Any 7-13 team would be prone to panic – losing six of your last eight games can only further deplete an already anxiety-filled, partly shattered psyche.
IU junior catcher Josh Phegley said his team’s mental approach helped develop an early-season hole in what was supposed to be a breakout year.
“We started going into games thinking we might win, we might not,” he said. “We’d fall behind early, and we started going into panic mode instead of just sitting back and knowing what we had offensively and defensively.”
IU is relatively calm heading into its 3 p.m. game today against Xavier (10-6), despite the contest’s weight. As the final opportunity for improvement before the Big Ten season, which starts Friday against Minnesota, Xavier is the only remaining springboard to set the Hoosiers on the pace many expected.
One comforting factor might be the familiarity IU coach Tracy Smith has with Xavier coach Scott Googins. Both wore cream and crimson during one of IU baseball’s finest hours.
In 1996, Smith and Googins were assistants under former IU coach Bob Morgan for a team that brought the only Big Ten championship and NCAA regional appearance of the last decade.
Smith had a good laugh at the thought of losing to Googins, who was also his understudy at Miami of Ohio, but said IU will attempt to make the bout a facilitator of future wins.
“It’ll be fun to go at him head-to-head,” he said. “But we’re going to use that game to start preparing for the weekend and get on the right track and playing some good baseball.”
While optimistic, Smith is also a realist.
Several flukey games and oddball scores make up IU’s schedule results. Many of the listed losses have come in wild games, but Smith didn’t allow excuses to seep into his speech even though his team has composite .338 batting and .500 slugging averages.
“You make your breaks,” Smith said. “You have to create your own luck, and we found multiple ways to beat ourselves, whether it was the bullpen that let us down or the defense that let us down.”
Rarely taking the mound in his first two years, junior pitcher Chris Squires (1-1) is now in his most pertinent position. Squires will post his third start of the season against Xavier.
The right-hander has come on for IU as a capable yet scrappy fourth-day pitcher. The ultimate team player, Squires said a win in Cincinnati could mold his team into a more cohesive unit.
“After a slightly disappointing spring trip, I think this game is huge in terms of morale and chemistry,” he said.
The last three innings have indicated IU’s collapse in several landslide losses that were winnable going into their latter stages. With the value of each victory at a premium, Squires said IU has to close games in order to add to the coveted column.
“We really need, as a team, to kind of step up in those innings. That’s crunch time,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what you do in the beginning of the game if you can’t finish from seven to nine.”
Filled with hope, Phegley said IU has the tools needed to compete with Xavier and improve as the season progresses.
“A good win against Xavier will get us rolling for the weekend,” he said. “If we get a win this weekend, there’s no telling what we can do.”