IU baseball will open its season in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this weekend for a three-game series beginning Friday against No. 11 Louisiana State University.
The Hoosiers are returning after a 37-23 season in which they won the regular season Big Ten championship. The team lost to Louisville University in the Regional round of the NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament.
IU faces a LSU team that went 40-26 last season and advanced to the Super Regional round of the NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament before losing to Florida State University.
IU head coach Jeff Mercer said starting the season off with a tough schedule will help the team grow and improve later in the season.
“You want to be the best team you can be in the last month,” Mercer said. “And so being able to be in big environments and to be able to play pressure-back baseball really helps to shape the character of you and your toughness.”
Junior outfielder Elijah Dunham, who had a .310 batting average last season, and junior infielder Cole Barr, who batted .255 last season, will both return to the team this year.
LSU has a powerful hitter in junior infielder Zack Mathis, who transferred from San Joaquin Delta College where he hit .351 last year.
Junior Tommy Sommer will be the starting pitcher Friday, sophomore Gabe Bierman will start Saturday and sophomore Braydon Tucker will start Sunday.
Sommer said the team is prepared to play against a difficult team like LSU.
“We’ve played against all those types of teams for two or three years now,” Sommer said. “We understand what the expectation level is and all the pressure’s on them. No one’s expecting us to go down there and sweep LSU even though we’re very capable of doing so.”
IU has a young roster this season, with 13 freshman and and eight sophomores.
Mercer said younger members of the team have just as many expectations of them as more experienced ones. Other teams will not give the Hoosiers leniency because they are young.
The goal for Mercer and the team this series is to build on their strengths and discover their weaknesses, he said.
“I want to continue to grow throughout the course of the year,” Mercer said. “And I feel really confident with the group and our mindset.”