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Too little, too late: Questions arise as Indiana drops critical home series

It seems as if every week in the past month has been huge for Indiana baseball. But this weekend's pod series against first-place Nebraska, the Big Ten Champions, and Ohio State, the only team to sweep the Hoosiers in a series this season, felt different. All four games were scheduled to be on national television and the time was now. The Hoosiers needed to step up. 

The Hoosiers had dropped three of their past four, including a mid-week slip up against Illinois on May 18. One aspect to highlight leading into this weekend’s pod was Indiana’s pitching. 

Leading into the Michigan series, Indiana had the best team ERA in the Big Ten and one of the best in the entire country. The three-headed-monster rotation of Tommy Sommer, McCade Brown and Gabe Bierman was on fire and led the Hoosiers to being ranked No. 21 in the country. However, in Ann Arbor against the Wolverines some issues came to light in the rotation and bullpen. Hoosier pitchers gave up 24 runs to Michigan on the weekend and needed a quick turn around as the first-placed Cornhuskers and the Buckeyes came to town. 

Sommer started for the Hoosiers on Friday in the 8-5 loss to Nebraska and struggled. Sommer was only able to go 2⅓ innings, which required Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer to use three out of the pen. Sommer gave up four hits in the outing along with walking three and giving up six earned runs. The bullpen pitched relatively well with right-hander Grant Macciocchi giving the Hoosiers four shutout innings with six strikeouts.

Macciocchi has been impressive on the hill in his past few outings. Against Illinois, he pitched three full innings giving up one hit and had four Ks. He also came into the game on Monday against the Buckeyes and pitched three scoreless with only one hit. He's a player to look out for next weekend in College Park, Maryland. 

Friday was Indiana’s best hitting day of the weekend but paired with the poor pitching it just wasn’t enough. Jeremy Houston stood out, going 3-for-5 with two RBIs. Preseason All-American Grant Richardson also went 2-for-4 with two RBIs. 

Saturday was better for the Hoosier hurlers but the hitters couldn’t keep pace and it resulted in a 3-1 loss to the Cornhuskers. 

Indiana starter McCade Brown didn’t have his fastball, it looked uncontrolled and the velocity was a few notches lower than usual. But he stayed composed. Brown was impressive and departed after five innings giving up two earned runs and five hits along with striking out eight.

Chance Hroch was phenomenal on the bump for Nebraska and the Indiana offense looked uncomfortable. Hroch gave up three hits in a complete game and struck out 10 Hoosier hitters. 

Indiana outfielder Grant Richardson was the sole bright spot in the batter's box going 2-for-4 with a solo homer in the ninth. But it was too little, too late against the now Big Ten regular season champions. 

Sunday’s 3-1 loss against Ohio State was once again a solid and consistent performance on the mound from Gabe Bierman but the offense failed to come into form. The right-hander pitched for six strikeouts and three earned runs in five innings. The bullpen did exactly what it needed to do; Nathan Stahl pitched three shutout innings and Reese Sharp pitched three up, three down in the ninth.

But once again, Indiana’s bats never responded. Buckeyes starter Garrett Burhenn pitched a complete game, which made it two days straight the Hoosiers had been “complete game’d”. Indiana’s only run came in the first inning and Burhenn ended the day with 11 Ks. 

Coming into Monday, Indiana had lost five straight and a weekend that was supposed to be a huge opportunity was becoming a disaster. However, Indiana remained focused on the mound. Hoosier pitchers John Modugno, Ty Bothwell and Grant Macciocchi shut out the Buckeyes in  a 2-0 win — a sigh of relief.

However, it wasn’t easy. The run support was lacking again but a couple RBIs on a base hit from Paul Toetz and a fielder’s choice from Cole Barr were just enough. 

These results added up to a weekend loss for the Hoosiers as they exit Bart Kaufman field for the final time this season with the fate of the next few weeks unknown.

So what now?

Look, despite the struggles in Ann Arbor, we know the Hoosiers can pitch and they can do it well. They have all season. The issues have come with the consistency of the offense. Indiana left 23 runners stranded on the bases in total this weekend, a number that really needs to be cleaned up. 

The lineup has shaken up quite a bit over the course of the year and Mercer has looked and looked for one that would stay consistent over multiple series. He has yet to find it, and with three games left in the season against a 26-15 Maryland team that just won a series over Michigan this past weekend, questions and limbo still remain.

What does Indiana need to do to make the NCAA tournament?

Honestly, there isn’t a direct answer. They definitely need to perform well against a fellow bubble team in Maryland. But it might not be enough — this past weekend in Bloomington definitely didn’t help that. The pressure is building and for a program that has only missed the postseason once since the College World Series appearance in 2013, it’s now in jeopardy. Life on the bubble remains for Indiana baseball heading into its final weekend.

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