It’s the offensive outburst we were all waiting for.
Indiana baseball romped the RedHawks of Miami (OH) 15-2 in the Hoosier home opener at Bart Kaufman Field. It was the first time tickets were sold since March 11, 2020, and an opening-day record 1,984 fans packed into The Bart to watch their team take care of business.
When asked about the attendance, head coach Jeff Mercer said he was pleasantly surprised.
“I was a little bit surprised just with the four o’clock start and given the weather this time of the year, but it’s a terrific fanbase and we’re incredibly proud to represent the state of Indiana,” Mercer said.
Indiana hit four home runs in the non-conference matchup on a sun-splashed Tuesday afternoon in Bloomington. It may only be March 1, but it was certainly baseball weather as temperatures reached the mid-60s.
A six-run bottom of the second paced Indiana. Brock Tibbetts and Kip Fougerousse each hit three-run home runs to spark an Indiana offense that had been eerily quiet in the first six games. Matthew Ellis hit one out in the fourth, and Tibbetts cracked his second of the game way out of the ballpark in the fifth.
That’s all the offense the pitching staff needed, as five Hoosiers combined for an excellent performance, giving up just four hits while striking out 16. Freshman and Bloomington native Luke Hayden got the ball to start and threw two solid shutout innings to earn his first win.
The nerves definitely played a factor, as Hayden struggled with his command, walking three guys and making an error on a routine bouncing ball back to him. A mound meeting settled the debutant down, leading to strikeouts and an inning-ending double play to strand the RedHawk runners.
“We (the pitching coach and I) talked about our visuals with my slider,” Hayden said. “We had Tibbetts set up a little bit in so it would stay in the zone a little bit longer.”
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) March 2, 2022
The bullpen is going to be the backbone of this ballclub. Mercer is not afraid to put his pitchers in different positions, and that was evident with Hayden. The freshman came out of the ’pen in the series finale against Clemson, but Tuesday was handed the pill to start. This could very well be an ongoing theme throughout the season. Sure, Jeff Mercer won’t turn into Kevin Cash of the Tampa Bay Rays and turn guys into openers, but with the sheer number of arms this team has and the lack of experience starting at IU, don’t be surprised if few starters make it past the fourth inning. But, enough of MLB references because that’s a story for another day (end the lockout soon, please).
The tough competition Indiana began its season with will pay off in the future. Seeing how other teams play against you makes your team better, especially if they are ranked. There was a clear difference between this RedHawk team and the three teams Indiana has lost to thus far. Being able to be aggressive on both sides of the ball makes a huge difference, and that was evident Tuesday in so many ways.
This was supposed to be the second game these teams played, but the first one in Oxford, Ohio was postponed due to weather. The game is expected to be made up. But, next up for the 2-5 Hoosiers is a three-game weekend series at Missouri State starting on Friday.