Following IU baseball’s winless series against Nebraska two weekends ago, the Hoosiers appeared to be headed into a slump comparable to their February slide that included back-to-back series losses.
That’s exactly what happened. IU went to West Lafayette, Indiana, and lost the series against Purdue, 2-1, for its second consecutive series loss and a combined two-series record of 1-4-1.
Between the beef of the last three weeks though, IU has gone 3-1 in its mid-week matchups. The last one came Tuesday in a 2-0 victory against Indiana State, which has the Hoosiers riding a small wave of momentum going into a weekend series against Big Ten-leading Minnesota.
Despite the recent losses, the Hoosiers moved from 40th to 37th in RPI rankings, but IU Coach Chris Lemonis said he isn’t watching the ratings.
“Sometimes we’ll throw it out there to see where we’re at, but it’s all about playing good baseball and preparing to play good baseball,” Lemonis said. Some of them have a hard time looking ahead and some of them don’t even know what RPI means.”
Lemonis has been open and aware about where the Hoosiers have struggled whether it was starting pitching, batting or relief pitching — they’ve struggled in all areas at various points during the season already.
Now, halfway through the season, Lemonis said the game of baseball comes and goes with the season, especially in junior outfielder Logan Sowers’ case.
Sowers struggled early in the season at the plate, but the outfielder has recorded at least one hit in 10 of his last 13 games and is batting .365 in that span.
“It gives us a little more depth to our lineup, and it’s one of our better hitters,” Lemonis said about Sowers’ improvement this season. “You know it’s gonna come. It’s the game of baseball.”
The starting pitchers have done the same, as the weekend rotation is beginning to solidify itself with sophomores Jonathan Stiever and Pauly Milto and junior Brian Hobbie holding down the Friday through Sunday matchups and sophomore Tim Herrin on mid-week matchups.
The bullpen remains inconsistent as it has been all season, and Lemonis said that comes with such a young pitching staff.
In its matchup against Indiana State on Tuesday, the bullpen trotted out freshmen Cam Beauchamp and Andrew Saalfrank and junior Austin Foote for six total innings. The relievers allowed a total of five baserunners to maintain the small IU lead.
Just before the Indiana State game, though, the bullpen pitched a total of 4.2 innings against Purdue and allowed seven hits and seven earned runs.
“We knew when you have a young pitching staff, sometimes that’s the hardest piece to get going,” Lemonis said. “That’s where the growing pains have been. We’re past the halfway point, and I feel good with the way we’ve been going with our bullpen.”
IU will need its bullpen to be strong against a 20-8 Minnesota team that ranks fourth in team batting average in the conference. The Golden Gophers rank just 11th in the Big Ten in runs scored, though.
The bats will need to be equally consistent for IU, too, because Minnesota ranks fourth in the conference in earned run average and second in opponent batting average.
Lemonis said Minnesota, as well as the next two series against Michigan and Maryland, are big series for IU’s season, and the Hoosiers could use this small wave of momentum to peak into a similar wave that helped the IU sweep Northwestern and nearly sweep Hawaii.
“We’ve got 35 guys, and 35 guys need to do their job,” Lemonis said. “They’ll know that running out here these next three weeks, with Minnesota, Michigan and Maryland. They have a lot of significance on our season, but it’s a great opportunity for us.”
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