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The Indiana Daily Student

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Indiana baseball’s offense cools at wrong time, flounders in loss to Evansville


Over half an hour after Indiana baseball’s 5-4 loss to the University of Evansville on Tuesday night at Bart Kaufman Field, players could be heard taking practice swings inside the team’s batting cages. 

The extra work after a game — and especially a loss — isn’t especially unusual. But after compiling seven hits and plating just four runs against a Purple Aces club ranking 128th in the NCAA Baseball RPI, the immediate training was more of a necessity. 

“They probably better be swinging right now,” head coach Jeff Mercer said postgame. “We shouldn’t have felt very good.” 

Despite issuing eight walks on the mound, Indiana’s pitchers worked through tough situations and stranded 12 Evansville baserunners. Mercer said sophomore Ethan Phillips and senior Jack Moffitt, the Hoosiers’ starter and first arm out of the bullpen, respectively, lacked competitiveness. 

Still, five runs for an Indiana team that has notched 22 in its previous two games was a manageable deficit. Just three days ago, the Hoosiers overcame a woeful start from sophomore ace Connor Foley to come back from an 8-0 hole and topple Penn State 10-9. 

RelatedIndiana baseball gets back to doing ‘little things’, wins series over Penn StateWhen Devin Taylor saw a wild pitch trickle toward first base Saturday afternoon at Bart Kaufman Field, he trotted toward home plate, threw both arms in the air and flashed a wide grin.

Billed prior to the season as one of the most explosive offenses in the Big Ten, Indiana has mostly matched those expectations. The Hoosiers rank fourth in the conference in batting average (.299), second in home runs (47) and pace the league in runs scored (305). 

Subpar offensive showings are justifiable as outliers. But for Mercer’s squad, which now holds a 4-5 record in midweek contests with three losses to teams below No. 100 in the RPI, there is enough of a sample size for concern. 

“Yes, I know all the stats,” Mercer said. “I know we’re leading the league in runs scored, I know that. But dammit it wasn’t today. And that bothers me.” 

The bulk of Indiana’s offensive struggles Tuesday stemmed from failing to cash in on opportunities in the middle innings. In the bottom of the fourth, after sophomore Devin Taylor reached via an error and redshirt freshman Joey Brenczewski singled, freshman Andrew Wiggins hit into a double play. 

While the Hoosiers plated a run in the next frame, they still squandered an opportunity for more production with the bases loaded and one out. Sophomore Tyler Cerny ripped a single to drive in one run, but Taylor then immediately grounded into an inning-ending double play. 

Taylor, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season and a unanimous selection for Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year this time around, has been slumping recently. He was 0-for-4 against Evansville and 0-for-5 against Penn State on April 14. 

In his last four games, Taylor has just two hits in 18 at-bats, good for a .111 average. Though he still ranks second on the team with seven homers, his RBI numbers are down from where they were at this point last year. 

The Cincinatti native’s batting average sat at a stellar .398 on March 19, and he’s down to .329 after the loss to Evansville. Mercer slid Taylor down from his usual third spot in the lineup to fifth, but the change bore no improvement. 

“He hasn’t been as good as he needs to be, and everybody gets held to the same standard,” Mercer said. “Everybody goes through it, but he hasn’t been as good as of late.” 

After he failed to beat out the throw to first in the fifth inning, Taylor removed his helmet and batting gloves and slowly sauntered to his defensive centerfield position while shaking his head. Taylor’s struggles were pronounced, but Indiana failed to generate much offense outside of him, either. 

The Hoosiers went down in order in the bottom of the sixth, but they again put runners on first and second with no outs in the seventh. Junior Josh Pyne grounded out to advance both runners over a base, but a sacrifice fly from junior Nick Mitchell was all Indiana could muster with an opportunity to blow the game open. 

Against a trio of Evansville pitchers who leaned heavily on fastballs and attacked the middle of the strike zone, Mercer was highly disappointed in his hitters’ approaches. Each member of the lineup, especially the top half, can spearhead offensive flurries with a single swing. 

But time and again Tuesday night, they failed to do so. 

“If you get beat, you get beat,” Mercer said. “That’s just baseball. But when you don’t compete to the plan the way that you should then that’s a frustrating feeling.” 

Still only trailing one run in the bottom of the ninth, junior Austin Bode, redshirt junior Jake Stadler and junior Carter Mathison were due up to the plate for Indiana. In a microcosm of the team’s offensive performance, each of the three grounded out to second base in nearly the exact same spot. 

None of the three at-bats were particularly competitive, either, and Evansville sophomore righty Max Hansmann worked through the trio with ease. After Mathison’s groundout put a bitter end to the defeat, he weaseled through the celebrating Purple Aces to trudge back to Indiana’s somber dugout. 

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

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