Indiana claims Big Ten championship for second consecutive year
OMAHA, Neb. -- For the second consecutive season, top-seeded Indiana (42-13) captured the Big Ten tournament championship to go along with the regular-season crown. The top-seeded Hoosiers downed second-seeded Nebraska (40-19) 8-4 in front of an announced crowd of 19,965 -- an NCAA record for a conference title game -- at TD Ameritrade Park on Sunday afternoon.
The win is the fourth Big Ten title in the program's history (1996, 2009, '13, '14) and the third under ninth-year head coach Tracy Smith. Smith was also an assistant on the 1996 championship team.
IU will make its fifth trip to the NCAA tournament (1949, '96, 2009, '13, '14), second consecutive and third with Smith at the helm. The 16 NCAA Regional hosts will be announced Sunday evening at 9 p.m. ET and ESPNU will air the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship Selection Show at noon ET on Monday.
Kyle Schwarber, the tournament's most outstanding player, put the Hoosiers in front for good in the bottom of the fifth, crushing a Bob Greco (3-2) offering inside the right field foul pole to make it 4-3. It was the junior catcher's team-leading 12th home run and his second of the tournament. It is also the 38th of his career to give him sole possession of sixth on the IU career home runs list.
Schwarber finished the day 2-for-4 at the plate with two RBI and two runs scored and also drew his 41st walk of the season.
Junior third baseman Dustin DeMuth, junior designated hitter Scott Donley, sophomore starter Christian Morris and junior second baseman Casey Rodrigue joined Schwarber on the all-tournament team.
Sophomore Luke Harrison earned his sixth win in as many decisions this season with three solid innings of relief in which he allowed three runs (one earned) on four hits with one walk and one strikeout.
Thomas Belcher recorded four outs and allowed one run on one hit before being relieved by Jake Kelzer in the seventh inning. Kelzer pitched the final 2.2 innings and gave up just one hit and one walk while fanning two to earn his second save of the season.
Indiana tacked on three more in the sixth when junior left fielder Brad Hartong drew a one-out walk and sophomore shortstop Nick Ramos and junior right fielder Will Nolden followed with singles to load the bases.
Junior center fielder Tim O'Conner delivered an RBI groundout, the Hoosiers picked up an unearned run, and Schwarber hit a bullet through the right side to score Nolden and push the lead to 7-3.
Nebraska added a solo tally in the seventh and Indiana responded with a 2-out RBI single by Casey Rodrigue in the eighth to provide the final 8-4 margin.
Kelzer was able to wriggle out of a jam in the eighth inning, as the Huskers had two runners on with two outs. With a 0-2 count on the hitter, the game entered a lightening delay which lasted for 42 minutes. Kelzer came back out after the delay and induced a bouncer back to the mound to end the threat. He then retired the Huskers in order in the ninth inning to clinch the win.
Nolden finished with three hits on the day and scored three runs while DeMuth and Ramos both had two hits on the day. As a team, the Hoosiers racked up 11 hits, the 31st time this season that IU has reached double digits in the hit column.
The Hoosiers jumped on Cornhuskers starter Austin Christensen with two runs in the first. After Schwarber and junior designated hitter Scott Donley drew walks, junior third baseman Dustin DeMuthdelivered a two-run double into the right-center field gap.
IU manufactured a run in the third to extend their lead to 3-0. Nolden singled to left-center, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Ramos, advanced to third on a flyout to the left field warning track by O'Conner and came in on a wild pitch.
Harrison relieved starter Sullivan Stadler and inherited runners on first and second with no outs in the third. He went on to retire the next three Nebraska hitters in order to maintain Indiana's three-run advantage.
Indiana heads into the NCAA tournament winners of 15 of its past 16 games and 30 of its past 33. The Hoosiers have also not allowed a Big Ten team to score more than four runs this season.