OMAHA, NE- Coaches often preach that every man on the bench needs to be ready, because they never know when their number is going to be called. And it’s the nature of the game that a lot of the time, that readiness and preparation ends up not paying off directly, simply because the right moment never came to be.
For Indiana reserves Cole Barr and Wyatt Cross, however, their numbers got called, and they came through in a big way in the Hoosiers’ 6-5 walk-off win over Michigan State on Thursday afternoon.
But first, Indiana had to make a comeback to put them in that position.
After the fourth inning, IU found themselves trailing 3-0, their starting pitcher, the usually-steady Pauly Milto, had been lifted from the game, and then the Spartans added insurance runs in the fifth and sixth innings to push their lead to 5-0. To top it off, MSU starting pitcher Mason Erla was dealing. In fact, the Hoosiers didn’t even have a hit until the sixth inning.
When they got that hit, though, which happened to be an RBI single from Matt Lloyd after two men reached via walk, they started to be much more competitive at the plate.
They threatened again in the seventh and loaded the bases before coming away empty-handed. In the eighth, they pushed across another single tally, this time on a Matt Gorski RBI single. Even then, though, it looked like it might not be their day, as a Luke Miller deep fly ball to left-center, which looked like a sure game-tying three-run homer off the bat, fell harmlessly into the glove of MSU center fielder Danny Gleaves.
“The way our offense is built, we do hit the long ball,” Indiana head coach Chris Lemonis said. “Probably not great for this park, but it gives us an opportunity to come back…Sometimes, we swing and miss when, at times, we shouldn’t, but sometimes those home runs pay off.”
Which brings us to the ninth inning. Scotty Bradley and Jeremy Houston got on base to kick things off, but with two outs, it was left up to Matt Gorski. All Gorski did with the opportunity was launch a no-doubt three-run home run halfway up the left field bleachers to tie things up 5-5. In two days, countless crushed fly balls died after looking ticketed for the seats, which tells you exactly how squarely Gorski connected.
Perhaps that will be the trademark moment from this game when it’s remembered in highlight packages they show on BTN in the future, but it simply set the stage for Barr and Cross, the unlikely heroes, to come through.
Both entered the game in the top of the eighth inning as defensive replacements, Barr at second base and Cross behind the plate, and by the time they came to the plate in the tenth, each had a plate appearance. Barr was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the eighth, and Cross followed afterward with a strikeout.
Things got going in the tenth with a Barr single up the middle, and then he put himself in scoring position with a stolen base. Cross followed him up with a bloop single dumped into shallow left field, which allowed Barr to score just ahead of the throw to the plate.
It was a couple of big moments for two first-year players in the program who really haven’t had many opportunities this season. Barr, a freshman, had just 15 at-bats coming into the game. Cross, meanwhile, came in with 26 at-bats. He finds himself stuck behind a veteran catcher in Ryan Fineman, but he’s got a track record as a premium talent. He was a top 50 (or top 75, depending on the publication) recruit coming out of high school as he headed to North Carolina, but after transferring to spend his sophomore season at San Jacinto College, he arrived in Bloomington.
Each could potentially be a big part of the 2019 season for Indiana, but for now, they came through when maybe they wouldn’t have expected to have a big role, proving the point about preparing to play, even when you might not.
“Being ready for when your time has come is huge, and we saw that happen today,” Lemonis said. “I just had a good feeling with Cole Barr, and Wyatt being able to get that hit…Wyatt’s my second-string catcher, and he stays behind a really good first-string catcher, and does it with a smile on his face, so it’s neat to see him get that swing.”