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Tuesday, May 21
The Indiana Daily Student

sports baseball

‘Good competitive nature’: Indiana baseball’s 2022 home run race may return in 2023

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Carter Mathison and Matthew Ellis, two of Indiana baseball's most distinguished sluggers, encountered separate paths before landing on the program's top-10 single-season home run record during the 2022 season.  

Mathison is an Indiana native from Fort Wayne — homegrown talent that remained within the state's boundaries to play college ball. Following Mathison's senior season in high school, the outfielder was named Mr. Baseball by the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association.  

Ellis, who developed the nickname Big Country, hails from Waddy, Kentucky, equidistant to Louisville and Lexington. Perfect Game rated Ellis the No. 10 overall prospect in the state. The catcher redshirted his freshman season at the University of Tennessee, transferred and cemented the starting role at Walters State Community College for two seasons, then returned to Division I at Indiana.  

Despite their age discrepancy — Mathison is entering his sophomore season, and Ellis is now an upperclassman redshirt senior — the two are both preparing for their second season with the Hoosiers. And there's one more commonality: Mathison and Ellis love launching baseballs. Either that, or it's just effortless.  

During Indiana's seesawing 27-32 record last season, Mathison's team-leading 19 homers comfortably surpassed the program's freshman home run record previously set by Alex Dickerson, who knocked 14 in 2009. Compare that to the all-time freshmen Big Ten leaders, and Mathison landed No. 2, just behind Iowa's Brad Carlson, who hit 21 home runs in 1999.  

Ellis finished just shy of Mathison, smashing 18 home runs last season, tied for No. 7 on Indiana's single-season home run list alongside Kyle Schwarber and Alex Smith.  

Since last season's home run race was so close, the next logical question is whether Mathison and Ellis enact some cordial bet this year to entice more dingers. Perhaps, whoever has fewer home runs at the end of the season has to pay for the other's dinner? 

"We should have done that for last year," Mathison said Tuesday evening inside the media room of Assembly Hall, grinning at Ellis sitting beside him.  

"Yeah, I know," Ellis jokingly replied.  

Mathison recentered his shoulders. The smile faded to allow for further explanation of the race, but Mathison's cheeks remained raised.  

"It was never a competition, but we'd joke around here and there when it got close," Mathison said. "If I'd hit one and pull away from him, I'd give him a nudge on the shoulder like your turn. Same for (Ellis). He would do the same if he hit one in a series and pulled away from me. So, it was a good competitive nature."  

Ellis chimed into the conversation.  

"We can't forget how Carter took the lead on that at 3:30 in the morning against Rutgers," Ellis said. "One of the more impressive home runs he hit, at that place, at that late at night. So that was pretty cool. But no, to his point, it was super fun."  

Ellis was referencing Indiana's final game last season, a 14-2 thrashing by Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, which yes, ended after 4 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. The in-game lightning delay didn't help, nor did rainy weather during earlier days in the tournament. The crammed schedule intended that the conference tournament finished before the NCAA Tournament selection.  

Mathison's opposite-field dart into the abandoned left-field seats landed well beyond the 375 feet marker on the wall — taking sole possession as the team’s leading home run hitter over Ellis by one — the first freshman to do so since Sam Travis in 2012.  

The home run came closer to 2:30 am central time, where the game took place in late May at Charles Schwab Field, home of the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. Indiana baseball plays at home in the eastern time zone, so Ellis receives credit for being an hour off in crediting Mathison Tuesday evening.  

Despite the pair combining for 37 home runs last year, Ellis mentioned continued revisions in preparation for the season-opener at No. 22 Auburn, per Baseball America.  

"I know Carter and I both collectively have been working super hard," Ellis said. "We know what we need to work on and the small improvements we needed. I think both of us have taken a step forward offensively, but we've worked super hard defensively."  

Topping 37 combined homers this season is demanding. The duo’s impressive pace accomplished that total in only 59 games (not including the NCAA Tournament).  

Even after Mathison kidded they should’ve bet with each other last season, neither player Tuesday stated aloud potential rewards for this season’s home run leader: complimentary dinner, sunflower seeds, or rounds of ice-cold soda. Though if Mathison and Ellis start rapidly hitting baseballs out of the yard, that should raise some suspicion.  

If not for the teammate wager, then to win the Big Ten, which Ellis explicitly stated, is the goal.  

Follow reporters Matthew Byrne (.@MatthewByrne1) and Nick Rodecap (.@nickrodecap) for updates throughout the Indiana baseball season. 

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