BLOOMINGTON – Chad Clark got angry and then made the Hoosiers happy.
After making a two-run error in the top of the ninth inning, the Indiana second baseman hit a two-run home run into the left-field bullpen to defeat Valparaiso 5-4 Friday in front of 3,045 raucous fans at Bart Kaufman Field. The win sends IU to the winners’ bracket of the Bloomington Regional.
I had a little motivation going into the bottom of the ninth at the plate, Clark said. I was pretty mad, but I kind of used that to my advantage.
Indiana (44-13) will face second-seeded Austin Peay at 6 p.m. today. Austin Peay beat Florida 4-3 in the early game. The Crusaders (31-27) will face the No. 3 seed Gators at 2 p.m. today.
Trailing 4-1, the Hoosiers staged a rally in the ninth against Valparaiso closer Karch Kowalczyk, who had given up just one run all season. Clark stepped to the plate after Dustin DeMuth and Casey Smith hit RBI doubles to cut IU’s deficit to 4-3.
Clark hit the second pitch he saw, a slider, for his first home run of the season.
IU manager Tracy Smith said that he was already preparing his postgame speech entering the final inning. His team, which had led the Big Ten in almost every offensive category, had managed only five hits through the first eight innings.
Over the next 13 pitches, IU laced four straight hits and Smith’s mood quickly changed. He said after the game that the walk-off home run helped the Hoosiers – inexperienced in postseason play – in more ways than one.
That hit’s going to help us, Smith said. Not only does it help you stay in the winner’s bracket, but I think it’s going to help guys relax.
The Hoosiers sent Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Aaron Slegers to the mound against Valparaiso, but he went only four innings, giving up two runs (one unearned) on six hits. The IU bullpen fared better against the Crusaders for five innings, giving up two unearned runs and just two hits.
IU closer Ryan Halstead, who was on the mound in the ninth when Clark’s error allowed two runs, earned the win, while Kowalczyk took the loss.