Collectively, this team seems to be a roller coaster in the human form. The ups and downs of this season have been well documented by now. Six straight losses after an opening day win. Then winning nine of 11 to seemingly right the ship. Then an embarrassingly bad week with a loss to Cincinnati, a beatdown from Evansville that was saved only by storms rolling over Bloomington, and losing two out of three to Rutgers.
And now? Four straight wins, including a weekday win over that same Cincinnati team and a sweep of the Purdue Boilermakers that has Indiana at 4-2 in the Big Ten and just 1.5 games behind Nebraska (7-2) and 1.0 game behind Michigan State (5-1).
Indiana's weekend was bookended by Kyle Hart. The Hoosier ace struggled his way through another lineup, allowing five runs, marking the third consecutive start that Hart has allowed four or more. But the offense came alive, powered by Logan Sowers and his three hits and three RBIs, and put up 10 runs, which was enough to give Hart the win despite allowing those five runs and notwithstanding a four-run 9th inning for the Boilermakers.
On Saturday, Chris Lemonis switched up the rotation and went with the Indiana pitcher having the best season of all the starters, Caleb Baragar. Although he's just 2-1, Baragar has an ERA of just 1.51 on the season, and after Saturday, the Hoosiers have won six of his eight starts. He got another no decision this weekend, but went 5.1 IP, allowing just two runs on two hits and striking out seven. And he kept the Hoosiers in it on a day when the offense cooled off dramatically. BJ Sabol provided a big inning in relief and picked up the win after a Luke Miller single in the 6th scored Sowers to give the Hoosiers a 3-2 lead they would never relinquish.
Sunday started rough, as Indiana start Evan Bell was roughed up for five runs and the Hoosiers trailed 5-1 when weather rolled into town and caused a long delay. But the Hoosiers came out swinging when play resumed and hung five runs in the Bottom of the 7th to take a 6-5 lead. And after Purdue tied it in the 8th, Logan Sowers cranked one over the fence to take a 7-6 lead into the 9th. And it was then that Kyle Hart put the second bookend on the weekend.
Hart played in centerfield after the delay on Sunday due to Laren Eustace tweaking a hamstring. Lemonis told the media after the game that Hart shags in centerfield during batting practice everyday, even when he's pitching, so the club was confident in his abilities there. And it paid off. With one out in the 9th, Purdue's Kyle Wood cranked a ball to straight away center and Hart tracked it down on the warning track, making the catch over his shoulder, and saving at least two and probably three bases. Thomas Belcher struck out the next batter and the sweep was complete.
1. So what are they? It's the only question that really matters at this point, and perhaps the only question that doesn't have a very good answer. Here's what we think we know about them: On paper, they can play with and beat anyone. They have two of the best five or ten pitchers in the Big Ten in the starting rotation and two of the best five or ten relievers in the Big Ten. They have a group of savvy veterans and two standout freshmen who are all hovering around .300. And they have an uncanny ability to spark some offense late in ballgames. But what do we not know? Everything else. There have been very few days and even fewer weekends that this club has put paper into practice. At some point, water finds its level and 30 games in, you have to wonder if water has found its level at just a few games above .500. But what you see on paper entices too many thoughts of grandeur let yourself really believe that what they've been is who they are.
2. So how does the Big Ten shape up? It's really hard to tell. Michigan State looks good at 21-6 and 5-1, but they've played absolutely no one, and their Big Ten series have been Rutgers and Penn State. Minnesota is 4-1 in the Big Ten with two wins over both Iowa and Michigan, but at 18-10 with a poor non-conference schedule, it's hard to tell exactly how good they are. Nebraska seems a little more battle tested, but they weren't overly successful against College of Charleston and Long Beach State. At 7-2 in the Big Ten, they're off to a nice start, but the schedule is backloaded with matchups at Michigan, at Michigan State, and hosting Indiana remaining, and having already seen Purdue and Northwestern. All in all, the Big Ten may have a bunch of teams just like Indiana -- wondering just how good they are based on either mixed results or bad schedules or both. But one thing seems all but certain: The Big Ten is wide open and probably won't be decided until the final weekend.
3. Domination in the Big Three sports.
Football: Indiana 54, Purdue 36— CRIMSON QUARRY (@crimsonquarry) April 11, 2016
Basketball: Indiana 77, Purdue 73
Baseball: Indiana sweeps Purdue