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In pitching, defensive issues return as Indiana baseball drops its opener at Purdue

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – While baseball in Indiana no longer has the Big Ten’s worst fielding percentage (it was at .961 on March 24 and improved to .978 over the weekend), the Hoosiers’ defense let them down on Friday at Purdue.

“Anytime you go from all-peat to dirt, you go ahead and mark two fouls,” Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer said after the game. “It’s a different game.”

Indiana took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning on an infield knock by design hitter Joey Brenczewski, but left-handed starting pitcher Brandon Keyster failed to secure the early lead in his second start of the season.

“What we were trying to avoid is exactly what happened,” Mercer said. “You might get a few free bases. Things didn’t go the way we wanted; you wish you could have gotten one more inning.”

Keyster followed a walk with a throwing error, one of several defensive blunders on the day for Indiana. After a sacrifice bunt, he fielded the ball down the first base line, but his throw to first base pulled Brock Tibbitts off the bag. It put runners on first and second base with no men out for Purdue catcher Connor Caskenette.

“That bothers you,” Mercer said. “You practice that game a lot the week it starts.”

Caskenette, the Big Ten RBI co-leader (he and teammate Luke Gaffney entered the weekend tied for the lead with 60), doubled both runs and chased Keyster after recording just one out, giving Purdue a 2-1 lead got. after the first inning.

Purdue starting pitcher Jordan Morales settled down, turning in 5 2/3 strong innings and keeping Indiana off the board from the second inning until the sixth, when shortstop Tyler Cerny doubled home outfielder Devin Taylor to even the score, 2-2, chasing Morales. out of the game with two outs. Right-handed reliever Drew Buhr was strong again for Indiana, turning 4 2/3 shutout innings against one of the Big Ten’s premier offenses.

Although strong in his first inning of relief, righty Brayden Risedorfh ran into foul trouble in his second frame. A pitcher who walks multiple batters in an inning is rarely successful, and Risedorph issued a pair of free passes in the seventh inning. Camden Gasser, the Big Ten’s on-base percentage leader, beat Cerny’s throw to first base on an inning-ending double play, and Caskenette did the damage again.

He rolled a worm-burning single up the middle to score Gasser and second baseman Ty Gill, the latter of whom walked to open the inning. Risedorph got out of the inning with Indiana trailing 4-2, and Taylor brought the Hoosiers within a run on his team-leading 12th homer of the season, but that was as close as Indiana could get. Third baseman Josh Pyne drew a walk with one out, but was stranded when outfielder Nick Mitchell struck out for the third time in four at-bats and Cerny lined out to end the threat.

Purdue blew the game open in the eighth inning, starting with a leadoff single from infielder Logan Sutter on the first pitch of the frame. After pinch hitter Brody Chrisman struckout, infielder Breck Nowik reached base on catcher interference, putting runners on first and second base with one out for Gill.

He hit the 0-1 pitch to right off second baseman Brandon Burckel’s spare, who sailed the start of a potential inning-ending double play into left field, throwing the ball well over Cerny’s head and allowing a run to score. Righty Julian Tonghini came out of the bullpen to replace Risedorph and allowed a bunt single, a run-scoring wild pitch and a bases-loaded walk to put the game out of reach.

Outfielder Carter Mathison got one run back for Indiana with a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning, but that was all for the Hoosiers. Tibbitts was caught stealing second base in his first game since April 2, ending the game and sealing the 7-4 Purdue victory.

Righty Connor Foley will start Saturday’s game for Indiana as the Hoosiers look to even the series. Mercer said Foley will be on a pitch limit, expected to pitch two or three innings and then hand the ball off to left-hander Ty Bothwell in relief.

With Indiana now two games ahead of the Big Ten’s lead, Game 2 of the three-game set begins Saturday at 2 p.m. and will be streamed on Big Ten Plus.

Follow reporters Matt Press (@MattPress23) and Nick Rodecap (@nickrodecap) for updates throughout the Indiana baseball season.