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Monday, June 17
The Indiana Daily Student

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Indiana baseball shifts focus to offense, turns to Butler for four-game set

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After working to mend pitching and defensive woes over the past couple of weeks, Indiana baseball has shifted its focus to its approach at the plate.  

Following Tuesday night’s 12-5 victory over Middle Tennessee State University, the Hoosiers turn to a four-game set against Butler University starting Thursday night at Bulldog Park in Indianapolis. The remaining three games will be played at Bart Kaufman Field, with a Friday night showdown and Saturday doubleheader rounding out the series. 

Indiana is tied for second in the Big Ten in homers with 29 and sits fifth in team batting average at .293, but it has struggled with runners in scoring position and stringing together quality at-bats. 

The Hoosiers plated just one run in the series opener against Illinois on March 22 and were shut out for five innings two days later. But against Middle Tennessee, courtesy of a four-hit, two-homer night from freshman Jasen Oliver and three other multi-hit efforts, Indiana’s offense exploded. 

“We’re getting better in spurts,” head coach Jeff Mercer said Tuesday night. “Hit the ball the other way, line drive in the middle of the field — we’ve been really hard on that about tightening our swings a little bit and being more competitive.” 

The offensive resurgence has been aided by regulars such as sophomores Devin Taylor and Tyler Cerny and juniors Nick Mitchell and Brock Tibbitts, all of whom are batting .330 or higher, but Oliver and redshirt freshman Joey Brenczewski boast scorching hot bats, as well. 

Brenczewski’s glove at first base drew Mercer’s ire Tuesday night, but his .327 batting average and 16 RBIs have catapulted the Fishers, Indiana, native to regular playing time. 

Oliver has offered masterful defense at second base and all but taken junior Brandon Burckel’s spot in the lineup. On a seven-game hitting streak and batting .353 with a 1.035 OPS, Oliver has provided a jolt of speed and contact at the end of the lineup, and Mercer said he will be moved up going forward. 

Against a Butler pitching staff that possesses a dreadful 9.97 ERA and .334 opposing batting average, the Hoosiers’ offense will have an opportunity to prolong their current form. 

“Two weeks ago was defense, this week has been offense,” Mercer said. “When you can get a little bit more length out of the offensive group and then you turn it back over, all of the sudden you get a little bit more of an opportunity.” 

Probable Pitchers 

Before Indiana’s Tuesday victory, wherein the pitching staff punched out a season-high 18 batters and only gave up eight total hits, Mercer said he challenged the arms in an unprecedented manner this year. 

They responded, with graduate righty Ty Rybarczyk striking out four in 3 1/3 innings of work and sophomore Brayden Risedorph fanning six batters in his two-inning save. While still possessing a conference-worst 7.33 ERA, Indiana’s staff appeared to at least momentarily turn a corner.

The Hoosiers will treat Thursday night’s series opener against Butler as a bullpen game, with sophomore righty Aydan Decker-Petty in line to get the start. Decker-Petty has a 9.35 ERA in 8 2/3 innings this season, and the Bulldogs will trot out redshirt sophomore southpaw Ben Whiteside — a more consistent presence in the rotation. 

On Friday night, Indiana graduate lefty Ty Bothwell is set to make his first start of the year. While Bothwell has been solid out of the bullpen in a long relief role, his start likely implies a staff approach for the Hoosiers. 

Butler is slated to throw graduate righty Tyler Banks, who has given up four or more runs in five of his seven outings this season. 

Indiana sophomore ace Connor Foley will toe the rubber for Indiana in game one of Saturday’s doubleheader. Foley is coming off a gem of a start against Illinois on March 23, when he tossed a career-high seven frames, 10 strikeouts and 103 pitches while surrendering just two hits and no runs. 

Foley leads the club with a 3.56 ERA and ranks second in the Big Ten in opposing batting average, .151, and strikeouts with 45. Opposite Foley, sophomore righty Grant Brooks will get the ball for the Bulldogs. 

Like Banks, Brooks struggled mightily this season. Brooks possesses an 8.31 ERA and has given up five or more runs in three of his six starts. In 21 2/3 innings pitched, Brooks has surrendered 28 hits, issued 11 walks and struck out 15. 

Rounding out the mound matchups in the series, Butler junior Nate Rosser will start on Saturday night. Rosser has an 8.66 ERA and .366 opposing batting average in 17 2/3 innings. 

Indiana’s starter is currently unknown, though it will likely be a reliever who can cover long innings such as sophomore Ethan Phillips. 

The first pitch for Thursday’s game is set for 4 p.m., and Friday’s contest is slated to begin at 5 p.m. Game one of the Saturday double-header kicks off at 2 p.m. and the final game of the series is set for 6 p.m. 

Game one of the series will be streamed on FloBaseball, and the remaining three games in Bloomington will be available on BTN+. 

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

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