Last season, the showdown between Indiana and Cal State Fullerton ended with the home team looking primed for success, and the visitors leaving with more questions than they could have ever imagined having to ask themselves. That home team went 1-2 in the NCAA Regional while the visitors righted the ship and ended their season in Omaha.
Chris Lemonis and his Hoosiers must be hoping that the season unfolds the same way this season as the roles are reversed, with Indiana getting walloped by the Titans in this weekend's three-game set.
After a disappointing start last weekend where the bats disappeared after the Hoosiers scratched out 14 runs in the season opener, Indiana had a perfect opportunity to make all the troubles fade away with a monstrous 3-game set at Cal State Fullerton, the only ranked opponent on the schedule for an entire series. But instead it was the Titans, who went 1-2 on opening weekend themselves, were able to get their season back on track.
Friday night, Kyle Hart shook off a rough start and went 5.2 IP, giving up four runs on six hits and left trailing 4-3 after Indiana scored two in the Top of the 5th to bring the Hoosiers within one. But a four-run 7th inning, all earned and credited to Thomas Belcher, doomed the visitors in the opener.
Saturday, Indiana had a little more fight in them, riding the right arm of Evan Bell, who went 7.0 IP and allowed just one run. But closer Jake Kelzer surrendered a run in the 8th, letting Fullerton tie the game 2-2. And even though Kelzer was able to go a total of 5.0 IP out of the pen, the Hoosiers couldn't get the bats going again, and ultimately B.J. Sabol plunked a Titan in the Bottom of the 14th with the bases loaded to lose 3-2.
Sunday, the Hoosiers could manage just one run off of a Laren Eustace home run, and Caleb Baragar gave up five runs, three unearned, in 5.2 IP. Fullerton cruised all afternoon to win 6-1 and sweep the series.
If there were any positives to takeaway from the weekend beatdown it was Evan Bell's dominance on Saturday night. Kyle Hart giving up four runs in an anomaly, so if Indiana can get a performance close to that from Bell every weekend, the Hoosiers should be just fine.
But two things jump out as problems that have to be concerning to Chris Lemonis and to fans: First, only two Hoosiers are batting better than .240 (min. 5 AB), which is far from what was expected from this lineup that Lemonis called really "mature" just weeks ago. Most notably, Austin Canglosi, Isaiah Pasteur, and Brian Wilhite, all of whom were catalysts for offensive success at some stretch of the season last year, are batting .160, .143, and .091 respectively. If those guys don't start hitting the ball, this team will struggle with the likes of Purdue or Rutger.
The second concern has to be the late-game play. Through just six games the Hoosiers are already 0-3 in extra innings contests, and in the five losses, Indiana has been outscored 13-2 in the 6th inning or later. That's far different than what we've come to expect by this program that has made its living in scraping out wins down the stretch, in the late innings.
There is certainly time to turn things around before the Big Ten slate begins, which is where this team will have to be dominant to make a run toward the NCAA Tournament. And with seven straight contests coming against far inferior opponents (Seton Hall x2, Butler, Illinois State, and Western Carolina x3), Indiana has a chance right in front of them to get it going.
The Hoosiers begin play in Port Charlotte, Florida on Thursday afternoon against Seton Hall.