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Sunday, April 14
The Indiana Daily Student

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Andrew Wiggins makes case for bigger role as Indiana baseball splits series with Butler

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Andrew Wiggins was in no rush. With a slow-breaking ball looming right over the heart of the plate, the Indiana baseball freshman subtly lifted his right foot off the ground, preparing to use every ounce of power he had to punish the incoming pitch. 

And punish he did. Wiggins pounced on the offering from Butler sophomore righty Grant Brooks, launching a two-run homer to right-center field that left little doubt the moment the ball connected with his bat. 

Junior Josh Pyne, who was aboard at first base at the time, slowly jogged around the bases as the homer sailed through the air at Bart Kaufman Field on Saturday afternoon. Wiggins made sure to stop and appreciate his second deep shot as a Hoosier, pausing for a few moments and eyeing the trajectory of the home run before embarking on his trot. 

“He’s so talented,” head coach Jeff Mercer said after Indiana’s doubleheader split against Butler on Saturday. “Oftentimes you get a player like that and what gets lost is how hard he’s worked to translate that on the field. He wasn’t that guy a couple of months ago, but he is now.” 

Aside from Wiggins’ standout performance in Indiana’s 22-3 win in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, the Hoosiers left much to be desired in the four-game series. The Bulldogs comfortably took game one 6-2 on Thursday night in Indianapolis, and Indiana responded at home the next night with a resounding 11-2 triumph. 

After the dominant start to the doubleheader, Indiana’s bullpen floundered in an 8-5 defeat to cap off the series. 

With sophomore ace Connor Foley on the mound for Indiana in game three Saturday, run support for the reliable flamethrower was the question, and it was quickly answered. The Hoosiers run-ruled the Bulldogs in seven innings, plating 22 runs and tallying 20 hits. 

Related Connor Foley twirls career game in Indiana baseball’s series-tying win over Illinois

After his tenth strikeout — a blistering fastball blown past Illinois junior Ryan Moerman — Foley jumped up and down twice before pumping his fists and confidently strutting toward the dugout.

Wiggins had his finest performance as a collegiate player, going 4-for-4 at the plate with three RBIs. The stroke of power and disciplined, mature approach was impressive but perhaps not unexpected for the No. 37 overall player in the high school class of 2023. 

At Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis, Wiggins blossomed into a three-time All-State caliber player. But like Indiana sophomore outfielder Devin Taylor, who took time last year to be inserted as a regular in the lineup, Wiggins has played sparingly through the first month and a half of the season. 

While Mercer has noted his defensive ability in the outfield as an area holding him back from more consistent time on the field, Wiggins’ performance Saturday may have sparked a change on the horizon. 

“I mean, you’d be crazy not to put him back in there, right?” Mercer said. “Now you’ve earned an opportunity to get back in there and try to keep that spot as long as you can.” 

In game two of Saturday’s doubleheader, and the final matchup of the series, Indiana squandered a 5-3 lead in the seventh inning and ultimately fell 8-5 courtesy of a three-run homer from Butler freshman Kade Lewis in the top of the ninth. 

Wiggins remained in the lineup as a designated hitter, and the Bulldogs continuously pitched around him. He was walked twice as Butler hurlers wanted nothing to do with his lethal swing. 

“If you were them, you would pitch pretty carefully to the guy that’s hitting balls 110, 112 [miles per hour] left and right,” Mercer said.  

While pitchers gifted Wiggins with free bases, the rest of Indiana’s lineup struggled. The Hoosiers batted .188 overall and .167 with runners in scoring position, compared to marks of .278 and .273, respectively, for Butler. 

Nonetheless, Wiggins continued to offer glimpses of budding stardom. In the bottom of the ninth, with a runner on first, the left-handed Wiggins had a tougher matchup facing a southpaw in Butler senior Cole Graverson. 

Still, on a 2-2 pitch, Wiggins roped a line drive to left-center field over 100 miles per hour. It seemed destined to fall to the turf and send fellow freshman Jasen Oliver screeching around the bases, but Bulldog sophomore Joey Urban maneuvered an out and sent Wiggins trudging back to the dugout. 

Now 15-14 on the season after splitting the series against Butler, Indiana’s margin for error grows increasingly thin. Mercer came into the weekend intending to give Wiggins an enhanced body of work, hoping the freshman would seize the opportunity, and he seemingly checked off the boxes. 

Mercer said Wiggins will be vying for more playing time alongside redshirt freshman Joey Brenczewski, who has performed well at the plate despite costly defensive blunders at first base. 

With Wiggins batting .348 on the year and boasting a 1.211 OPS in limited action, it’s conceivable he will be a major part of Indiana’s operation as it pushes for more consistent performances. 

“He’s improved tremendously,” Mercer said. “He’s practiced really hard, he’s had really good at-bats in some of the scrimmages that we’ve had. It kind of felt like it was time to give him a real shot.” 

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

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