Last season, the Indiana baseball team played nearly perfect baseball to start the season. Then they dropped five of their first six in Big Ten play and it took a month of flawless baseball down the stretch to earn them a bid into the NCAA's field of 64. This season, the Hoosiers' results seem inverted from those last season as the team is starting to fire on all cylinders as the conference slate approaches. But they'll hope that the current success can be maintained throughout the rest of the year.
Just two weeks ago, Indiana was fresh off its Spring Break trip to Florida where they were only able to take two out of four games, and where it took an error on the last play of the game to get the Hoosiers over the hump against Butler, 2-1. Today? The Hoosiers are 8-2 in their last 10 (including that walkoff win against Butler in Florida) and have pushed their record above .500 for the first time since opening day thanks to a 27-1 win against that same Butler team.
That's not a typo. They won 27-1 last night.
Two of three from Western Carolina and three of four from Toledo won't seem overly impressive when the selection committee is looking at the Hoosiers in May, but for now it's certainly a step in the right direction. And more important, the way the Hoosiers have won suggests that the club is primed for a run at the Big Ten title.
Along with the team's record, their leaders' batting averages were underwhelming just two weeks ago as well. But the veterans who struggled have started pounding the baseball. Since being pinch-hit for by Scotty Bradley in the comeback win against Evansville, Austin Cangelosi has gone 8-for-16 with 3 home runs and 10 RBIs, which has brought his average up from the Mendoza line to .289 in the matter of 10 days. And Brian Wilhite, who had his own struggles in the early season, is now hitting .268 with 4 home runs (leads the team), two last night against Butler, including a grand slam.
And as encouraging as the bats have been, when you consider that the offense has come alive without slugger Logan Sowers who has missed the last 12 games with a wrist injury, the last eight or nine games seem that much more impressive.
But still, it's the pitching that has stolen the show as water has found its level and Indiana has climbed back above .500. Kyle Hart has been absolutely marvelous, better than advertised with a 4-1 record, 1.34 ERA, and 28 strikeouts in five starts and 33.2 IP. That being said, Hart may not have been the best pitcher on the staff to this point. Caleb Baragar has posted just a 2-1 record five starts and 32.0 IP, but boasts a 1.12 ERA and has struck out 34 batters. Last weekend, he took a perfect game into the 7th inning against Toledo as part of a doubleheader where the Indiana pitching staff allowed just three hits and one run in 18 innings.
Regardless of who has been better, two things are clear: 1. The lefties that bookend the weekend are going to make it nearly impossible for Big Ten teams to take a series from Indiana. 2. If the Hoosiers can start giving some run support to Saturday starter Evan Bell, who's 0-2 in five starts despite an ERA under 3.00, the club could rack up sweep after sweep against a weak Big Ten schedule that features series with Rutger and Purdue the first two weekends.
Add in a bullpen full of seasoned talent (Brian Hobbie hasn't allowed a hit or a run in 3.1 IP of relief, and closer Jake Kelzer has gone 17.0 IP in just six appearances and has an ERA of 0.53) and blossoming freshmen (Johathan Stiever has a 0.66 ERA in 13.2 IP in relief and one start, and Paul Milto has a 1.23 ERA in 7.1 IP in five appearances), and the battery may have been more impressive than the lineup as of late.
The Hoosiers will have a weird three game set with Indiana State this weekend, where the teams will play in Terre Haute on Friday and in Bloomington on Saturday and Sunday. Indiana will then play Cincinnati and Evansville on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, at Bart Kaufman before heading to Piscataway.