Photo courtesy of IU Athletics

Indiana defeats Kentucky 3-2 off Eustace's walk-off RBI single

Needing a win over an opponent with a high RPI, Indiana got just that to improve its postseason hopes thanks to the bat of sophomore infielder Laren Eustace.

Five Kentucky players crowded the infield as Laren Eustace stepped up to the plate.

Indiana, in a must-win situation, need a big at-bat under pressure from the junior infielder.

Eustace delivered with a walk-off RBI single, giving Hoosiers a 3-2 win over Kentucky Tuesday night at Bart Kaufman Field. 

"Honestly, I just wanted to see a fastball and hit it as hard as I could somewhere, and it worked out the right way," Eustace said. "That's all you can ask for." 

Indeed, that's just what the sophomore infielder saw as he lined a 1-0 fastball over the heads of the five Kentucky infielders into the gaping hole at center field. 

A leadoff double on a 2-0 fastball to the left field wall by junior first baseman Austin Cangelosi got things going for the Hoosiers (29-17) in bottom of the ninth. Luke Miller's groundout to second advanced Cangelosi to third, then Eustace came in to pinch hit for Colby Stratten after Kentucky swapped Strecker for freshman right-hander Justin Lewis. 

"I feel like we could put anybody up there," Cangelosi said. "We could've put a righty up there and we could've gotten a hit... We just have so much depth on this team. Colby was ready. I had faith in Colby, but Laren got the job done today. He's the hero, and if Colby had been up there he would've been the hero. That's just the kind of team we are."

Cangelosi and Eustace were backed up by an IU pitching staff which tossed seven strikeouts and stranded seven Kentucky (29-20) runners. Junior right-hander Thomas Belcher (4-2), one of four pitchers who took the mound for Indiana, picked up the win. 

But arguably most impressive was the efforts of fellow junior right-hander Luke Stephenson, who took over for freshman right-hander Jonathan Stiever after Stiever gave up three hits and a run in 2.1 innings. Stephenson would pitch 2.2 innings and toss a team-high three strikeouts, with 13 strikes thrown through his first 16 pitches and zero hits allowed. 

"That's the best we've had Stephenson all year," Lemonis said. 

Indiana had runners on the corners with one out after a single by junior outfielder Craig Dedelow advanced Alex Krupa, who motored from first to third. Sowers followed Dedelow's at-bat with a pop-up to second for the second out. Freshman catcher Ryan Fineman then stepped up to the plate and hit a two-out RBI single to score Krupa to tie the game 1-1 in the bottom of the third.

Stephenson maintained the tie until being replaced by sophomore left-hander BJ Sabol in the top of the sixth inning. Kentucky leadoff hitter Zach Reks sent Sabol's first pitch deep over the right field wall as the Wildcats regained the lead 2-1. Sabol regained control and retired the Wildcats' next three batters to end the top of the sixth inning. 

Indiana responded with a two-out pinch-hit RBI single to left by Scotty Bradley in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game at 2-2. 

Back to back infield singles by the Wildcats put runners on first and second with one out in the top of the eighth. Faced with a full count, Belcher got Kentucky first baseman Gunnar McNeill to fly out to center to end the inning.

Kentucky had runners on the corners with two outs in the top of the ninth, but Squires grounded out to strand those runners and end Kentucky's last shot at victory.

What remained elusive for Indiana during the season has now become stable as of late. Both of the Hoosiers' game-tying hits were two-out hits by players off the bnech, an illustration of the mental toughness shown by Indiana as it fights to improve its RPI and postseason hopes. 

The Wildcats arrived in Bloomington with an RPI of 45 compared to the Hoosiers' 101. Indiana will have a chance to build on the critical RPI win this upcoming weekend with its final home series of the season against Illinois. 

"Every game in the Big Ten for us is huge," Lemonis said. "They've got a first-round arm going Friday night, and Illinois is hot too. They've played like we have over the last month. It'll be what college baseball is all about this weekend." 

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