Indiana’s roster was loaded coming into the season, but not in a way that foreshadows immediate success.
The Hoosiers lost their entire starting weekend pitching rotation to the MLB Draft, and almost all of the starters in the field were new as well.
And all of that change was coming on the heels of a disappointing end to the 2021 campaign that saw the Hoosiers lose 7-of-9 to close the season and miss the postseason.
Fourth-year head coach Jeff Mercer’s roster was loaded alright — with new faces. For a program that had built a reputation as the Big Ten’s best with NCAA Tournament appearances in six of seven years from 2013 to 2019, the turnover presented a major challenge.
And the start to the season, while atypical for recent vintage IU baseball, wasn’t particularly surprising. Indiana has 27 players who are redshirt sophomores or younger. There are 10 players who came to IU via transfer. The cobbled together roster opened the season 13-22 overall including 2-7 in the Big Ten.
But then something started clicking.
Indiana (22-25) has won three straight midweek games and has come away with three straight Big Ten series victories over the last three weekends. IU now stands No. 7 in the conference with two weekends to play.
Fueling the turnaround has been many of those new faces in the program.
Freshman Carter Mathison became IU’s freshman home run leader with his 15th longball of the season at Michigan over the weekend. The mark is among the best freshman totals in Big Ten history. Redshirt-junior transfer Matt Ellis and Mathison are tied at No. 2 on the Big Ten home run charts, with their 15 home runs sitting at No. 34 nationally.
Mathison and fellow freshman Josh Pyne lead all Big Ten freshmen in RBIs and another freshman, Brock Tibbitts, is close to joining the 40 RBI club as well. Ellis leads the team with 51 batted in.
Indiana’s restructured pitching staff is on pace to become one of the most productive strikeout units in program history. The 2022 staff already ranks No. 3 on the single season charts. Meanwhile, freshman reliever Grant Holderfield is tied for No. 8 nationally among rookies in pitching appearances and has not allowed an inherited runner to score on the year.
The goal for this rejuvenated bunch is clearly now to make the eight-team Big Ten Tournament field.
The 40th Big Ten Conference Baseball Tournament will be held May 25-29, 2022, at Charles Schwab Field Omaha (formerly TD Ameritrade Park) in Omaha, Neb., site of the NCAA Men’s College World Series. After a two-year hiatus, the Big Ten Tournament returns with an eight-team, five-day, double-elimination format.
The Hoosiers have two Big Ten weekend series left before they can think about the postseason. They host last place Minnesota this weekend, and then travel to third place Iowa to close out regular season league play.
Before any of that IU travels to No. 7 Louisville for a midweek road test on Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. Eastern. The Hoosiers and Cardinals will meet for the first time since the 2019 NCAA Louisville Regional.
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