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Three Things: Baseball takes 3 of 4 over opening weekend

After a rocky start, IU bounces back with three wins to close the trip to Minneapolis

Auston Matricardi

Up at the Fake Metrodome, Indiana recovered from a whiff in the season opener to take three of four in its pod with Minnesota and Rutgers.

  • IU fell to Rutgers 2-1 on Friday afternoon
  • IU knocked off Minnesota 5-2 on Friday night
  • The Hoosiers doubled up Rutgers on Saturday night, 4-2
  • Indiana ran past Minnesota, 8-1, on Sunday night

Here are Three Things that stood out from the weekend:

The starting pitching was (mostly!) outstanding

Tommy Sommer authored a gem against Minnesota. McCade Brown toyed with Rutgers. Ty Bothwell did the dang thing and helped IU polish off the sweep of the Gophers. In each of the Hoosiers’ three wins this weekend, strong starting pitching provided the runway to positive results.

Start with Sommer, who dominated the host Gophers in Friday’s nightcap. The left-hander allowed only two hits and matched his career-high with 10 strikeouts, holding Minnesota without a base knock until the bottom of the fifth inning. Indiana needed some stabilization after Friday afternoon’s season-opening clunker, and Sommer not only steadied the Hoosiers’ course, he looked like an old pro in doing so.

Then there was Brown. Hoo buddy. We mentioned in our preview last week how Brown’s upside makes him the most interesting player on the roster, a right-hander with Friday Ace Stuff and the potential to get picked pretty friggin’ high in the MLB Draft. Brown has always been a high-velocity, high-spin rate guy. The problem has been his command, coupled with his ability to put it all together in games that count. And yet, on Saturday, Brown looked like a new man. He struck out 12 Scarlet Knights over seven electric innings, yielding only one run on three hits with zero walks. He was so good that before the night had even ended, Brown was getting the Pitching Ninja treatment on Twitter.

And don’t forget about Bothwell, who became the third straight Indiana starter to record double-digit strikeouts with his 10-K performance in Sunday night’s finale. Bothwell allowed just one run on two hits with only two walks. It was the first career start for the redshirt freshman southpaw, who is getting his chance to earn a role as IU’s fourth starter, when needed. Bothwell, who relies on deception more than stuff, will be challenged to find ways to go deeper in games as the season unfolds. But head coach Jeff Mercer will gladly accept a double-digit strikeout effort in Bothwell’s first outing of the spring.

Gabe Bierman had the only tough outing of the weekend, struggling with his command while walking five batters and taking the loss in a four-inning appearance in the first game of the pod. Otherwise, the early returns are promising for pitching coach Justin Parker’s starting staff.

Paul Toetz looks like a nice addition to the lineup

Before the Hoosiers headed north for this weekend’s pod, Mercer lauded Toetz as an under-the-radar player with the potential to impact IU’s lineup in a bunch of ways. Turns out, Mercer was on to something.

The second-year freshman — who was sidelined with an injury for the entirety of last year’s abbreviated season — stood out among the most productive members of the order in Minneapolis, reaching base multiple times across all four games. He moved from the six slot in the lineup to the cleanup spot by the end of the weekend, finishing the four-game set with four hits and three RBI across 12 at-bats, while working a team-high five walks. His first career homer — a two-run blast — put IU on the board first in Sunday’s decisive victory.

He started all four games at second base.

Speaking of hitters, the top of the order mashed

IU’s one-through-three combination of Drew Ashley, Grant Richardson, Cole Barr had their moments, too. Ashley collected a team-high six hits on the weekend, including a solo homer in Sunday’s finale. Notably, after reaching base in all four games, Ashley now owns an on-base streak of 29 straight games dating to the 2019 season.

Richardson recorded five hits, four of which went for extra bases. He homered on Saturday before launching an 0-2 pitch off the wall in right-center for an RBI double on Sunday.

Barr had five hits, three of which were doubles.

Bonus thing: John Modugno was awesome in relief

After Bierman struggled to settle into the zone against Rutgers on Friday afternoon, Mercer turned to the freshman right-hander from New Jersey. Before this weekend, Modugno had made only one career appearance for the Hoosiers — a three-inning start against Evansville last year where he allowed five runs on five hits with four walks and took the loss.

But against his home-state school, Modugno stepped up and held Rutgers off the basepaths over the final four innings. He retired all 12 batters he faced, notching four strikeouts. Incredibly, he needed only 35 pitches to get the job done.

IU is back at it next weekend with a four-game set against Penn State in Bloomington.