first four innings, the IU pitching staff settled in nicely. It would give up just two runs in the final five innings, including just two hits in the final 3.1 innings.

Overall, Indiana struck out 12 batters — the third most in Indiana baseball NCAA Tournament history.

The bats were’t bad themselves, obviously. IU’s 12 runs were second most in its program’s NCAA Tournament history.

“We did a really good job of staying calm, staying collected in a big environment and finding a way,” Indiana baseball head coach Jeff Mercer said postgame. “You preach every day to the guys, the more fundamental team has the best opportunity to win outside of a heroic performance on the mound from one team or another.”

However, Indiana’s win didn’t come without some concern.

Ace pitcher Luke Sinnard — who became IU’s single-season strikeout leader on Friday — left the game after just two innings due to ‘discomfort’ in his arm. Mercer said it was for ‘precautionary reasons’, but any signifiant injury to the Second-Team All-Big Ten pitcher would be a huge hit to what had been an inconsistent pitching staff this season.

Despite the ups-and-downs, a win is a win. And now the Hoosiers head to a matchup with regional-host Kentucky on Saturday night. It’s a matchup from earlier this season when the Wildcats won 12-2.

As Mercer and Indiana know, this is a game that needs strong mental toughness. And for a young group who have never experienced the NCAA Tournament, battling from start to finish on Friday was key for the future success of this team — no matter how long they keep playing this postseason.

“We were able to come out on the right side of it today,” Mercer said. “… I’m really proud of the program for sustaining itself and being able to go back and compete at this level.”

First pitch on Saturday is set for 6:00 pm.

SEE ALSO: Indiana baseball an underdog to watch in NCAA Regional play

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Alec Lasley is the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Alec has covered Indiana for six years and is a credentialed media member. He has previously worked for both Rivals and 247Sports.