Indiana baseball took two of three games against Illinois over the weekend to capture its second series win in a row and its second series win against a Big Ten opponent.
Indiana has now won seven of its last 10 games, and much of Indiana’s recent success can be attributed to its freshman class, all of whom have seen a productive month of baseball. Carter Mathison has 13 home runs, the second-most of all Hoosiers this season, and Josh Pyne has the second-most RBIs of the team with 44.
In three games against Illinois, Indiana saw five different freshmen enter the starting lineup. The young group for Indiana now looks to carry their recent success in the final month of regular-season baseball to earn a spot in the Big Ten tournament.
Even before the series started, one Hoosier freshman was already making headlines. Last week, Josh Pyne was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week.
Pyne stayed strong entering this week. In the Hoosiers’ against the Fighting Illini Friday, Pyne brought in the winning run in the ninth inning with an RBI single down the left field line.
“I saw him in high school, but I didn't know the kind of player he was,” Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer said. “I thought he'd be a very fine player, but to see him do the things he's doing right now — I had no idea.”
Later in the series, another freshman won the Sunday game for Indiana. Carter Mathison went 2-4 in the final day of the series with two home runs on the day.
Mathison’s home run total this season is now at 13. He’s just one shy of the freshman home run record currently held by former Hoosier Alex Dickerson, who hit 14 home runs in 2009.
Mathison said he wasn’t aware of the record heading into Sunday, and he just looks for good at-bats when he's at the plate.
“That’s never been on my mind,” Mathison said. “It's the first time I've heard of the record, to be honest. I just look for base hits and then when it goes over, it goes over.”
In the three games against Illinois, Indiana freshmen batted a combined 19-45 with a .422 collective batting average. With strong defensive efforts from freshmen Max Johnson and Evan Goforth and offensive production from Mathison, Pyne and Brock Tibbitts, the group has helped their team all year long.
“We wanted to allow those young guys to grow up and play on a successful team,” Mercer said about his freshmen class this year. “They are the bedrock foundation of the program.”
Indiana is in the last four weeks of its season and is currently fighting for a top-eight spot in the Big Ten standings. With that standing, Indiana would be prime to take a trip to Omaha for the championship in late May. Indiana now looks toward a three-game away series against Michigan next weekend in Ann Arbor.
As the team looks to continue their recent success on the field, Mercer said he expects his team to carry on the same message that they've had all season long.
“As long as they're doing the best they can, as long as they're following the plan, if you win, you win. If you lose, you lose,” Mercer said “You don't change the way you coach if things aren't going your way, you don't change the way you coach if they are going your way. That's the monotony, but also the success or failure, of baseball.”