Indiana baseball made quick work of the Evansville Purple Aces this weekend, completing a four-game series sweep. Strong starting pitching from Indiana was key versus Evansville, and will be vital during the heart of conference play.
The Hoosiers now focus their attention to their first of two meetings versus Ball State on Tuesday. The two teams will also meet up on April 23 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.
Both teams are playing some of their best baseball of the season heading into this matchup. The Hoosiers (24-12) are on a seven game win streak, while the Cardinals (23-12) are winners of four of their last five games.
Let’s take a look at what to expect for Tuesday’s game.
Throughout the Hoosiers’ seven game win streak, the offense has produced at least five runs in six of the seven games. Against Evansville, every player in Indiana’s lineup had a hit in the final game of the series.
Indiana is a team that has lived and died by the long ball this year. Though they have lead the country in home runs throughout most of this season, the Hoosiers showed they can also provide base hits. Indiana only hit three home runs versus Evansville, but still found a way to produce 35 runs over the course of the series.
Indiana coach Jeff Mercer has stressed the importance of timely hitting this year, which will be important versus a Ball State team that can put runs on the board, as well.
The Cardinals have scored 41 runs in their last five games and are lead by Ross Messina, Aaron Simpson and John Ricotta. Messina leads the team with 36 RBI, while Simpson is batting .370 and has started every game in centerfield.
Ball State is currently ranked 42nd in the country in batting average and 49th in slugging percentage. While the Cardinals have only hit 20 home runs, compared to 55 for Indiana, they have six starters batting over .300 on the season.
It will be important for Indiana to limit errors against a Ball State team that likes to put pressure on the defense by putting the ball in play.
Indiana will look to build off recent pitching success to cure season-long woes in midweek games. Sophomore Tommy Sommer will be on the mound for Indiana when the Ball State Cardinals come to Bloomington on Tuesday.
Sommer is coming off his most successful outing of the season versus Purdue when he pitched six innings in relief, giving up only one hit, zero earned runs and six strikeouts. This will be Sommer’s first start since March 3 in Indiana’s 6-5 loss to Coastal Carolina.
Indiana’s biggest problem in midweek games has been finding consistent pitching, but Sommer’s return from injury has proved beneficial. In losses to Kent State and Wright State earlier in the season, the Hoosiers had to burn through their bullpen, using at least seven pitchers in each game, just to find a reliable arm.
Ball State typically uses midweek games to utilize their bullpen, as well. The Cardinals will send right-hander Brendan Burns to the mound for his second start of the season and his first start since February 24. Burns boasts a 7.15 ERA in his 13 appearances this season.
What it comes down to
In the last two midweek games for the Hoosiers, McCade Brown has started the first inning by walking the bases loaded. Tommy Sommer will have to have control the strike zone early and let his defense make plays.
For the Cardinals, it will be necessary to continually put runners on base, which they have done all season. A high-scoring affair might be ideal for Ball State, as they have scored 41 runs in the past five games.
This season, Indiana and Ball State have played three common opponents: Kent State, Purdue and Butler. The Cardinals went 3-0, while the Hoosiers were 2-1, losing to Kent State 9-8.
It will be important for Indiana to continue its win streak on Tuesday as the Big Ten schedule heats up. Two wins versus Ball State and a three game set versus Michigan State (8-25) are key to the Hoosiers’ success down the stretch.
Indiana has a tough slate of conference opponents after this weekend when they face Minnesota, who won the Big Ten last year, Illinois (22-11) and Michigan (24-11), who trails Indiana by one and a half games in the Big Ten standings.