On June 3, 2018 IU was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament by Texas in heartbreaking fashion. Just over a week later key players Jonathan Stiever, Luke Miller, and Tim Herrin each signed a professional contract, foregoing their finals seasons of eligibility in Bloomington. Two weeks later head coach Chris Lemonis left IU to take the Mississippi State job.
With these key losses along with losing slugger Logan Sowers and reliever B.J. Sabol to graduation the Hoosier baseball program was in a state of flux. There were question marks around the diamond as well as in the dugout and it seemed like the Hoosiers might take a step back in 2019. That didn’t happen.
On Saturday IU capped off its first regular season under head coach Jeff Mercer with a Big Ten title, the program’s first since 2014 and seventh all-time.
The accomplishment comes on the back of a senior class that’s been crucial to the program’s success over the last few years and was also involved in the interview process when IU was looking for a coach.
“When I sat down with them and asked them what they wanted, they said they wanted to win the Big Ten championship, wanted to be coached, wanted to be pushed, wanted to maximize their abilities,” Mercer said. “Sometimes you ask for that and you’re not sure you’re really ready to receive it, once it starts coming at you, but they’ve accepted it. They’ve been supportive of it. And they’ve been real catalysts. They’ve driven, behind the scenes, and helped this club to move in the right direction. They’ve been incredible, all of them.”
The seniors have been crucial this season, but it was the underclassmen that drove IU to Sunday’s 13-3 win to finish the sweep.
Cole Barr was a big part of the win. The slugging sophomore went 3-4 with a double, a two-run home run, and a hit by pitch. He ended up with four RBIs on the afternoon, continuing his recent run of good form.
“He’s an absolutely pivotal piece,” Mercer said. “He’s been resilient, he’s been tough, he’s a good player, he’s smart. As he’s been able to control and channel his emotions in a productive direction he’s really changed the direction of our season and raised our ceiling as a club much higher and I’ve been very proud of him.”
Two other sophomores, Drew Ashley and Justin Walker, contributed as well as they drove in two runs apiece in the blowout. Freshman Grant Richardson also chipped in with an RBI single.
Now it’s off to the postseason where the stakes get higher and the games grow in intensity. The Hoosiers start Big Ten Tournament play on Wednesday against eighth-seeded Iowa, who they swept earlier this season, at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska. Despite the impending challenges they’ll face, the Hoosiers made sure to enjoy their present success.
”It was everything you could hope for,” senior catcher Ryan Fineman said. “It’s surreal. You always talk about it as a kid. You’re going to win it! You’re going to dog-pile! There is still a lot of season to go, but that was awesome.”