BLOOMINGTON – Andrew Saalfrank pitched well enough to win.
He did not win, and the disappointment of a 9-8 loss will linger for the Indiana Hoosiers for a long time.
Saalfrank, a freshman and former Heritage standout, threw five innings of one-hit shutout ball Friday against Minnesota in a Big Ten tourney elimination game. IU led 6-0 in front of a packed Bart Kaufman Field.
All was well.
Then it wasn’t’.
Then Saalfrank began struggling with location in the sixth inning. Fatigue kicked in. The Gophers began timing his pitches. A run scored. Two runners were on base.
It was time for a relief pitcher. It was past time, in fact. Coach Chris Lemonis went with Tim Herrin and it didn’t go well.
The Gophers scored four runs in the inning.
IU countered with two more runs and led 8-4 heading into the bottom of the eighth.
All was well.
And then it wasn’t.
Minnesota scored five runs in the inning, the last three on a dramatic pinch-hit three-run home run by light-hitting Eduardo Estrada, and that was enough.
IU (33-22-2) was out of the Big Ten tourney. Minnesota (35-20) was moving on.
The Hoosiers had blown a 4-1 lead against the Gophers in Wednesday’s tourney opener. That one hurt. This was worse.
Saalfrank went five-plus innings and allowed three runs on three hits. He walked five, struck out four. It was a strong follow-up to his previous performance, when he got the win in an upset victory of No. 2 Louisville.
It could have been enough. It should have been enough.
But Minnesota was too tough minded, IU made just enough mistakes. An inconsistent bullpen, which had shown improvement in recent weeks, returned to unwanted form.
In the aftermath Lemonis said he got “greedy” in sticking with Saalfrank too long.
The good news – the Hoosiers are expected to make the NCAA tourney. Pairings will be announced on Monday. The selection show starts at noon on ESPN2.