BLOOMINGTON, Ind.–While Christian Watford’s game-winning three-pointer against Kentucky in basketball is known as “The Wat Shot” to Indiana fans, Justin Cureton’s home run-robbing catch will be known simply as “The Catch.”
Granted, it was only the second inning. But Cureton raced back, climbed the eight-foot center field wall and robbed Austin Peay’s P.J. Torres of a game-tying three-run bomb. He then proceeded to double off Cody Hudson at first base to end the inning.
He led off the bottom of the inning to a rousing ovation in front of over 3,000 at Bart Kaufman Field.
“I just had a good read on the ball,” Cureton said. “I’ve made those plays before. I have a lot of confidence in our defense and our pitchers throwing strikes, and it makes it easier to play defense.”
Both Indiana head coach Tracy Smith and Austin Peay State’s Gary McClure agreed that was the difference in the Hoosiers’ 6-1 win on Sunday night. With it, Indiana captured its first regional title in school history.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a catch like that,” Smith said. “I’ve already heard it referred to as ‘The Catch’. I don’t think people can appreciate how difficult that defensive play was, because to me, that was the ballgame tonight. With our turf field right now, there isn’t a warning track. You know, Justin could not tell the difference with his feet in a change in surface. It was a great catch because it was going over the wall, but it was an even greater catch because it was a fearless effort.”
“It was definitely going to be a home run,” McClure said. “In my opinion, it saved the game for them. That’s what speed does for you. He’s a great athlete and plays a great center field. What do you do? It ripped our hearts out.”
Freshman lefthander Will Coursen-Carr turned in a gutsy performance of his own, going 5⅓ innings and allowing one run, five hits and four walks while striking out three to improve to 4-0, 1.80. He delivered first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 23 batters he faced, and did a impressive job of pairing his 84-88 mph fastball with a changeup that kept Governors’ hitters off balance.
“Honestly, I don’t think I was as sharp as I could’ve been,” Coursen-Carr said. “Pitching in the Big Ten championship gave me a lot of confidence. But it felt like I had a ton of walks out there. Just making sure to be grinding it out every pitch. I was really confident in my BP fastball, which coach (Ty) Neal was calling a lot. I was able to add and subtract from it, and it helped me set up guys with the changeup.”
Despite having a 4-0 lead, the Hoosiers ran into a little trouble in the sixth. Coursen-Carr loaded the bases with one out, which prompted Smith to go with reliever Luke Harrison to face Michael Davis, who had already hit two go-ahead homers on the weekend. Harrison ended up walking Davis on a full-count. But it would be the only run the Governors would get as Davis struck out Torres, and Ryan Halstead came in to strike out pinch-hitter Matt Wollenzin to end the inning.
“I thought the strikeout by Harrison was huge,” Smith said. “And then of course, Halstead coming in and getting the punching with the bases loaded as well. But when you’re talking about momentum, to me, you have to have a crowd to do that. And I thought it was spectacular what the people of Bloomington and all the fans that came out brought the entire weekend.”
Halstead, Indiana’s all-time career saves leader, pitched the final three innings to pick up his 11th save of the season, allowing just one hit while striking out four.
The Hoosiers jumped out to a three-run lead in the first. Kyle Schwarber connected for a solo shot on a 3-0 pitch from APSU righthander Kevin Corey—who was making the first start of his Division-I career—for his team-leading 17th home run of the season. Michael Basil and Casey Smith each added an RBI single in the frame.
Indiana will now travel to Tallahassee, Fla. to face Florida State (47-15) in the super regional round next weekend.
“Every game, every step we take, we’re making history for Indiana baseball,” Smith said. “What I want to point out is the demeanor of this team. You didn’t see a dogpile. And the reason you didn’t see a dogpile wasn’t because the coaches said we’re not going to. It was because they believe we have a lot of baseball left to play. I like our mentality right now.”
Earlier on Sunday, Michael Davis hit his second go-ahead homer of the weekend and Tyler Rogers tied the Division-I season saves record as Austin Peay State topped Valparaiso 5-4 in an elimination game to move into the regional championship game with Indiana.
The Crusaders led 4-2 entering the sixth inning, but APSU scored a run each in the sixth and seventh to force starter Dalton Lundeen from the game after just 96 pitches. On the first pitch of the eighth inning, Davis smashed the first pitch he saw from reliever Ben Mahar into the left field bullpen.
“You know, like I said before, any time he’s at the plate, he’s capable of doing that and just a strong kid,” McClure said. “Actually, he’s been really good lately of getting good pitches to hit. Going into this tournament, he has not been quite as good as this, but his hits have been big.”
That blast proved to be all Ohio Valley Conference pitcher of the year Rogers would need as he worked two innings to earn his 23rd save of the season. It was just the fifth time all season Rogers has worked multiple innings. He played a role in the decision in 30 of the Governors’ 62 games.
He tied former Southern California righthander Jack Krawczyk’s single-season record of 23 saves, which was set in 1998.
Senior shortstop Reed Harper, the all-time hits leaders at APSU, went 2-for-5 and extended his hitting streak to 14 games. He knotted the game at four apiece in the seventh with a clutch two-out RBI single to left.
“You know, (two-out hitting) was everything,” McClure said. “Harper obviously got a huge hit with two strikes on him and two outs to tie the game. So again, Harper comes up big for us.”
Craig Massoni, Cody Hudson and P.J. Torres each tallied two hits apiece. Junior righthander Ryan Quick started the game for APSU, but he was up in the zone and the velocity was down from the 92-95 mph he flashed in the OVC tournament, sitting more in the 88-90 range. He lasted 5 1/3 innings, giving up four runs on eight hits before turning the ball over to reliever Lee Ridenhour.
“The plan was to get into the count and keep the pitch count low and try to get as far as I could,” Quick said. “Control could have been better. I was up in the zone. But I came back and started throwing strikes.”