Bart Kaufman Field, Bloomington, Indiana
Friday, March 31, 7:05 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
Saturday, April 1, 2:05 p.m. ET
Sunday, April 2, 12:05 p.m. ET
Sunday: LHP Jake Meyers (4-1, 2.01) at TBA
Last season, everything was on the line when these two teams tangled in Lincoln on the final weekend of the season. The Hoosiers were 31-17 going into the finale, and had an opportunity to win the regular season Big Ten title. Nebraska could have finished anywhere from 2nd to 7th.
The Huskers’ pitching dominated that weekend, holding to the Hoosiers to just one run over the three games, leading to a sweep that vaulted Nebraska to the 2-seed, made Indiana the 3-seed, and effectively ended any hopes the Hoosiers had of making the NCAA Tournament.
Fast forward to 2017 and, while there may not be quite as much on the line given that the teams are meeting early in conference play, the series still has some big implications. At 3-0 in league play, Indiana has a tremendous opportunity to jump out to a quick start through a quarter of the conference schedule and position themselves for a run at the regular season title. Nebraska has yet to play a conference foe and would love nothing more than to take a road series from one of the Big Ten’s contenders to start the slate.
Pitching will be vital for the Hoosiers this weekend. Nebraska’s battery will be the most stout the Hoosiers have seen to this point and, though the Indiana offense can probably hit against anyone and everyone, it’s hard to imagine them hanging anything close to the 29 runs they put up against Northwestern last weekend.
But that could be a problem for Indiana, whose pitching has been suspect at best, and more accurately, has been bad. Aside from a few solid bullpen appearances from Cal Krueger, BJ Sabol, and Matt Lloyd, the Hoosiers have struggled tremendously on the mound.
This is something that has reared it’s ugly head especially at the very beginning or at the very end of games. Of the 14 runs Indiana allowed Northwestern to score in the first two contests last weekend, 11 were scored in innings one through three. In the finale on Sunday, three of Northwestern’s nine runs were scored in the 1st. The other six were scored in the 8th and 9th.
The good news is that if the Hoosiers can put it together on the mound, they should be in great shape. The offense has been on a tear (surely fueled, at least in part, by playing the lowly Wildcats) over the last 12 games, of which Indiana has won 10. Lloyd, Alex Krupa, and Luke Miller have been hot, all at various times, meaning the offense has had a spark somewhere in the lineup for the better part of three weeks now. Logan Sowers and Craig Dedelow both appear to be rounding into form as well.
As for the Huskers, it starts and ends with Jake Meyers. As Keith Yaple of Corn Nation told us, at the plate Meyers works counts, controls the bat and places the ball, and utilizes his speed well. On the mound, where he’ll be on Sunday, he has a nasty curveball that has a tendency to make hitters look silly, which helps explain that 4-1 record and 2.01 ERA.
WHAT TO EXPECT
It’s hard to imagine that either of these clubs is able to sweep the other this season. Indiana’s offense has been so good that it would be difficult for Nebraska to shut the Hoosiers down for three days. But the home team’s pitching has been so bad, the Cornhuskers are sure to get theirs at least once or twice.
For Nebraska, it may be all about taking a game on Friday or Saturday, then getting an even series to their ace, Meyers, on Sunday. If they do, it’ll be tough for Indiana to salvage the series, even at the Bart.
For Indiana, it really depends on which Jonathan Stiever shows up. If it’s the guy who shut down the Oregon State offense on opening day, the Hoosiers can get the weekend off to a good start. If it’s the guy coming off injury, struggling to find himself, like we saw at Northwestern last weekend, Friday could be a long, long night, which could give Nebraska a huge advantage for the weekend.