IU baseball’s hitting got off to a slow start in a 2-1 defeat against Rutgers last Friday. The Hoosiers tallied only five hits and two walks, leaving a lot of pressure on their pitching and defense. As the weekend progressed, however, the hitting improved and IU left Minneapolis with a 3-1 record.
“Our pitching and defense was terrific,” IU head coach Jeff Mercer said Wednesday. “Offensively, we were fine. Some of those things I saw the last few weeks leading up to the season kind of bled over but we’ll be fine offensively. We grew throughout the weekend and by the last game we were more into what’s appropriate for our offense.”
Mercer, a manager who likes to see his hitters put together long at-bats, thought his players had the right mentality at the plate but weren’t always finishing things off, especially in their first game against Rutgers.
“Our two-strike approach wasn’t great,” Mercer said. “It was a good learning experience. When things don’t go terrific early in the ballgame for us from a scoring standpoint, we have to not deviate from the plan and get sideways.”
On the other side of the ball, IU’s defense allowed no more than two runs in any of its four games last weekend and capped it off with an 8-1 victory Sunday night over Minnesota.
IU will welcome a 2-2 Penn State team to Bloomington this weekend. All four of Penn State’s first four games were against Northwestern, the last one being a 13-10 shootout, which Penn State won.
For Mercer, it’s a series against a familiar face. Penn State head coach Rob Cooper was Mercer’s coach in college. Because of his connection to Cooper and his style, Mercer knows what to expect out of the Nittany Lions this weekend.
“They’re gonna pitch it and they’re gonna take care of it,” Mercer said. “Their offense did a good job through the course of the weekend. It’s going to be competitive, so it’ll be a good challenge for us.”
IU will start the same four pitchers this weekend as it did last weekend but in a different order. Junior left-hander Tommy Sommer, who started IU’s second game last weekend, will start the first game this weekend on Friday afternoon.
Sommer is coming off his best pitching performance as a Hoosier, where he threw eight scoreless innings against Minnesota last Saturday. Sommer’s 10-strikeout performance was strong enough to earn him Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honors.
After Sommer takes the mound on Friday, it will be sophomore right-handers Gabe Bierman and McCade Brown pitching for Saturday’s doubleheader, followed by redshirt freshman left-hander Ty Bothwell on Sunday. Brown and Bothwell are two other Hoosier pitchers who will look to back up strong performances from last weekend.
Mercer said he is excited and optimistic about how his young pitchers performed last weekend.
“You’re just watching a lot of young guys that are talented and we’ve had confidence in them, but it’s their first time to go out and compete on the main stage,” Mercer said. “They absolutely excelled, which was great to see.”