The Hoosiers are on the road for the second straight weekend where they will take on the Michigan Wolverines for a three-game series starting on Friday, April 28.
Indiana turned things around this past weekend when IU swept Rutgers and snapped a four-game losing streak. The Hoosiers are currently third place in the Big Ten (12-5) and the series against the Wolverines can have major changes to the standings as the Wolverines sit at sixth (10-7) in the conference.
In order for Indiana to get at least two wins this weekend, there are a few things that need to be looked into in detail.
To dominate at all three levels of the game (batting, pitching, fielding) is certainly a difficult task. However, Indiana seems to find itself on two opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to offense and defense.
Indiana’s tally of 59 errors is the second-highest total in the Big Ten, just behind Michigan State’s 61.
In Indiana’s recent four-game losing streak, IU committed two errors per game, surrendering three in one inning alone in the 9-1 loss at Notre Dame.
The Hoosiers certainly showed some promise in the three victories they had over Rutgers by only committing one error throughout the series. This lone mishap came in the bottom of the third inning of the second game where Indiana led 7-0 and ultimately won the game 9-0 in five innings.
Michigan has struggled offensively so this should be an area to look out for in terms of the errors and the types of games that could happen this weekend. The Wolverines are 11th in the Big Ten in batting average (.267) and 13th in runs scored (163) this season.
With this in mind it should be essential to the Hoosiers to limit the errors against a Wolverine team that relies so much on its defense.
With the offensive firepower that the Hoosiers have held this season, there has been a strong focus and probably a lack of conversation about Team 50’s ability to steal bags.
Indiana leads the conference with 91 stolen bases while doing so with an 84% efficiency (91-for-108). There has been a consistent trend for the offense to get runners into scoring position, which has allowed some of the batters deeper in the lineup to thrive.
Tatum Hayes, one of the few seniors on the team, has found a bright spot to her role as a base runner where she has torched teams this season, stealing 14 bags on 18 attempts. Hayes is second on the team to fellow senior and utility player Cora Bassett who is 17-for-18 while committing grand theft.
Two other Hoosiers are also in double figures for stolen bases as Brianna Copeland has 13 (13-for-16) and Brooke Benson has 10 (10-for-13). Center fielder Kinsey Mitchell is just shy of double-digits, yet is a perfect 9-for-9 when breaking away.
These numbers do in fact matter and will be important this weekend as the Michigan Wolverines have allowed the fewest stolen bases in all of the Big Ten (20). The Wolverines are also second-lowest in the conference in ERA (2.41) and total earned runs (95).
An important factor to keep in mind from the Michigan defense is how the 25 total wild pitches this season is fourth-most in the conference (Indiana leads with 31). This could potentially open up some opportunities for the Hoosiers to earn extra bases safely.
Yes, this is a key to the weekend and rightfully so for the four-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week. Indiana will have its hands full with Michigan's ability to command the circle.
Lauren Derkowski has been a dominant ace for Michigan as she is second in the conference in strikeouts (189), opponent batting average (.189) and third in wins (17-8). Jessica LeBeau has been a great complement for when Derkowski does not pitch as she is giving up a 2.87 ERA while throwing 92 strikeouts in 95 innings pitched.
Rather than focusing on the entirety of the Hoosier lineup, the focus needs to be on the freshman from San Jose, California. When Kern plays well, the Hoosiers tend to follow suit. During the four-game losing streak, Kern struck out five times while collecting only two hits.
Indiana is 34-15 on the season and has the most dominant freshman in the country and arguably one of the best players as well.
Kern hit home run No. 19 against Rutgers as she continues to build on her Indiana single-season record. There are six regular season games left for Indiana and the Big Ten home run record is 24, so it is not entirely out of the picture for the freshman phenom to make more history.
Kern leads the Big Ten in both RBIs (57), and on-base percentage (.599) while her 19 home runs are tied for first in the entire country.
It will definitely be a tough weekend for the Hoosiers as it is shaping up to be more of a defensive showcase on paper, a situation in which Michigan thrives.
The three keys are not the end all, be all by any means. However, if Indiana is able to control some of these parts of the game throughout the series, the likelihood of getting a top-four seed in the Big Ten Tournament will only increase for Team 50.