The most difficult stretch in IU’s conference title pursuit will begin this weekend as Minnesota comes to Bloomington just two games behind IU in the Big Ten standings.
After beating Ball State University 9-3 Tuesday at Victory Field in Indianapolis, IU begins a stretch of play that features 11 combined games against Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky.
A winning record in these games puts IU in great position to win the Big Ten regular season crown, and improve its chance to host a regional.
Minnesota is coming off a weekend in which it lost two of three games to the University of Oklahoma. The weekend before, it lost a series at Illinois.
While Minnesota, at 17-20 overall and 7-5 in the Big Ten, has had its fair share of struggles this season, it is still coming off a season in which it won a Big Ten title and hosted an NCAA regional.
Minnesota is led by its pitching, highlighted by a pair of sophomore arms in Max Meyer, 3-3 with a 1.93 earned run average, and Patrick Fredrickson, who is 1-3 with a 5.74 earned run average.
Fredrickson has struggled coming off a freshman year in which he was named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year with a 9-0 record and a 1.86 earned run average.
At the plate, junior catcher Eli Wilson is the only Minnesota batter in the starting lineup with a batting average above .300. Wilson also has two home runs and 17 runs batted in over the course of the season.
While Minnesota has struggled to win series recently, IU has been on a tear, winning 11 of its last 12 games. The latest, a comeback win over Ball State, showed the resiliency of the Hoosiers.
Senior catcher Ryan Fineman returned from his injury Tuesday, starting the game behind the plate before getting replaced midway by fellow senior Wyatt Cross.
At the same time, IU’s senior closer and first baseman Matt Lloyd exited in the ninth inning of Tuesday's with an injury. It remains to be determined how long he and junior pitcher Tanner Gordon, who exited Sunday’s loss to Michigan State, will be hampered by injuries.
The loss of two of IU’s most productive players could be detrimental against Minnesota. With those two potentially out or at least inhibited, IU Coach Jeff Mercer will continue to rely on the productivity of junior pitcher Andrew Saalfrank and outfielder Matt Gorski.
Friday’s matchup will likely pit Meyer and IU senior Pauly Milto together in a battle of pitchers with sub-2.30 earned run averages. Milto will have the first pitch from Bart Kaufman Field at 6:05 p.m.