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The Indiana Daily Student

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Indiana baseball hosts Penn State in battle of high-flying offenses

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One week removed from becoming the first Big Ten team since 2019 to win a series at Maryland, Indiana baseball returns home to face the Penn State Nittany Lions as both teams look to claw their way out of the crowded conference midfield.  

Indiana will be without ironman catcher and first baseman Brock Tibbitts for the next few weeks after his leg injury versus Indiana State University on April 2. Redshirt junior catcher Jake Stadler has taken Tibbitts’ place in the starting lineup.

The Hoosiers enter the weekend series sixth in the Big Ten standings at 3-3 in conference play and 18-15 overall. Penn State is 4-5 in league play, currently 10th, and 17-12 overall. It lost a home series versus Michigan on March 22-24 and was swept March 29-30 by Illinois, the latter of which would have also befallen Indiana if not for a career day from sophomore right-handed pitcher Connor Foley.  

The Nittany Lions have not lost since their lackluster weekend in Urbana-Champaign, sweeping a struggling Northwestern team April 5-7 and mercy-ruling Fairleigh Dickinson University on Tuesday in front of a record crowd of 4,902 fans. Penn State looks to continue its four-game winning streak with a fast-paced offensive attack.  

Led by graduate outfielder Adam Cecere, graduate catcher J.T. Marr and sophomore outfielder Bobby Marsh, the Nittany Lions’ bats are among the Big Ten’s best, entering the weekend third in team batting average (.315), second in on-base percentage (.415) and first in slugging percentage (.499). Marsh is batting just shy of .500 with 14 RBIs in conference play while sophomore infielder Bryce Molinaro is on a 13-game hitting streak.  

By comparison, Indiana ranks fourth in average (.297), fourth in on-base percentage (.407) and tied for second in slugging percentage (.485). The Hoosiers hold the edge on Penn State, with their 43 home runs second only to Illinois’ 46. Penn State is in fourth with 36.  

Indiana scored 51 runs in four games April 2-7, leading to three wins in four opportunities against top-35 RPI opponents. Spearheaded by Big Ten Player of the Week Tyler Cerny and Big Ten Freshman of the Week Joey Brenczewski, Indiana now sits 63rd in the RPI and within shouting distance of Nebraska at the top of the conference standings.  

Even in an offense-heavy era of college baseball, Indiana and Penn State have both produced sub-par seasons on the pitching and defensive fronts. Both teams have ERAs north of six, which puts them among the bottom five teams in the Big Ten. Indiana has given up 54 home runs this season, eight more than second-place Illinois.  

Penn State’s pitching staff struggles with command, posting a pedestrian 1.32 strikeout-to-walk ratio. After its early-season defensive demons, Indiana’s .963 fielding percentage is second only to Minnesota at the bottom of the table, and the Hoosiers have turned fewer double plays (17) and committed more errors (42) than any other team.  

Given that the wind always seems to blow out at Bart Kaufman Field and the weather forecasts for Saturday and Sunday are hitter-friendly, both pitching staffs will have their hands full. Graduate southpaw Ty Bothwell (4-1, 4.87 ERA, 1.23 WHIP) gets the ball for Indiana at 6 p.m. Friday, facing senior Penn State righty Travis Luensmann (3-1, 4.86 ERA, 1.51 WHIP).  

Foley (4-1, 3.21 ERA, 1.10 WHIP) will face Penn State senior righty Jaden Henline (3-0, 7.71 ERA, 1.48 WHIP) at 2 p.m. Saturday while right-handed junior Frankie Sanchez (2-0, 3.72 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) will start the series finale for Penn State against a to-be-determined Indiana hurler at 1 p.m. Sunday. All three games will be streamed on Big Ten Plus and IUHoosiers.com (audio only).  

A series win over Penn State would improve the Hoosiers’ chances of securing an at-large bid into the 64-team NCAA Tournament field. Granted, the Big Ten Tournament champion secures an at-large bid, but reigning NCBWA National Pitcher of the Week Brett Sears and No. 23 Nebraska are the heavy favorites at this juncture. As the postseason push begins to heat up with just over one month left in the regular season, Stadler is confident Indiana is heating up at the right time.  

“Even before the Maryland series, there were a lot of good things that we were piecing together,” Stadler said Wednesday. “When you go on the road against a team like Maryland and win the series, there’s a lot you can build on. That sets us up for success this weekend and throughout the rest of the season because we’ve seen what success looks like. We’re finding our stride again.”  

Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer said Wednesday some of Indiana’s young players and transfer portal additions have started to mature and play bigger roles in the team’s success. The impact players include infielders Brenczewski and Jasen Oliver, outfielder Andrew Wiggins and pitchers Jacob Vogel, Drew Buhr and Jack Moffitt. He said the week of April 1-7 marked the first time Indiana’s new faces consistently impacted the team’s on-field results. 

“The next man up is starting to step up,” Mercer said. “We’ve been talented and capable enough. Now we’ve got to string it together and have some consistency from those guys for multiple weeks in a row.”  

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

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