IU baseball coach Tracy Smith does not take the phrase “defense wins championships” lightly.
“The turning point for us was when we started pitching the baseball and settling in defensively,” he said of his team’s recent four-game win streak. “Good pitching is contagious.”
The Hoosiers (16-17) are currently tied for first place in the Big Ten and look to continue their conference reign when they face Penn State at 3 p.m. Friday at Sembower Field.
Freshman Blake Monar will pitch game 1, followed by juniors Eric Arnett and Matt Bashore on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
Since the 12-5 loss to Minnesota on March 27, IU has won nine of its last 11 games.
Sophomore first baseman Jerrud Sabourin credits improved pitching for his team’s recent success.
“All three starters had great performances last weekend, and our relief was good,” he said. “It gives us a lot of confidence, and we will be ready to go this weekend. You can’t really ask for anything else.”
One of those starting pitchers, Monar, continued his strong season with a dominant complete game against Iowa last Friday.
Against the Hawkeyes, the Rockport, Ind., native (4-2) earned the win after allowing only two earned runs and striking out nine.
“I had one bad start against Minnesota, and that was really the only bad outing that I have had,” he said. “I have been doing the same that I have all year. (Against Iowa) it felt good to win, but we still have a lot of work to do and are not satisfied yet.”
The next test for IU will be against a Nittany Lion team that is 20-14 overall and 5-5 in the conference. Penn State freshman Jordan Steranka leads the team in batting average and hits.
One player Smith immediately mentioned as a tough competitor is Penn State senior pitcher T.J. Macy. The right hander, who is slated to pitch Friday afternoon, is 2-2 this season with a 3.20 ERA.
“He is as good as there is in the league,” Smith said of Macy. “You are not going to get a lot of good pitches to hit, so when you do, you have to take advantage of it. We have to continue to get better, our bullpen has to develop and understand as a team that even though we are in first place, there is a lot of baseball left to play.”