Last season, Indiana and Long Beach State got together in California in March for a memorable series. All three games were decided by one run as Long Beach took the series 2-1 with two walk-off wins. This season, the Hoosiers and Dirtbags have had similar rollercoaster seasons that suggest this weekend may see the same kind of competitiveness.
The Hoosiers' struggles are well documented here at CQ. 15-4 start. A month of April that made you wish it was February again. And one huge series win over Maryland that has returned Indiana to the tournament bubble and set them up for a wonderful comeback story or some serious heartbreak.
Long Beach State's year hasn't been terribly different. The Dirtbags started the season 13-3, had a good RPI ranking, and looked poised to return to the NCAA Tournament, probably as a two or three seed. But since then, Long Beach is 11-17, a record that includes two straight series losses to Cal Poly (RPI: 120) and Hawaii (RPI: 186). The only difference in their season and IU's is the tournament prospects. Indiana probably gets in with two series wins. Long Beach needs to win the Big West's automatic bid (unless they go bananas on IU, UC Davis, and Cal State Fullerton in their last three series.)
Similarities between the clubs go beyond the topsy turvy seasons. Each club has just one player with more than 100 at-bats who is hitting above .300 (Scott Donley and LBSU's Garrett Hampson). Each team's most consistent starter has been let down in the run support department. Caleb Baragar has a 2.91 ERA, best of any IU starter (counting Effross as a reliever and excluding Hart for lack of starts). But he's just 1-4. And Long Beach's Chris Mathewson has a 1.39 ERA, but is barely over .500 at 5-4 in 10 starts. And each team has a battery full of relievers with ERAs under 3.00.
All of this should lead to a weekend of great baseball, or at least competitive baseball. Add in the drama of Indiana being in desperate need of a series win and Bart Kaufman Field will see its most intense action since the regional final against Stanford last year.
WHAT: Long Beach State Dirtbags at Indiana Hoosiers
WHERE: Bart Kaufman Field; Bloomington, IN
WHEN: Friday, 6:05 p.m. EST (IU: Jake Kelzer, LBSU: Kyle Friedrichs); Saturday, 4:05 p.m. EST (IU: Kyle Hart, LBSU: Chris Mathewson); Sunday, 1:05 p.m. EST (IU: Caleb Baragar, LBSU: Tanner Brown)
**NOTE** It is commencement weekend here in Bloomington. The graduate school ceremony is Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. in the Mellencamp Pavilion. The undergraduate ceremony is Saturday at 10 a.m. at Memorial Stadium. If you're heading to the ballpark on Friday night or Saturday afternoon, you may want to allow more time to find parking if the ceremonies have not ended or to get through town if traffic is what it typically is on this weekend.