UPDATE: Indiana has announced that due to inclement weather forecasted for Saturday, the remaining games of the series have been rescheduled for a day-night doubleheader on Friday beginning at 3 p.m. The series finale will begin approximately 45 minutes after the final out is recorded in the 3 p.m. contest.
The Indiana Hoosiers are on a roll. After having won six of their last seven contests, including a sweep of Maryland and a series win against Long Beach State, they find themselves back in the NCAA Tournament picture for the first time since late-March.
D1baseball.com now projects that the Hoosiers (29-20, 9-10) would make the field of 64 if the season ended today. They have Indiana projected as a 3-seed in a regional hosted by projected National 2-seed UCLA, along with UC Santa Barbara and UC Bakersfield.
But Manager Chris Lemonis isn't taking the positive projection or the late trend for granted. He's making a major change for so late in the season in an effort to solve Indiana's starting pitching problems. He's turning to one of the most successful pitchers in the history of Hoosier baseball, Luke Harrison.
On Thursday night, Harrison will make his first start since his freshman season when he started four games for Tracy Smith. He's been Indiana's best pitcher all season long, recording four wins and three saves in 22 relief appearances, while posting a nasty 0.90 ERA through 40 innings.
Don't expect Harrison to make a long, quality start on Thursday night, given that he hasn't been in this role in three years. But it does appear that Lemonis has been prepping Harrison for this start for quite some time. He hasn't throw in relief since the first game of the Maryland series. So, depending on what kind of simulated game work he's had, he may be able to go longer than a typical spot start from a reliever lasts.
Nonetheless, expect to see Scott Effross at some point on Thursday, unless the Hoosiers have a big lead or a big deficit. A Harrison-Effross combination could be deadly moving forward for the Hoosiers if they can combine for eight or nine innings in any given tournament game.
Friday night, Kyle Hart, who has made a nice spot for himself in the middle of this rotation, will take to the bump. Hart is 3-0 in five starts this season, and has gotten stronger as the season gets older and he gets further removed from Tommy John surgery. Last weekend against Long Beach, he threw 93 pitches, more than a dozen over the limit Lemonis had announced for him.
Saturday's starter is TBA. Jake Kelzer has had a mediocre season at best, and Caleb Baragar, who has an ERA a full run better than Kelzer's, is better than his 1-4 record suggests. I'd expect to see Baragar on Saturday, with Bell, Kelzer, and Effross (whichever one of them does not relieve Hart on Friday) ready to come in at the first sign of trouble.
There's no reason to expect any drop off from the Hoosiers' offense, which has been scoring in droves lately. They've scored 54 runs over the last seven games, one of their best stretches of production all season. And Ohio State's pitching has really struggled as of late.
For more on their struggles, and everything else we can expect to see from Ohio State this weekend, check out the Crimson Query we did with Ben Martens of Land-Grant Holy Land yesterday. I also did one with him here.
This series presents a big challenge for Indiana. For the first time in a long time, they play an opponent more desperate than them. A series sweep for Indiana could spell doom for Ohio State. That would put them behind the Hoosiers in the Big Ten standings and could potentially drop them all the way 7th in the conference, giving them a first-round matchup with Iowa. They've also seen their RPI drop rapidly the last couple weeks, and another bad weekend could drop them from a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament, toward the bubble and a 3-seed.
But Indiana has plenty to play for too. They're one win away (or one Minnesota loss) from locking up a conference tournament appearance, and two wins from avoiding Illinois. Additionally, not only can they pass the Buckeyes in the standings, but if all hell breaks loose in the Big Ten, they could also pass Michigan State and Maryland and finish as high as 4th.
Plus, IU needs a series win to shore up their NCAA bid, which is still not a lock. D1baseball has them in, but as one of the last three teams in. Another series win should give them a bump in the RPI (from 49) to make a berth a sure thing.
WHAT: Ohio State Buckeyes (35-15, 13-8) at Indiana Hoosiers (29-20, 9-10)
WHEN: Thursday, 8 p.m. (live on Big Ten Network); Friday, 6:35 p.m.; Saturday, 1:05 p.m.
WHERE: Bart Kaufman Field, Bloomington, Indiana