At the beginning of the year, Indiana baseball certainly didn’t want to be sitting at sixth in the Big Ten standings with an 11-9 conference record heading into the final weekend of the season.
But that’s where they are now. After losing nine of its last 11 games, it seems as if Indiana is coming back to life at the right time as they won two of three at Nebraska this weekend.
Following Friday night’s 5-2 loss, the Hoosier offense hit .346 with 10 extra base hits, including four home runs, in 6-3 and 8-6 wins in the final two games of the series against the Cornhuskers.
IU’s team batting average over the last 11 games was a mere .246 after starting the year off at .296 as a team with a 29-6 record.
But against Nebraska, a handful of struggling Hoosier power hitters turned in quality performances at the plate and seem to be heading in the right direction as the regular season comes to a close and postseason tournaments are around the corner.
Senior right fielder Logan Sowers racked up six hits in the series, two being home runs which snapped a 13-game home run drought, and four RBI’s in the three game set.
During Indiana’s previous 10 games, he only had two RBI’s in the middle of the Hoosier order.
Junior Matt Lloyd picked up seven hits on the weekend after being in a free-fall at the dish since hitting two home runs in one game against Northwestern on April 13.
Lloyd saw his season batting average dip from .289 after that day all the way down to .256 at one point in the Illinois series during the end of April. He is now riding a five-game hit streak with 11 knocks during his streak.
Junior third baseman Luke Miller hit his first home run since March 17 in Saturday’s 6-3 win.
After starting off the season with seven bombs in the first 18 games, Miller missed 12 games in April with a foot injury. But in his ninth game back from injury, he finally connected for his first home run and team leading eighth of the season.
Indiana missing production out of those three guys was big for them during its losing skid.
A couple of key players who are still struggling after this weekend are junior center fielder Logan Kaletha and junior catcher Ryan Fineman. The two combined to go just two-for-26 in the box against Nebraska.
Kaletha’s batting average has plummeted from .329 to .272 and Fineman’s average has quickly dropped from .341 to .291.
Although Kaletha and Fineman have struggled lately, some surprise performances have filled the void.
Freshman Drew Ashley is starting to earn everyday starts and is 13-for-29 with three home runs and six RBI’s in his last eight games while sophomore first baseman Scotty Bradley launched his sixth home run of the season Saturday.
Another key element that gives Indiana a chance to win every time out is the starting pitching.
Ace Jonathan Stiever was handed the loss Friday night, but pitched well enough to keep the Hoosiers in the game going six innings and allowing just three earned runs.
Saturday, IU welcomed back junior right-hander Pauly Milto, who made his first start in a month due to arm soreness, and picked up 6.2 innings of one run ball from its starting rotation ERA leader.
A healthy Milto down the stretch will eat innings and keep the bullpen fresh for Indiana like he did in the first part of the season. Indiana struggled on Saturday’s without Milto over the last month going 1-2 during games he would have started and averaged less than five innings per start from sophomore left-hander Cameron Beauchamp.
The emergence of junior left-handed starting pitcher Tim Herrin on the mound for the Hoosiers has also been a pleasant surprise of late as he went five innings of one run ball on Sunday.
Indiana has won four of Herrin’s last five starts when he throws five-plus innings as he’s now pushed himself into the Sunday starter role.
The last three weeks have been ones to forget if you’re an Indiana baseball fan, but with slumping hitters coming through this past weekend and the starting rotation staying competitive and getting Milto back, Indiana will be just fine.
They won’t be in the mix as a regional host anymore, but if the Hoosiers can close out the regular season strong, take some momentum and win games in the Big Ten tournament, we should expect a No. 2 seed from this club.
At the beginning of the week, Indiana was slotted as a No. 3 seed in the Clemson regional in D1 Baseball’s Projected Field of 64.
With an RPI of 27, a mid-week game at Louisville (RPI 26) and a weekend series at home against Maryland, (24-27 overall, 9-11 Big Ten) this last week is important for locking up a spot in the Big Ten tournament (Top eight teams qualify) and finishing off a strong regular season resume.
Last season, Indiana was 33-22-2, had an RPI of 26 and locked up the No. 2 seed in the Lexington Regional. There’s no reason to think that this 2018 club, whose record is 33-15 at the moment and has a RPI of 27 can’t do the same thing.
Baseball is a long season and adversity was almost bound to hit after starting the year 23 games above .500. If Indiana can right its wrongs and keep the momentum going after two wins to end the weekend, this team can still make a deep run in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournament and finish off a very special season on a high note.