Since getting swept by Ohio State the first weekend of April, the IU baseball team has won seven of its last eight games and reentered the Big Ten conference title race.
IU has benefited from playing three teams in the bottom half of the standings over that stretch, including last place Minnesota last weekend, who it outscored 39-5 over three games.
In the 23-1 victory on April 25, IU scored 23 runs on 17 hits, both season-highs. It was the most runs for the Hoosiers since scoring 27 against Butler University on March 23, 2016, and the most in a Big Ten game since April 4, 2010, when they beat Michigan 26-6.
The remaining schedule for IU includes the other top six teams in the conference. This weekend, IU will take on fourth-place Iowa. The Hawkeyes started the season 4-8, but have won 14 of their last 17 games to improve to 18-11.
“I like where we are currently,” IU head coach Jeff Mercer said. “I feel like we’re starting to play our best baseball, and moving into this stretch, we’re prepared to go and compete at a very high level.”
Iowa is fourth in the Big Ten both batting average and ERA, and like IU, rely on their starting pitching to keep themselves in games. Two of Iowa’s starting pitchers, seniors Trenton Wallace and Cam Baumann, are third and fourth in ERA in the league, respectively.
Wallace is Iowa’s Friday starter. Last week against Rutgers, he didn’t give up any earned runs, but he did struggle with his command, hitting two batters and walking six in 4.1 innings of work. On the flip side, nine of his 13 recorded outs were strikeouts.
Baumann will start on Sunday against IU sophomore Gabe Bierman. In his last start against Northwestern, Baumann gave up two runs and five hits in six innings. Baumann averages slightly more than four strikeouts a game, and relies on the defense to make plays behind him.
“You gotta try and find a weakness with these guys,” Mercer said. “Can a guy not get off the mound, can you bunt on them, can you steal? Give yourself the chance to change the game in that way. Where’s the crack with a certain team that you can slide your way into?”
The Hawkeye offense has come alive over the past three weeks, hitting .321 as a team and averaging 9.3 runs per game. Their efforts have been spearheaded by the last two Big Ten Players of the Week, senior outfielders Zeb Adreon and Ben Norman.
In four games last weekend, Adreon went 10-14 from the plate, batting in five and scoring seven runs. Adreon reached base safely in his final ten plate appearances in the series. In the series, Adreon’s batting average went from .259 to a team-leading .323 on 32-99 hitting this season.
Norman is Iowa’s top offensive threat, leading the Hawkeyes in hits, runs, home runs, slugging percentage and steals. He is leading the conference in RBIs as well. He took home Big Ten Player of the Week two weeks ago after hitting .400 with two home runs, eight RBIs and six runs scored in Iowa’s series at Rutgers.
The Hawkeye batters will face their stiffest pitching competition yet against the Hoosiers. IU ranks second in the nation in ERA at .264 and hits allowed per nine innings at 5.93 and is fifth in the country in WHIP at 1.13. The Hoosiers lead the Big Ten in all three categories.
Individually, IU sophomore McCade Brown leads the Big Ten strikeouts per nine innings, ranks second in the league in both ERA and hits allowed per nine innings and is third in strikeouts. Bierman leads the Big Ten in ERA and ranks third in hits allowed per nine innings.
As IU enters the final month and the toughest part of their schedule, Mercer said he understands the importance of these final four weeks.
“It’s time to go,” Mercer said. “It’s time to put it all together these last few weeks and find out what we’re made of.”