Indiana showed Saturday night that it can do more than just whack the ball around the yard.
In their College World Series debut, the Hoosiers backed the dominant pitching of Joey DeNato with errorless play to post a 2-0 victory over Louisville before a TD Ameritrade Park record crowd of 27,122.
“All I’ve heard all week was Indiana’s offense, our offense, our offense,’’ Indiana coach Tracy Smith said. “I was very proud and pleased that Joey was able to set the tone.
“As much as our offense has been a real key for us this year, at the end of the day, if you want to win a national championship, you still have to do it with pitching and defense.’’
DeNato threw 136 pitches in recording his 10th win in 12 decisions this season. The junior left-hander gave up three singles and a double while striking out eight in his second complete game of the season — his first came in an eight-inning stint in a loss at Ohio State.
Louisville had scored 33 runs in sweeping its way through the first two stages of the tournament but couldn’t get anything going for the second time this season against DeNato. He had pitched four shutout innings in Indiana’s season-opening win over the Cardinals at a tournament in Florida.
“He competes and never gives in,’’ Louisville right fielder Cole Sturgeon said. “He out-competed us. As hard as that is to say, he won pitches when he needed to and we didn’t get the big hit when we needed it.’’
The one time the Cardinals did, Indiana right fielder Will Nolden came up with a clutch defensive play. Louisville was already down by two runs in the third inning but used a walk and a wild pitch to get Sutton Whiting to second base.
Sturgeon delivered a two-out single that could have cut the deficit in half, but Nolden fielded the ball and unleashed a perfect strike to catcher Kyle Schwarber to easily get Whiting at the plate.
“Off the bat, I knew there was a chance,’’ said Nolden in recalling his laser throw to the plate. “I just put everything I could behind it and just let Kyle do his job.’’
Louisville got only one runner to second base in the final six innings against DeNato. Adam Engel laced a hanging breaking pitch into the left-field corner for a two-out double in the eighth inning.
DeNato needed but one pitch to get out of trouble as he retired Sturgeon on a routine grounder to second base.
He then finished off the win with a six-pitch ninth inning as Indiana improved to 49-14 and moved into a Monday night winners game against Mississippi State, which had opened the 67th CWS with a 5-4 win over Oregon State.
“As the game went on, I think my pitches got sharper,’’ DeNato said. “I was getting ahead in the count more.’’
Louisville’s inability to capitalize when DeNato wasn’t as sharp was a key factor in the loss, Cardinals coach Dan McDonnell said. It left his team 51-13 and facing an elimination game against Oregon State.
“There were a lot of three-ball counts on our hitters, and we just couldn’t win those at-bats,’’ McDonnell said. “That’s what was frustrating. We just couldn’t get guys on base tonight.’’
Indiana had plenty of base runners — the Hoosiers had seven hits, drew six walks and had two batters hit by pitches — but managed just the two early runs. Indiana scored in the first inning on Scott Donley’s two-out single and made it 2-0 on Michael Basil’s bases-loaded single.
Schwarber got thrown out at the plate on the play. Indiana squandered additional opportunities in leaving runners in scoring position in the fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth innings.
The Hoosiers had runners at first and third in the ninth, but Nolden got picked off third base. He also got caught in a rundown in the first inning while breaking off second early.
“Little mental slip-ups there,’’ Nolden said. “It won’t happen again.’’
Obviously, those can be overlooked in a history-making victory. This is just the third time Indiana has participated in the NCAA tournament and the first time it has advanced to Omaha. The Hoosiers also are the first team from the Big Ten to make a CWS appearance since 1984.
While acknowledging that his team did make some mistakes, Smith also pointed out that the Hoosiers avoided the stage fright that often ruins the show for first-time qualifiers.
“I was anxious to see if these guys would finally get a little nerves going,’’ Smith said. “Once again, they did not. They just went out and played and had fun. It’s fun to watch.’’
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