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Sunday, Dec. 3
The Indiana Daily Student

sports baseball

Leininger, Johnson shine in break battles


Coming into the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational, the Hoosiers boasted a 4-8 record. The team was fresh off two games against both Vanderbilt and Louisville, two of the better teams in the nation, and played them very well despite the final result ending in a loss. A breakout was right around the corner.

Indeed, the Hoosiers went 5-2 over spring break, including wins against Central Michigan, Bradley, Eastern Illinois, Maryland-Baltimore County and Akron.
The team is now on a four-game winning streak and continues to get well-pitched games out of a rotation that has only five healthy pitchers on its roster.

“As conference play gets closer, starting pitching is still our main concern,” IU coach Tracy Smith said. “It’s going to be a little unconventional. We’re trotting out position players and guys that haven’t pitched since high school. We just have to find a way to get it done.”

In the midst of that, there has been one constant at the top of the rotation in sophomore Drew Leininger, who upped his scoreless inning streak to 26 with six brilliant frames in a win over Akron on Saturday. He lowered his league-leading ERA to a miniscule 0.79 and improved to 3-0 this season.

“I think the biggest thing I’ve improved on this year is being more deceptive and controlling the corners of the plate better,” Leininger said. “I just have to continue to go out and throw strikes, and the streak will take care of itself.”

Controlling the strike zone is all that is being asked of the young pitching staff, as the offense has been on a terror as of late. It is averaging over eight runs a game in the past six games, being led particularly by the top of the order and starting with lead-off freshman third-baseman Micah Johnson.

“We’re not getting a lot of production from the bottom of the order,” Smith said. “So, for right now, I like Micah in the leadoff spot so we can get our best hitters to the plate more often.”

Johnson was named co-Big Ten Player of the Week last week after posting a 1.734 OPS. He is now second, behind sophomore outfielder Alex Dickerson, with a .610 slugging percentage.

Last week against Bradley, Johnson hit a clutch solo home run in the ninth inning to tie the game and send it into extra innings.  The Hoosiers went on to win 6-5.

“I’ve been focusing more on the inner half of the plate and trying to drive the ball,” Johnson said. “Against Bradley, I knew I had to do something, because I went 0-5 against Yale the day before that. He threw me a 1-0 curveball, and it just caught too much of the plate.”

Prior to the invitational, the Hoosiers’ main concern offensively was cutting down on strikeouts and putting the ball in play. Coming into their first game against Miami (Ohio), the Hoosiers were averaging nine strikeouts per game, and more than four of those came looking.

“We’re improving,” Smith said. “I stressed it a great deal in practice and after games that if you don’t do what we’re asking, you’re going to sit the bench and I think that got the message across pretty well.”

Leininger suffered a leg injury during his last start and could miss his next start this coming weekend. With only five healthy pitchers, injuries are amongst Smith’s concerns.

“We’re banged up after this week,” Smith said. “But we’re definitely getting more settled in as far as the lineup is concerned.”

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