Jeff Mercer has to go back a while to remember a time where he saw what he saw this weekend.
Ahead of Indiana’s monumental three-game series between the Big Ten’s top two teams, Maryland’s usually high-powered offense found itself in a slump. But after scoring 24 runs versus UMBC and 16 more a day later against Georgetown, it was pretty clear to the Hoosier coaching staff that their opponents had figured something out.
And, did they ever. Across three games in Bloomington this weekend, the Terrapins shelled a typically phenomenal Indiana pitching staff to the tune of 43 runs and 50 hits. Maryland’s 13-2, 16-2 and 14-8 victories over the Hoosiers demoted the hosts from the conference’s top spot in convincing fashion — and boosted Maryland to the top of the standings.
Sometimes, you just run into a freight train.
“I’ve not seen it before, and they haven’t done it before,” Mercer said following the sweep on Sunday. “(Maryland head coach) Rob (Vaughn) and I are good friends. I talked to him before the game and the last couple days and he asked me what’s the best team we’ve played all year. And I said, ‘Prior to playing you guys, or including the last day or two?’
“He’s like, ‘We were always capable of putting it together, but we just haven’t put it together.’”
A smile would then cross Mercer’s face before recounting the rest of the interaction.
“I said, ‘Well, I‘m really glad you guys waited ‘til this weekend,’” Mercer said.
The weekend leaves the Hoosiers in an unfamiliar spot — they’ve been swept at home in a three-game series for the first time in 12 years (Apr. 22-24, 2011 versus Minnesota), and it’s the first time since last May’s Iowa series that they’ve been swept at all. Winning at home and avoiding dropping all three games across a weekend is something Indiana has taken a lot of pride in. After this weekend though, three of the four Hoosier home losses have come at the hands of Maryland.
They’d taken some knocks as a group from a tough non-conference schedule from the likes of East Carolina, Texas and Auburn before. None of them, however, like this.
“That’s why it’s so important to play against really good teams and expose your guys, because you’re preparing them,” Mercer continued. “Something’s gonna go wrong, you’re gonna have injuries, you’re gonna lose games, you’re gonna have a bad week…
“If you don’t ever expose guys to that, then they’re not able to respond once they have it later on.”
Now, Indiana’s focus must turn to picking itself off the ground. Granted, there’s far worse things that can happen than three lopsided losses to a team that no one in the country would’ve taken two of three games from this weekend. That type of production is unheard of, especially when sustained over the entirety of a series against a quality opponent. The Hoosiers are still in a good spot, but there's work to be done to get back to a great spot.
On Saturday, Mercer dropped his favorite Mike Tyson quote — “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Sunday, Mercer referenced Ted Lasso, albeit his memory of it wasn’t as sharp — “I have a short-term memory… what is it from Ted Lasso, it’s like the goldfish right? Be the goldfish, have a 10-second memory and just move on.”
Mercer’s pop culture savvy also alludes to Indiana’s blueprint. Maryland had every intention of punching Indiana in the face, and they did so multiple times. Every single time the Terrapins took the field this weekend, their aura foreshadowed the impending dominance they would then display.
It’s up to the Hoosiers to have a goldfish-like, 10-second memory to put this series behind them and get to work at keeping it there.
“The good thing is, we don’t have a (midweek) game this week,” Mercer said. “Not having that game this week is gonna give us a lot of time to go back and watch video and kind of dissect it.”
Mercer knows that sometimes the ball doesn’t break your way, that on some occasions, you’ve got to tip your cap or acknowledge luck when it’s advantageous for your opponent. But, it goes both ways. Indiana has likely gotten off scot-free in the past as well, getting away with some things you don’t get away with against great teams, Mercer said.
This is where the mettle is made as a coach, the feedback loop’s most crucial stage. Indiana has had its wrist slapped, the punishment being a barrage of runs and three consecutive losses to the conference’s best team. However, the correct adjustments and lessons learned to move forward can steer the Hoosiers back in the right direction.
“I’m humble enough to say, like, ‘We got beat this weekend,’ but I’m very confident that we still have a very good team,” Mercer said. “We just didn’t have a good weekend, and you pick up and move on.”