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Monday, May 27
The Indiana Daily Student

sports baseball

‘We’re ready for the challenge’: Indiana baseball to open 2023 season at No. 22 Auburn

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This weekend, Indiana baseball heads to Auburn University to open their 2023 campaign. The Hoosiers face the Tigers, a 2022 College World Series participant ranked No. 22 by Baseball America, on Friday at 5 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and on Sunday at 2 p.m.  

Indiana is coming off a sub-.500 2022 season that saw them struggle, sometimes mightily, on the pitching side. They posted a 27-32 record and were 10-14 in conference play. They had trouble winning on the road, going just 8-19 away from Bart Kaufman Field.  

Given last year’s road woes, a strong non conference schedule to open the season would seem antithetical, but fifth-year head coach Jeff Mercer is no stranger to the challenge. 

“This is just what we do the first two or three weeks of the year,” Mercer said in a press conference Wednesday. “You go play really good teams, you get used to playing at that level, and then you play the rest of the season that way.” 

Graduate transfer Ben “Bigs” Seiler will be Indiana’s opening day starter. He was a starting pitcher for most of his time at Siena.  

“It’s something I’m comfortable with,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to do it here.” 

Seiler and the rest of the Hoosier pitching staff will be held between 75 and 85 pitches this weekend, according to Mercer. He described the team’s pitching approach as “all-hands-on-deck.”  

Auburn finished 2022 with a 43-22 record. They made a run at the College World Series title but were eliminated by the University of Arkansas.  

“(Auburn is) really talented,” Seiler said. “They don’t have a lot of holes. They’ve got guys that can run, they’ve got guys that can hit for power, hit for contact, so it’s going to be a battle one through nine (in the batting order) but that’s what we’ve been preparing for.”  

Senior outfielder Hunter Jessee also recognized the Tigers’ talent Wednesday, calling them a good team with a lot of depth.  

“It’s a good environment,” he said of Tigers’ home stadium, Plainsman Park. “It’s going to be a battle. We’re both gritty teams. It’s going to come down to whoever’s tougher.” 

Redshirt junior lefty Ty Bothwell will toe the slab Saturday, taking the mound for game two. Sunday’s starter is still to be determined.

“Outside of a few nicks and bruises, we’re pretty healthy,” he said. “They’re ready to go play. It’s just time for them to go get on the field.”  

This year’s squad boasts lots of depth, particularly behind the plate. Mercer said this weekend’s primary catchers will be redshirt senior Matt Ellis and senior Pete Serruto.  

“We will use the entirety of the group, especially to put us in better situations offensively,” Mercer said. “We’ll catch three different guys in a ballgame, which is a bit unique." 

Ellis will see action consistently, either behind the dish or as a designated hitter. He is one of many offensive weapons for Indiana. Mercer has had trouble penciling in his starting nine for Friday’s season opener.  

“The lineups are hard (to make) when nobody can hit, and the lineups are hard to make when everybody can hit,” Mercer said. “I would rather have the latter instead of the former."  

“We have, like, 14 hitters you could throw out there and everyone on the field would trust in them that they’re going to get the job done,” Jessee said Wednesday.  

For Indiana, everything comes back to preparing for the postseason. “We want to play our best baseball in May,” Seiler said.  

To be the best, you must play against the best. Mercer’s “iron sharpens iron” approach is exemplified in the Hoosiers’ season-opener at Auburn and their series next weekend at the University of Texas.  

“They’re going to play postseason games in front of five, ten-thousand people, calling you every name in the book,” Mercer said. “And you have to be able to go into those environments and persevere.”  

The series begins Friday at 5 p.m. Each game will be available for viewing on SEC Network+. 

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