Indiana baseball extended its winning streak to nine games when they defeated Kent State University 4-3 on Tuesday night. Jeff Mercer’s ballclub is now 18-7 on the season.
The Hoosiers have now won all 15 of their home games this season and 16 games in a row at Bart Kaufman Field. This streak is the second-longest home winning streak since at least 1985 and currently ranks No. 3 nationally.
Freshman right-handed pitcher Cooper Katskee was one of seven Hoosier hurlers to appear in the ballgame for Indiana. He was one of two pitchers to throw multiple innings, only allowing one run and holding the Golden Flashes hitless. It was Katskee’s first appearance since the Hoosiers’ last loss, which came against the University of Kentucky on March 15.
Mercer said Katskee’s outing on Tuesday night was much better than his appearance against the Wildcats, thanks in part to his ability to effectively locate multiple breaking balls.
"He was cruising,” Mercer said after the game. “He came in and was great. You saw a preview of what we’ve seen a ton of —command of five pitches and really good stuff. We’re super excited about him.”
Katskee said the veteran presence of senior catcher Matthew Ellis was a crucial part of his success against Kent State.
“If I’m mentally in the wrong headspace, he’s out there calming me down,” Katskee said. “Saying, ‘Hey man, you’ve got this.’ It’s absolutely huge.”
With extra years of eligibility granted due to the pandemic and a shortened MLB draft, more veteran players are on collegiate rosters. For some freshmen, this can present a challenge, but Katskee said the presence of older players is a good thing.
“Having a lot of older guys on the team has been great,” Katskee said. “Having a guy to ask questions of and lean on has really helped me.”
Five of the seven pitchers who appeared for Indiana were freshmen. Ethan Phillips, Aydan Decker-Petty, Evan Whiteaker, Brayden Risedorph and Katskee allowed just five hits in total. The young arms combined for ten of Indiana’s 16 strikeouts on the mound.
“Those guys are talented,” Mercer said.
Whiteaker and Risedorph struggled in last weekend’s sweep of Ohio State, and Mercer said it was important for them to get back on the mound.
“At some point, those guys were going to stub their toe,” he said. “The best remedy for that is to get right back into the game.”
Mercer said well-located pitches in the strike zone win games.
“You saw that tonight. When you have stuff in the zone, it wins. Stuff wins. Those freshmen have a bunch of stuff, and they’ve got to go for us,” he said.
He said this season’s schedule was built so the team could learn as the season progresses.
“We’ve done what I hoped we would do,” Mercer said.
The team was able to adjust after two tough road series at Auburn and Texas, regain its confidence and build on the lessons that have been learned along the way.
The time to apply the lessons learned looms large on the horizon. The Hoosiers head to Happy Valley to take on Penn State this weekend.
“We’re going to have to take this show on the road,” Mercer said.
Indiana leaves home with a 3-7 record in neutral site and road games combined, and their next four games are away from Bart Kaufman Field. They play Penn State at 6 p.m. on Friday, 1 p.m. on Saturday and noon on Sunday before a midweek game at Indiana State University next Tuesday, April 4. The series at Penn State will be available for viewing on Big Ten+.