A first-year head coach and a pitcher who was not in the weekend rotation to begin the season were named Big Ten individual award winners Tuesday.
IU first-year Head Coach Jeff Mercer was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year, and IU junior pitcher Andrew Saalfrank was named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year.
Mercer came to Bloomington after former manager Chris Lemonis left to take the head coaching job at Mississippi State University. The team lost four players to the MLB draft.
Yet Mercer guided this IU team to something it hadn’t done since 2014 — win a Big Ten title.
After a 7-8 start to the season, Mercer turned the team around as it went 17-7 in Big Ten play and 36-19 overall. Mercer became the first coach since 1982 to win a Big Ten title in his first season with the team. Despite losing the team’s best starting pitcher from last year and two of its most prolific hitters, Mercer’s team had a top-25 ERA in the country and hit a school record 90 home runs.
Mercer is the third IU coach to receive the award.
Saalfrank first got his shot to join the weekend rotation for the Hoosiers when sophomore Tommy Sommer was injured. Saalfrank got the Sunday spot at that point and never relinquished it.
This season, Saalfrank had a 2.58 ERA, fifth best in the Big Ten, and 96 strikeouts, third most in the Big Ten. His 64 strikeouts in Big Ten games were the most in the conference. Saalfrank had an 8-1 record this season, which left him tied for the most wins of any Big Ten pitcher. In addition, Saalfrank did not lose a game against a Big Ten opponent.
Saalfrank developed his curveball into one of the best pitches in the conference, using it to total five games with double-digit strikeouts. His 13 strikeouts against Penn State are the most ever by an IU pitcher in a Big Ten game, breaking the record formerly held by Joey DeNato. DeNato, who won the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year award in 2014, was the last IU pitcher to win before Saalfrank.
Saalfrank was named to the All-Big Ten First Team along with senior Matt Lloyd. Lloyd led the Big Ten in both home runs with 16 and runs batted in with 54 this season.
Juniors Matt Gorski and Scotty Bradley as well as sophomore Cole Barr were named to the All-Big Ten Second Team. Gorski hit .279 with 45 RBIs and 12 home runs this season. He was one of three Hoosiers to hit double-digit home runs. The third Hoosier to do that was Barr, who tied Lloyd with 16 home runs. Bradley hit .272 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs. Bradley bad a .995 fielding percentage playing first base.
Sophomore Elijah Dunham was named to the All-Big Ten Third team after a year in which he hit .313 with seven home runs and 26 RBI. He closed the year strong with two or more hits in five of IU’s final seven games.
Freshman Grant Richardson was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman team. Richardson jumped onto the scene quickly when he was given his first chance March 13 against University of Cincinnati. In his first 12 games, Richardson had 23 RBIs and six home runs. He hit three home runs in one game against Maryland. Richardson quickly became a consistent starter in the IU lineup until the final week of the regular season.
Sophomore Drew Ashely was named the Sportsmanship Award winner.
The nine honorees and the rest of the IU team will resume play at 6 p.m. Wednesday against Iowa in Lincoln, Nebraska, to open the Big Ten Baseball Tournament.
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