Indiana Daily Student

Hoosiers face must-win series against Illinois

A team that has seen itself with its back against the wall in numerous games this season faces another do-or-die challenge this weekend at Sembower Field.

And just like they’ve done on more than a few occasions in 2010, the Hoosiers will look to come up big when it matters the most.

IU (25-24, 10-11) faces Illinois (25-24, 9-12) in the final conference series of the year on Friday, with a chance to defend last year’s Big Ten Tournament championship on the line.

“It’s got to be tournament mode for us,” IU coach Tracy Smith said. “Every game we go out there has to have the mindset of ‘Hey, let’s extend our season.’”

Sophomore pitcher Drew Leininger will pitch first for the Hoosiers on Friday, putting his 4.33 ERA and 7-3 record on the line. Freshman Jonny Hoffman is expected to start Saturday, while junior Matt Carr will toe the mound Sunday.

The Hoosiers have struggled to find consistent pitching after last year’s Major League Baseball draft took a heavy toll on the squad.

“It’s just a matter of trying to piece it together and winning the baseball games you think you can win,” Smith said. “Whether that’s using your Sunday starter early or using Squires in the middle — we will do what it takes to win.”

Last weekend, the Hoosiers dropped two of three to the Spartans — a team they are currently tied with. Smith attributed the losses to numerous mental mistakes and said they worked heavily on correcting those issues during practice.

“We really slowed down things in practice to reiterate what we didn’t do well last weekend,” Smith said. “Our margin of error has always been small, and at this point in the season, it’s particularly small.”

Junior catcher Dylan Swift said the practice was important as he doesn’t want to be the guy who causes the Hoosiers to miss the tournament. There was an upside, though, to how the team performed despite the errors, he said.

“For as bad as we played last weekend, we were still close in every game,” Swift said. “We know that if we fix what went wrong last weekend, then we’ve got a really good chance this weekend.”

The series also marks the last time Squires will suit up for the Hoosiers at Sembower. The closer has nine saves already on the season to push his collegiate career total to 20 — the most in IU baseball history.

In order to make the tournament, the Hoosiers will have to distance themselves from their current four-way tie for fifth place.

“Quite frankly, my attitude is if we don’t do it, we don’t deserve to be in the tournament anyway,” Smith said. “But I think our kids will be fine. They’ll play relaxed and they’ll play to win.”

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