Morris found his shoes and his footing on the mound, tossing four scoreless innings with two strikeouts as Indiana defeated Rutgers 5-4, sweeping the series.
”I knew it was going to be a struggle,” said Morris, who entered Sunday’s game with a 7.09 ERA. “Been going through it a little bit as of late. But I was happy and proud of the team for backing me up and keeping those guys from scoring. That’s huge.”
Initially, junior right-hander Scott Effross was slated to start in the third game of the series for Indiana (21-11, 5-6 Big Ten). But after warming up, Lemonis said Effross didn’t feel right.
”We’re evaluating him,” Lemonis said. “Like I told those guys out there, I have a hard time pitching somebody who doesn’t feel 100 percent.”
The start was Morris’ eighth of the season, a team-high. Overall, he was one of six different pitchers the Hoosiers used during the game while Rutgers (11-23, 5-7 Big Ten) used just three.
Based on the beginning of the game, though, those in attendance would’ve been hard-pressed to believe Indiana would’ve ended up using that many different pitchers on the mound.
Senior shortstop Casey Rodrigue got the offense going with a leadoff home run over the right field wall in the bottom of the first. A groundout RBI by senior first baseman Scott Donley, followed by an unearned run by freshman leftfielder Logan Sowers gave the Hoosiers a comfortable 3-0 lead. It extended to 4-0 in the bottom of the third off a Sowers RBI double.
”We had talked about jumping on them early,” Rodrigue said, “because they’re going to come out with a lot of intensity after going down two. So it was good to jump out and get a lead on them."
Lemonis said Rodrigue’s home run was huge.
”You come off the field (after) they’ve got the bases loaded,” Lemonis said. “So they lose momentum there, and we get a quick run there with Rod’s lead-off home run. I wish he would do that more often.”
But the lead only lasted until the fifth inning, when Morris was replaced by sophomore right-hander Thomas Belcher. Lemonis removed Belcher from the mound after Rutgers loaded the bases.
A four-run top of the fifth by Rutgers – three attributed to Belcher and one to junior left-hander Kyle Hart, who replace Belcher that inning – quickly erased Indiana’s lead.
However, the Hoosiers responded and took the lead for good in the bottom of that same inning on a RBI single to center field by senior rightfielder Will Nolden. Senior right-handed pitcher Luke Harrison struck out three as the reliever to preserve the lead, while fellow senior and right-hander Ryan Halstead picked up his seventh save of the season to close the game. Hart (1-0) picked up his first win of the season.
The sweep marked Indiana’s third straight win. Prior to its series with Rutgers, the Hoosiers were 2-6 in the Big Ten, while Rutgers was 5-4.
”We had to make up some ground,” Lemonis said. “Everyday for us in the Big Ten, we put ourselves in a hole, so we’re in that process of climbing out. The sweep was huge. And Rutgers had been playing really well in the league, so it was nice for us to get those three.”