IU baseball will take on a familiar foe as it plays its second series of the season against Minnesota this weekend. The Hoosiers beat the Golden Gophers 5-2 and 8-1 last month during opening weekend in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The Hoosiers enter at 15-8 and have won four of their last five games, a bounceback stretch after losing five straight games that keeps them in the hunt for the conference title.
Now that the regular season is more than halfway finished, head coach Jeff Mercer expects the Hoosiers to grow and believes their best baseball is ahead of them.
“It’s a big weekend and we need to play well,” Mercer said. “It’s time to grow up and it’s time to begin to become the team that we envisioned ourselves being. I have great confidence in this team.”
IU is coming off a 2-1 series win last weekend against Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois. The offense stayed aggressive as the Hoosiers rallied 14 runs across the three games.
While the hitting numbers have undoubtedly improved, a more balanced pitching rotation has also been vital to IU’s recent success, Mercer said. While starters junior Tommy Sommer and sophomore McCade Brown were dominant to start the season, opening day starter Gabe Bierman had to overcome an injury that sidelined him for fall camp as he began his sophomore season.
Bierman’s opening day start ended in just four innings with five walks and two earned runs. Now he’s moved down in the rotation and has gotten used to pitching in series finales on Sundays.
Since his opening day start, Bierman has only walked 12 batters in five games and has won three of those games. In his last two starts, he’s gone at least seven innings on the mound without any earned runs.
“He’s been dominant,” Mercer said. “On Sundays, to have a guy that you feel is equal to your Friday and Saturday guy is a huge thing for our team.”
Along with his starting pitchers, Mercer has been impressed with the work his bullpen has done all season. While the Hoosiers blew a one-run lead Saturday in the eighth inning, the bullpen has generally been effective at closing out games.
“Our bullpen has been terrific,” Mercer said. “The mid-relief to me has been just as impressive as the starting pitching. I have tremendous confidence in the bullpen.”
With 20 games remaining on the regular season schedule, IU finds itself at third in the Big Ten standings, the same spot it’s been in for weeks. IU is two games behind Michigan, which is a half game behind first-placed Nebraska. None of the top three teams in the conference have played each other yet.