After nearly one year removed from playing its last regular season game, IU baseball is back in action this weekend in Minneapolis.
Like so many other sports, the baseball season came to a screeching halt last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. IU’s last game before then was a 6-2 home win against University of Cincinnati on March 11, 2020. Since then, it’s been nothing more than a waiting game for the Hoosiers, who are eager to get their first game action in almost one year.
“It’s nice to be able to talk about baseball and actually playing games,” head coach Jeff Mercer said. “We’re excited and ready to go. I don’t know if we’re ready to play, but the season is here so we’re going to go and play the games.”
IU’s season will open with a doubleheader Friday against Rutgers and Minnesota. Then, the Hoosiers will face the Scarlet Knights once more Saturday night and the Golden Gophers again Sunday night. All four games will be played in Minneapolis at U.S. Bank Stadium.
IU announced its starting pitching rotation for opening weekend Wednesday. The Hoosiers will start sophomore right-hander Gabe Bierman on Friday against Rutgers followed by junior left-hander Tommy Sommer against Minnesota. Sophomore right-hander McCade Brown will get the start Saturday night against Rutgers and redshirt freshman left-hander Ty Bothwell will start Sunday against Minnesota.
In a normal season, IU would have begun its schedule with a long stretch of non-conference games, a time that could be used to shake the cobwebs off and tweak lineups. This season the team will play a much more condensed schedule that features only conference games, which IU and the rest of the Big Ten will have to find a way to manage carefully.
“We talked with the kids about it being a sprint but still a marathon,” Mercer said. “We still want to be the best version of our team in the last month. But now we need to be the best version of ourselves today and still plan on being the best that we can at the end of the season. It’s difficult.”
The good news for IU is that it brings back an experienced roster to this unusual season. Seven of the nine starting hitters from its last regular season game are returning and Bierman, IU’s leader in ERA last season with 2.45, is also back to anchor the starting rotation.
On top of a talented list of returners, the Hoosiers also boast a wide array of underclassmen and transfers that will look to add some depth to the lineup. Redshirt senior catcher and first baseman Jacob Southern, a transfer from Jacksonville University, has opened the eyes of the coaching staff in the offseason.
“He’s a really talented offensive player,” Mercer said. “He’s a guy that can really throw. In the right setting when you play a certain style of team, having a guy like that in your back pocket can alter the course of a game and season.”
This weekend, IU will face a Rutgers squad that was 6-9 before the shutdown last spring and a Minnesota team that was 8-10. According to D1Baseball.com, Rutgers is picked to finish 10th in the conference this season while Minnesota slots in at No. 7. IU is picked to finish second, only behind Michigan.