Indiana Daily Student

Baseball looks to make move in conference at Northwestern

Freshman Blake Monar delivers a pitch against Northwestern Sunday afternoon at Sembower Field. The Hoosiers defeated the Wilcats 11-2.
Freshman Blake Monar delivers a pitch against Northwestern Sunday afternoon at Sembower Field. The Hoosiers defeated the Wilcats 11-2.

Calling it his favorite time of the year, IU baseball coach Tracy Smith is looking forward to his team’s first conference series without classes or final exams to worry about.

“It’s a time where (the season) feels like pro baseball,” Smith said. “You can work out a little bit in the morning and get your work done. There’s nothing to concentrate on except to eat, sleep and play baseball.”

Smith hopes that the more focused approach will allow his Hoosiers (21-21, 7-8) to come away successful from this weekend’s conference series at Northwestern (20-25, 9-6).

Sophomore Hoosier pitcher Drew Leininger will toe the mound for IU on Friday afternoon in the first of a three-game series at Rocky Miller Park in Evanston, Ill. Leininger, IU’s top starting pitcher in 2010, has had a pair of consecutive rough outings after starting the season 6-1.

The native of Poway, Calif., is pitching with a sore knee that knocked him out of the lineup early in the season and has watched his ERA climb from a conference-leading 1.20 to 3.38 after two-straight losses.

“I know it’s affecting him,” said Smith, already saddled with a pitching corps hampered by injury and a lack of depth. “I’m not going to say one negative thing about him and his performance because I know he’s pitching on one leg.

"It’s a concern, but I’m also hoping his competitive instincts can take over.”

In conference play, the Hoosiers are now 1-3 in weekend series after dropping the rubber match of last weekend’s three-game home stand with Purdue in the tenth inning. Meanwhile, Northwestern, after dropping its first series of Big Ten play to Ohio State in April, has won three straight and moved into a tie at the top of the conference standings.

That didn’t slow Dylan Swift, IU’s starting catcher, from talking about what his team needs to finish the weekend with, record-wise.

“We’re looking for a sweep this weekend, legitimately,” Swift said after the team took batting practice Thursday. “If we sweep and things keep going how they were, we’ll be at the front of the conference.”

The Big Ten standings are tight, as first and last place teams are only three games apart.

Alongside Northwestern in first is Michigan, while Purdue, Ohio State and Minnesota are just one game back and tied for third. The Hoosiers fit in the three-way sixth-place tie with Michigan State and Penn State, just two games behind first.

For Swift’s aspirations of the Hoosiers pulling off their first sweep of the season to succeed, their normally high-producing offense will need to continue. Heading into weekend play, the Hoosiers are leading the conference with a .511 team slugging percentage and 793 total bases.

“We got to step up at some point with the Big Ten still being crazy,” Swift said.

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