For a young Indiana baseball team that was surging heading into its key series against Maryland, this weekend was a reality check.
The Terrapins came to Bloomington a game behind IU in the Big Ten standings, and they swept the Hoosiers to take over the top spot. Maryland rode its electric offense to massive run totals all weekend, and Indiana just couldn’t keep up.
“They (Maryland) are playing great,” IU head coach Jeff Mercer said after Saturday’s game. “They’re really good, they’re talented, they’re offensive, and they’re putting it together at the right time for themselves. Sometimes it’s not as much what you’re not doing but what they are doing. They’re doing it.”
Maryland (30-15, 11-4 Big Ten) put up double-digit runs in all three games. The Terps ran away with a 13-2 win in Friday’s series-opener, largely thanks to a seven-run fifth inning against Indiana freshman right-hander Brayden Risedorph and senior right-hander Wes Burton. Indiana (31-14, 9-6) couldn’t get much going offensively, as Maryland senior right-hander Nick Dean allowed the two runs on just five hits with 10 strikeouts across seven innings.
Indiana was behind for the entire game on Saturday, but minimized the damage throughout the early part of the game. Sophomore right-hander Luke Sinnard got through six innings, with six earned runs on 10 hits with four walks and four strikeouts. But he worked out of trouble and stranded several Maryland baserunners to keep the score reasonably manageable. But Indiana’s offense continued to miss opportunities, and Maryland blew things wide open with a nine-run eighth inning. The Terps racked up 20 hits in that 16-2 victory.
Sunday’s game was split up by multiple weather delays, but IU and Maryland got the full nine innings in, and it was the most competitive game of the weekend. The game was tied 7-7 heading into the seventh inning, but Maryland’s relentless offense outpaced Indiana again in a 14-8 finale.
“I told them my favorite Mike Tyson quote: “Everybody’s got a plan until they get hit in the mouth, and then all of a sudden, doesn’t seem like quite as great of a plan as it did when you lined it up.” You just have to pick up and move on,” Mercer said on Saturday. “There are greater tragedies in the world than getting your butt kicked in a baseball game.”
Maryland’s offense has been one of the best in the conference all season. The Terps lead the Big Ten with a 1.008 OPS, and they hold a comfortable lead with 99 home runs — the closest team to that mark is Nebraska at 72. Junior Matt Shaw, who homered in all three games over the weekend, leads the Big Ten with 18.
The Terps have scored 10 runs or more in 14 games this season, including both midweek games ahead of the IU series. So this offensive performance was not out of character.
Indiana fell to third place in the conference standings after the sweep, two games behind Maryland and one behind Michigan State (28-13, 10-5).
Mercer knows he has a young squad that’s still figuring out what it takes to compete against high-level teams like Maryland. The middle of the Hoosiers’ batting order is comprised of underclassmen, as are several of the team’s most relied-upon pitchers. Those players have had a lot of success this season, but bumps are to be expected.
So Mercer was not overreacting to some difficult games against another good team. He reminded his team that both of the last two national champions — Ole Miss and Mississippi State — had periods of struggles during the season before making runs to the College World Series. He reiterated to stay grounded, not getting too high after wins nor too low after losses.
Mercer said he believes he’ll be able to look back on this series in a few weeks and say that it made his team better going forward.
“I told the guys, ‘Failure provides far more feedback than success does.’ Sometimes when you don’t fail, all of a sudden, you don’t have as much opportunity to learn from it, as you do when you lose a game here or there and get your butt kicked a little bit,” Mercer said. “Again, I want to win every game, everybody wants to win every game, we’re doing everything we can to win every game. But you learn a lot more, you get a lot of feedback. It hardens you, it toughens you.”
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