Indiana baseball's freshmen and sophomores posting standout or clutch performances isn't common; it's anticipated. Following the team's 5-0 week, in which plenty of underclassmen greatly assisted in those victories, Indiana is the first Big Ten team to reach 30 wins this year.
Freshman right-hander Ethan Phillips tossed 8⅓ zero-earned-run innings in wins over No. 12 University of Louisville Tuesday, and the final game of Indiana's three-game sweep over Ohio University Sunday. Freshman right-hander Brayden Risedorph hurled seven total shutout innings in Wednesday's road win over the University of Cincinnati, and that Sunday win.
Freshman right-hander Connor Foley recorded his first-career save in Friday's 9-8 series-opening victory over Ohio. Foley had entered in the ninth inning, stranding the tying runner in scoring position. Sophomore right-hander Luke Sinnard started seven innings Saturday — allowing just two runs — in the longest outing by any Indiana pitcher this season.
The list doesn't end there.
Freshmen Tyler Cerny and Devin Taylor each hit three home runs in that five-game span. Sophomore Carter Mathison homered as well Saturday, then knocked two doubles Sunday. Sophomore infielders Brock Tibbitts and Josh Pyne totaled 19 hits in the five-game stretch.
Now, the list ends. Though, there are numerous examples of impressive statlines, by underclassmen mentioned above and others, dating back to earlier this year. The sweep over Ohio marked Indiana's seventh-straight series victory — a streak that began March 12.
Indiana's team is young; more than half the starting lineup is typically composed of freshmen and sophomores. Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer mentioned the freshmen have played 41 games already. Sunday marked the 100th game for the careers of true sophomores. Yet, for how solid the team's rapport is this year, even that longer duration seems brief to Pyne.
"It feels like we've known each other for years now," Pyne said following Sunday's 9-2 win. "We like to hang outside out of the field. We're in (the baseball facility) a lot, but tonight, we're gonna get together, watch some games, do whatever, and tomorrow off-day we're gonna all get together. That's just something that I really love about this team is we're all close."
Following Taylor's 10th home run of the season Wednesday, the freshman credited Pyne, Tibbitts and Mathison for guidance and having already set the lofty bar for freshmen. Pyne, Tibbitts and Mathison were awarded Freshman All-America honors in 2022 by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. They were all voted to the Big Ten All-Freshman team.
"The lifeblood of the program is recruiting," Mercer said. "The backbone of it is your player development. We don't have time to wait three years. We gotta go right now. We have to be able to play at a high level immediately. And those guys have done a really good job of it."
Taylor and Cerny post .300-plus batting averages. Sophomore left-hander Ryan Kraft has allowed six earned runs in over 40 innings. Indiana is 9-1 in Sinnard's starts. When linking the thriving underclassmen with the team's veterans — whom Mercer has said are adamant about not repeating last year's losing record — it's not startling that Indiana is 9-3 in the Big Ten.
“We all want to see each other win,” Risedorph, a freshman, said after Sunday’s win. “We all want to succeed. We're kind of leaning on each other, just growing as a team. When you see your teammate succeed out there, it feels like you're out there winning too.”
This week's five wins, greatly assisted by the underclassmen, may lead D1 Baseball and Baseball America to rank Indiana in the top-25 for the first time this season on Monday. Following wins over No. 12 Louisville and Cincinnati in back-to-back days, as well as the three-game sweep over Ohio this weekend, Indiana improves to 30-11 this season.