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The Indiana Daily Student

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‘We’re prepared for it:’ What you need to know about Indiana baseball’s 2024 season

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This is part one of a two-part preview of the 2024 Indiana baseball season.

After an emotional defeat at the hands of the University of Kentucky in last season’s Lexington Regional, Indiana baseball has unfinished business to attend to in 2024. The Hoosiers posted a record of 43-20 (16-8 Big Ten) last season, their first 40-win season since 2018 and the winningest of head coach Jeff Mercer’s tenure.  

Despite the team’s success, things seemed out of sorts down the stretch for Indiana. The Hoosiers limped into the NCAA Tournament having lost four of their last six games to close the season, including a two-game stretch in the Big Ten Tournament during which they committed six errors. They saw their conference title hopes end after surrendering 13 runs to Michigan. Losing ace Luke Sinnard to an elbow injury in Lexington was merely salt in the wound.  

The big picture 

Months removed from a regional tournament filled with excitement and controversy, focus shifts to the 56 regular season games in 2024. Mercer is entering his sixth season at the helm, and the 2019 Big Ten Coach of the Year has front-loaded his squad’s early-season slate with tough matchups, as is the status quo for the Hoosiers.  

Indiana will face 11 teams that played in the 2023 NCAA Tournament including No. 12 Duke University — one of 16 teams that made a Super Regional last year — in its season opener Feb. 16 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. IU’s home opener is Feb. 20 versus Miami University of Ohio, Big Ten play begins March 22 against Illinois and the conference tournament starts May 22.  

Other high-profile matchups include a three-game set at Baylor University on Feb. 23-25; games against No. 19 University of Alabama, Dallas Baptist University and the University of Arizona at the Frisco Classic March 1-3; a home series versus Troy University on March 8-10; a midweek trip to No. 6 Vanderbilt University on March 12; a home-and-home against Indiana State University on March 19 and April 2; and a late-season trip to Nebraska on May 10-12. The full schedule can be found here.   

Mercer is 31 wins shy of reaching 250 career victories, and he should eclipse the mark this season if Indiana continues its dominance at home. The Hoosiers enjoyed home cooking, posting a 26-4 record at Bart Kaufman Field last season. Their only losses were at the hands of a top MLB Draft prospect in Iowa’s Brody Brecht and three bouts with Maryland’s high-flying offense.  

The first litmus test of how Indiana stacks up amongst the nation’s best will arrive immediately in its season opener against Duke — the first Division I game of the college baseball season. Indiana welcomes the challenge. 

“Can’t be the best if you don’t beat the best,” junior catcher Brock Tibbitts said Jan. 26. “Going out there, seeing what we’ve got and how we can compete against all this competition really tests the group, and I think we’re prepared for it.”  

Next man up 

Although Indiana’s core has mostly matured and returned for another go-around, there are still some question marks. From prospects with undeniable potential to players with one missing piece and transfer portal additions, these players could be the difference-makers come tournament time. 

JR OF/DH Carter Mathison 

2023: .311/.426/.538, 10 HR, 49 RBI, 41 BB, 59 SO, .846 FLD, 6 E 

Some will look at Mathison’s raw power and MLB Draft prospects as a top 100 pick and ask how he could be on this list and not considered a stalwart. While his peaks are high, his low points are just as seismic. Last season, he relied too much on a three-true-outcomes approach (strikeout, walk, home run). It was a lot of boom-or-bust with Mathison in the box, and he often struggled trying to make contact with pitches outside the strike zone. He also made too many defensive miscues, being the only qualified Indiana player with a sub-.900 fielding percentage last season.  

Mercer, however, is optimistic about Mathison’s defensive progress.  

“I thought he was excellent defensively today, and he needs to be. He’s capable of doing that,” Mercer said Jan. 26. “He’s gotten a lot better defensively, from a year ago.”  

With veterans Hunter Jessee and Bobby Whalen in the outfield last season, Mathison could stay in the lineup as a designated hitter and not worry about defense. Poor defense leads to unnecessary baserunners, which in turn puts more strain on the pitching staff. With those veterans gone, Mathison’s time to step up is now.  

JR OF Nick Mitchell 

2022-23 at Western Illinois University: .348/.421/.489, 5 HR, 50 RBI, 46 BB, 65 SO, 38-44 SB 

Originally from Carmel, IN, Mitchell enters this season as the Hoosiers’ marquee transfer portal addition. A line-drive approach and excellent bat-to-ball skills make him a tough out while his quick feet cause havoc on the basepaths and give him excellent range in the corner-outfield.  

There is a considerable jump between Ohio Valley Conference talent and Power Five-level talent, thus some skeptics may say Mitchell will struggle to transition to the Big Ten. However, after a productive summer playing against the NCAA’s best on Cape Cod, there’s hope Mitchell will settle in well.  

“These guys have pushed me more than anyone else I’ve ever played with,” Mitchell said. “It’s been great playing with guys that have the same aspirations as me. It’s a friendly group and they made me feel right at home.”

SO SS Tyler Cerny 

2023: All-Big Ten Freshman Team 

.276/.348/.489, 10 HR, 43 RBI, 13 BB, 52 SO, 10-12 SB, .962 FLD, 10 E 

Cerny spent his first collegiate season as Indiana’s starting second baseman, sharing the middle-infield with shortstop Phillip Glasser. After missing his 2021 high school season with an illness that landed him in the hospital, Mercer said Cerny had to fix some fundamentals in his game if he wanted to be a Big Ten shortstop.  

“He’s physically talented enough to do it,” Mercer said Jan. 26, adding that Cerny is one of Indiana’s most improved players over the last eight weeks. “He’s really matured in controlling his emotions.” 

Last season, Cerny’s glove kept him in the lineup, but he never broke out of the bottom third. Although he was tied for second on the team in home runs, his plate discipline left a lot to be desired. Laying off pitchers’ pitches in two-strike counts could catapult Cerny to the middle of the order.  

SO RHP Connor Foley 

2023: 20 appearances, 4-2, 3 SV, 29 IP, 3.72 ERA, 21 BB, 42 K, .163 BAA

A short-inning flamethrower a year ago, Foley’s fastball sits in the mid-90s and flirts with triple-digits, missing opposing bats at a 38% clip.

As is often the case with young arms, he issued walks at an uncomfortable rate. Velocity got Foley both into and out of trouble, and the question now centers around his command of the slider and changeup — he threw his heater 85% of the time last season. Mercer has hinted at Foley transitioning from relief pitcher to starter, emphasizing the importance of his off-speed pitches.  

“There were several times in the fall where he threw almost all sliders or changeups,” Mercer said. “He has a great fastball. Forcing him to get a lot of those off-speed pitches out of his hand is a big deal.” 

Foley made spot starts last summer in the Appalachian League and, as a draft-eligible sophomore, can turn heads if he does the same this spring.  

R-SR LHP Ty Bothwell 

2023: 14 appearances (9 starts), 4-3, 33 IP, 6.55 ERA, 24 BB, 34 K, .230 BAA 

Bothwell enters 2024 as the first sixth-year player in program history. In a vacuum, his high ERA and low strikeout-to-walk ratio are nothing more than average. However, he stepped up and emptied the tank on the biggest stage. He threw 48 pitches against West Virginia University, putting together 3 ⅓ innings of two-hit, one-run ball and then came back out on two days’ rest to face Kentucky with the season on the line.  

Although Indiana ultimately fell short, Bothwell did his part as Indiana’s starting pitcher, throwing 97 pitches in 5 ⅓ innings in the winner-take-all contest which Indiana ultimately dropped 4-2.  

When thinking of iconic postseason pitching performances turned in on short rest, then-San Francisco Giants star Madison Bumgarner’s shutdown outing in game seven of the 2014 World Series enters the minds of many. Bothwell, also a southpaw, showed veteran leadership and grit when Indiana needed it most. If his performance returns to 2022 levels, Bothwell’s final campaign could be one to remember.  

Follow reporters Matt Press (@MattPress23) and Nick Rodecap (@nickrodecap) for updates throughout the Indiana baseball season.

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