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Indiana players celebrate Taryn Kern's home run in a win over Ohio State on April 2. (HN photo/Marley Reback)
Indiana players celebrate Taryn Kern's home run in a win over Ohio State on April 2. (HN photo/Marley Reback)

All roads lead to Champaign as Indiana prepares for Big Ten Tournament

Indiana softball secured the No. 2 seed for the Big Ten Tournament at the University of Illinois

The regular season is officially over for the Indiana softball team and it has been a historic one that has led the Hoosiers to a tremendous 40-15 regular season record (18-5 Big Ten). This was the first time Indiana had 40 or more wins since 1994 (49-16) and the team’s best record in conference play since 2011 (17-3).

It was not all smooth sailing for Team 50, but it was their ability to punch back that put them in a great position to continue their season past the Big Ten Tournament. 

The University of Illinois will be the host site for the games beginning on May 10 with the 5-12 seeds. The 1-4 seeds earned a bye in which they will take on the winners of the Wednesday games on Thursday. The Hoosiers gained the second overall seed in which they will play the winner of No. 10 Michigan and No. 7 Penn State. 

On April 8, 2023 Indiana fell to Minnesota 6-5 in the second game of the weekend series which snapped the record breaking 23-game win streak that the Hoosiers had previously put together. Team 50 would go on to lose five out of the next six games where they saw their conference record beginning to slip.

The special thing about this team was its ability to respond to the losses. IU closed out the season on a nine-game winning streak that consisted of series sweeps at Rutgers, at Michigan and home against Michigan State. 

This team was led by its powerhouse of an offense where it looked to a newcomer to light the fire. 

Taryn Kern was downright phenomenal this season where she was not only one of the top Freshman in the country, but power hitters across the board. 

“You can’t tell that she’s a freshman up there,” head coach Shonda Stanton said.

Kern wrapped up the regular season with Indiana records in both home runs (22) and RBIs (67) which both numbers also led the Big Ten. Her performance this season led to being crowned the Big Ten Freshman of the Week six times, and on Wednesday she was crowned the Big Ten Freshman and Player of the Year.

Taryn Kern steps to the plate during an Indiana loss to Nebraska on April 15. (HN photo/C.J. Lauretani)

Although Kern led the charge of the Hoosiers bats, her fellow teammates provided a huge boost for the top offensive team in the conference. 

Taylor Minnick and Sarah Stone both stepped up in big ways this season to propel this squad to its best record of the Shonda Stanton era. Stone was second in the conference with 57 RBIs and Minnick right behind her in third with 52. 

Minnick joined Kern in the top five in batting average with .413 in fourth place to the .438 Kern hit for third place. 

As a team Indiana dominated many of the offensive statistics in the Big Ten with batting average (.319), RBI (354), and home runs (72). The Hoosiers were also second in stolen bases (98) which was highlighted by senior Cora Bassett’s 20 stolen bags, fifth-most in the Big Ten. 

With Indiana currently making a push into the NCAA Tournament, success at all three levels is going to be important.  

This Indiana squad has not had to rely too much on the pitching duties to win games due to the abilities of the offense. However, when the offense has been absent the true weaknesses start to flourish. 

Mistakes in the field were very costly to the Hoosiers this season at some pivotal points, as they led the conference in errors (66). 

In the circle sophomore Brianna Copeland showed her versatility. She was third in the Big Ten in wins (20-2) while notching 127 strikeouts. Fellow sophomore Heather Johnson came into form late in the season and finished the year with a 14-6 record while holding opponents to under .300 batting average while commanding the circle.

Brianna Copeland delivers a pitch during Indiana’s win over Wisconsin-Green Bay in the Hoosier Classic. (HN photo/Nicholas McCarry)

In the 12-team tournament field there are five that have never secured the title. There are six total but Purdue did not qualify for the tournament. Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, Penn State and Rutgers will all be in the mix for their first championship. 

With No. 2 Indiana taking on either No. 10 Michigan or No. 7 Penn State in the second round, IU will have a good chance to build its momentum early. 

Indiana saw Michigan earlier in the year and swept the Wolverines in the three-game series while tallying 25 total runs on the weekend. The Wolverines found success on the year from their pitching staff where Lauren Derkowski was second in the conference in strikeouts (217). 

The Hoosiers did not face Penn State this season as the Nittany Lions were able to win four Big Ten series, with the most notable being the 2-1 weekend over No. 8 seed Maryland. Penn State was electric at the circle this season leading the Big Ten in ERA (2.15) and opponent batting average (.194).

Overall the Hoosiers are going to face versatile squads in terms of their pitching and defensive units whether it is Michigan or Penn State. Stanton has spoken all season long about taking it one game at a time and there is no better mentality to have when it comes to tournament time. 

Team 50 has put new life into the Hoosier softball program that is looking to take its first-ever Big Ten Championship. All of the excitement awaits in Champaign, Illinois. 

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