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Tuesday, April 16
The Indiana Daily Student

sports baseball

Even in new role as starter, Indiana baseball’s Connor Foley still plans to ‘attack’

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The first part of learning anything, Indiana baseball head coach Jeff Mercer said, is to be aware. 

Sophomore pitcher Connor Foley knows he was over reliant on his fastball last season. Still, the righty hurler emerged as a weapon out of the bullpen, especially in the postseason. 

Foley — a Jasper, IN native — became an arm the Hoosiers could turn to in clutch situations. And with the imposing 6-foot-5 Foley mowing down batters from his perch on the mound, those decisions were often rewarded. 

“Last year I came into games just trying to attack, attack,” Foley said. “I had like one pitch — it was just throwing it by guys hopefully.” 

For the most part, that plan succeeded. Foley’s flamethrowing fastball topped out just under triple digits on the radar gun as a freshman and settled comfortably in the mid 90s, giving him a velocity that would be viable even in the majors. 

In 29 innings tossed as a freshman, all of which came in relief, Foley accumulated a 3.72 earned run average and logged 42 strikeouts. He authored a nine-out save against Michigan State May 20, and tossed 2 2/3 scoreless frames against the University of Kentucky in the NCAA Regional June 3, the latter featuring a bases-loaded escape act in the seventh inning. 

Foley had no trouble getting amped up for those opportunities. With the ‘attack’ mentality preached incessantly by pitching coach Dustin Glant, Foley craved the chance to have the ball in his grasp with a game on the line. 

“I love being in those situations,” Foley said. “I want the ball in those situations as a lot of people do.” 

Instead of relieving starters, Foley will be tasked with making Indiana’s bullpen’s life easier. Mercer said Jan. 26, Foley is in the mix for the top spot in the starting rotation alongside sophomore Brayden Risedorph, juniors Ryan Kraft and Jack Moffitt and redshirt senior Ty Bothwell. 

Being charged with laboring four or five innings at a time won’t change Foley’s menacing approach on the mound. He said his arm is in good enough shape to maintain his velocity through higher pitch counts. 

Still, Foley won’t have the luxury of being a wildcard for opponents this season. Unlike last year, there will be scouting reports. Teams will be prepared to face him — and ready to face his fastball. 

“He’s not going to surprise anybody anymore,” Mercer said. “He’s gonna have to be more adjustable. The big thing is that coach Glant just forced him to get that off-speed out of his hand a ton.” 

*** 

Mercer, Foley, Risedorph and several other players stood in the outfield watching Indiana’s scrimmage Jan. 31. Foley and Risedorph arrived in Bloomington together before last season with relatively undefined roles. 

The two became significant contributors during their debut campaigns as Hoosiers. The conversation in the outfield turned to their development, and how much they’ve grown in a year’s time. 

Mercer said the two pitchers were making fun of themselves, laughing about where they started. With junior Luke Sinnard — the ace of Indiana’s staff last year — out for the season due to an elbow injury, Foley will have to aid in recouping that production. 

Throughout the fall, in scrimmages against Indiana State University and the University of Notre Dame, Foley incorporated a sizable dose of off-speed pitches. He mixed in a slider and changeup as supplementary offerings, and Mercer said he went to those pitches 50- to 60% of the time in those exhibitions. 

Junior pitcher Grant Holderfield witnessed that evolution from the start. 

“I’ve really seen him take a big stride in his game,” Holderfield said. “He’s able to manage, but also get a second and third pitch.” 

Part of that expansion stemmed from dueling with teammates in practice. Indiana’s lineup features some of the most fearsome bats in the conference, including sophomore standout Devin Taylor and the junior trio of Carter Mathison, Josh Pyne and Brock Tibbitts. 

Taylor garnered Big Ten Freshman of the Year and first-team All-Big Ten honors last season, setting Indiana’s freshman RBI record with 59. Pyne and Tibbitts appeared on All-Big Ten teams as well while Mathison mashed 10 homers — tied for second on the team — and drew a team-high 41 walks. 

Throughout the 2023 season, opposing pitchers had enough on their hands dealing with the Hoosiers’ potent array of hitters. Foley, who knows them better than anyone, understands how beneficial that experience is. 

“If we can get through our lineup, we can get through pretty much any lineup in the country,” Foley said. 

*** 

The pitching staff might say the word “attack” roughly 20 times a day, Foley said. It’s become the unquestioned mantra of the group, and something Glant has meticulously engrained in his pitchers. 

There’s a philosophy within that message that goes beyond mere aggression. Some of that approach means pounding the strike zone and limiting walks, because at the end of the day, Foley said he knows he controls the game’s outcome. 

By forcing hitters into contact, Foley and the other pitchers can eliminate opportunities for a lineup. So much of what Glant and Mercer preach is about reducing traffic on the bases and dealing with the solo home runs as they come. 

How can they make that happen? Attack. 

“So much of our life is either prohibited or inhibited by our mentality and our attitude,” Mercer said. “As an across-the-board kind of motto is they talk about attacking and being the aggressor in the count.” 

Until Foley steps on the bump for his first regular season start, it’s hard to gauge exactly how far he’s come in developing his new arsenal. Mercer and Holderfield raved about the off-speed additions and how they’ll pair with Foley’s scorching fastball. 

Still, games are different. There will most likely be fluctuation as he adjusts to his new role, meaning the hits and home runs will come. 

Mercer isn’t scared of that possibility — he knows Foley will get beat occasionally. But the only way he can improve, and maybe become the ace this year’s Indiana team needs, is to persevere. 

“You gotta let him cook a little bit,” Mercer said. “Someone’s gonna homer one, and he’s gonna have to get back up there and do it again. That’s the only way that he’s really gonna grow.” 

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

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