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Indiana baseball series preview: Memphis

Pauly Milto comes into the 2019 season as the team’s Friday night starter. (Mark Timko/HN)

Indiana Baseball will officially begin their 2019 season Friday on the road for a three-game series at Memphis to start the Jeff Mercer era.

The first-year head coach for the Hoosiers, and former Wright State head coach, takes over a ballclub that went 40-19 and made the NCAA Tournament before getting eliminated in the Austin Regional a season ago.

The roster lost four players to the MLB Draft and has a smaller senior class of six players, but the team returns plenty of talent.

“There’s a lot of new faces,” Mercer said. “Guys are new to the program but realistically there’s a lot of guys that were in the program that have worked really hard and improved themselves and you’d expect to step into a more prominent role.”

In the Big Ten preseason coaches’ poll, Indiana was selected to finish fourth in the conference and had three players named to the preseason honoree list: junior right-handed pitcher Tanner Gordon, a Junior College transfer, junior outfielder Matt Gorski and senior utilityman Matt Lloyd.

Mercer said the batting order and lineup still isn’t completed for the weekend, but it’s safe to expect Lloyd at first base, junior Jeremy Houston at shortstop, and either sophomore Cade Bunnell or Justin Walker at second base.

For the pitching rotation, Indiana has a lot to make-up for with Jonathan Stiever and Tim Herrin leaving for the professional ranks after last season.

Mercer still has Pauly Milto though, who’s coming off a great season with an 8-2 record and a 2.03 ERA in 2018 and said he’ll be going with Milto as the Friday starter. Gordon and sophomore left-hander, Tommy Sommer, will be the Saturday and Sunday starters, respectively.

Mercer likes what the new starters bring to the table.

“He’s (Gordon) thrown a lot of college games, not at the division one level, but still being an ace, being a guy who has pitched college innings, being an adult goes a long way,” Mercer said.

“He’s (Sommer) grown a lot,” Mercer said. “His ability to hold the run game is very mature. So, you feel really confident about his ability to go out and throw on the weekend.”

Mercer also expressed plenty of confidence in a deep bullpen too.

“It’s nice to have guys that could potentially be starters as well, but they’ll start out of the pen and give us an ability certainly early not to ride our starters,” Mercer said.

Looking at Memphis, the Tigers are coming off a 20-36 season and a last place finish in the American Athletic Conference.

They also lost right-handed pitcher, Jonathan Bowlan from a season ago, who was a second-round draft pick to the Kansas City Royals. The Tigers’ top returners include infielder and redshirt senior, Cale Hennemann and left-handed pitcher and senior, Hunter Smith.

Henneman in his first season with the Tigers a year ago started mostly at second base and led the team in batting average at a .299 mark and added 20 RBI’s. Henneman is purely a contact hitter, not hitting a home-run on the season and only had eight extra base hits.

Smith comes off a season with a 3.08 ERA and 3-2 record. He threw for 63 strikeouts over 64.1 innings. He only made four starts a season ago, but it’s likely he’ll take on more of a starter role following his previous success and Bowlan’s departure from the program.

After the opening weekend at Memphis, the Hoosiers will return the following weekend to the Volunteer state as they play Tennessee for a three game road series.

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