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Baseball back at the Bart: Hoosiers set to host Western Carolina

After a long, cold offseason, baseball comes back to Bloomington this weekend as Indiana welcomes the Catamounts of Western Carolina.

Who: Western Carolina Catamounts (4-8) at Indiana Hoosiers (3-7)

Where: Bart Kaufman Field, Bloomington, Indiana

When: Friday, 4:35 p.m.; Saturday, 2:05 p.m.; Sunday 1:05 p.m.

Projected Starters: Friday: Kyle Hart (2-1, 1.08 ERA) vs. Brendan Nail (0-2, 5.19 ERA); Saturday: Evan Bell (0-0, 2.08 ERA) vs. Bryan Sammons (1-1, 7.64 ERA); Sunday: Caleb Baragar (0-1, 2.00 ERA) vs. TBD

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Meet the Catamounts

Western Carolina is off to just as rough of a start as the Hoosiers in 2016, having started 4-8, 0-6 away from Cullowhee. But since starting 0-4 and 1-5, the Catamounts have played much better baseball, staying competitive in two out of three games with Georgia Tech last weekend, though they were ultimately swept, and sweeping a weekday doubleheader with Niagara.

For Western Carolina, it all starts with Matt Smith, pre-season All-Southern Conference, who shows up in the lineup as a DH, LF, and 1B, and is hitting a whopping .452 through 12 games. Of his 19 hits, three have been home runs. He's also drawn seven walks and been hit by three pitches, giving him an OBP of .558. Needless to say, he should pose a formidable threat for Hoosier pitchers this weekend.

Three other Catamounts (Danny Bermudez, Brett Pope, and Garrett Brown) are hitting above .300, and all have registered more than 40 at-bats thus far. But the Catamounts' highly productive offense is not paired with quality pitching.

Catamount starters have thrown 67.1 innings this season(most but not all in starts), and have given up 55 earned runs, which amounts to a 7.38 ERA. And it gets worse in the bullpen, as the team's total ERA is 7.68. 19 more unearned runs and Western Carolina is allowing 8.67 runs per game, which makes it hard to beat anybody.

What to Watch For

1. Innings six through nine. We have documented Indiana's struggles in the latter half of ballgames, which seem to always start in the 6th inning. But Western Carolina has been pretty bad closing out games themselves. They've outscored opponents 66-64 in the first five innings of games, but have been outscored 16-3 in the 6th inning, and 40-16 in innings six through nine. If there was ever a weekend for IU to get it together at the end of games, it's this one.

2. Can Jake Kelzer settle into the closer role? Kelzer is 0-2 this season, but hasn't been able to settle into a normal closing role because the middle part of the bullpen has been just awful (see, end of game stats). Instead, he's been eating innings like Scott Effross did last year out of the pen. But if Hart, Bell, and Baragar are good this weekend, there should be plenty of opportunity for the pen to get the ball to the backend for a real save situation for the first time.

3. Which veterans are going to show up? Craig Dedelow is the only non-newcomer hitting over .300. Logan Sowers has only played in six of 10 games.  Brian Wilhite and Austin Cangelosi are both below the Mendoza line, a combined 11-for-73. Wilhite and Isaiah Pasteur have committed a total of nine errors on the left side of the infield. Take out the two 14-run outputs, and the team is scoring just 2.5 runs per game, all thanks to Dedelow and youngsters Luke Miller and Ryan Fineman. With Western Carolina's pitching woes, it's time for the veterans on this club to hit the ball.