Sunday night, it looked like the Hoosiers might have turned the corner. Fresh off a sweep of Rutgers, Indiana was basking in the first series win in a month. And with two midweek games against two of the Missouri Valley's worst, it appeared as though they might have been on quite the roll heading into a huge series against 1st place Illinois. But the Rutgers series was nothing more than a smokescreen that momentarily hid the fact that this team has lost all of its focus and all of its fight.
It's not difficult to prove that there is no focus. The pitching has been a travesty over the past month, and Chris Lemonis has, on more than one occasion, attributed the bad starting pitching to a lack of focus. Wednesday night against Evansville was a prime example of the funks the offense gets in: After recording six hits in the first three innings and putting repeated pressure on the Aces' pitching, Indiana did not register another hit until the bottom of the 12th. 9 innings between hits. It could have been great pitching, but it wasn't. It was two great defensive plays and a lack of focus by hitters.
What might be a little difficult to prove, but what seems clear to me, is that this team has no fight in it right now. Indiana is 8-9 since sweeping Cal State Fullerton just over one month ago, and has fallen to 21-13 on the season. The struggles in those 17 games have been well documented here at CQ, so there's no need to dive into all of it again. But something that does deserve attention is the lack of life this team shows when they fall behind.
Over the past two years, we've become accustomed to baseball in Bloomington not ending until the 27th out is recorded. More often than not, Kyle Scwarber and co. took the lead in the 1st inning and never looked back. But, on rare occasions when they did fall behind, they were never out of a game -- mentally, or in reality. In reality, they were never out because they were freaks at the plate. They could explode for runs the way no other team in college baseball could over the past two seasons. But mentally?
Maybe it was that they had faith in themselves because they had been there and done that. Maybe they realized just how good they were. Maybe it was Tracy Smith. But something other than talent was different between those two teams and this team. Something was different between the ears. Smith's teams fought and clawed and refused to die without being carried out on their shields. And for the first 17 games this season, that carried over to this team.
But now, after 34 games, that simply is not the case. Or at least it hasn't been. When this team falls behind, it feels like it's over. And it appears that the Hoosiers believe that too.
The simple fact is that this team let's the first score dictate everything, it appears. In only six of the last 17 games has a team that trailed won. Indiana is 3-3 in those games. Indiana is 1-9 in games that they trailed in after five innings or later (the lone win being at Kentucky). And none of those nine losses were in walk-off fashion, meaning Indiana had a chance to comeback in all of them.
No focus. No fight. Sitting at 7th place in the Big Ten, on the outside of the field of 64, and with first place, No. 11 Illinois on the docket this weekend, there could not be a worse time for the absence of those qualities. And there couldn't be a better time to find them again.
If the Hoosiers don't find their focus and fight, it will be a shock to no one if the Illini pick up a sweep and all but end the postseason hopes this club might still have.
Maybe at the very least, Indiana can put the smokescreen back up for the weekend.