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Indiana Baseball Season in Review: Tough Sundays, freshman stars and never giving up

It felt like just yesterday when Indiana baseball began its season down south against Clemson.

Believe it or not, that was back in mid-February. Four months later, the 2022 campaign came to a close after a loss in the Big Ten Tournament Semifinals to Rutgers.

Indiana finished 2022 with an overall record of 27-32 and 10-14 in Big Ten play, eighth out of 13 teams in the conference.

It was never going to be easy in 2022 for the Hoosiers, given they lost their top three starters and star CF Grant Richardson to the MLB Draft, all whom were part of a team that finished fourth in the conference-only 2021 schedule, narrowly missing out on an NCAA Tournament berth.

Head coach Jeff Mercer was busy in the offseason, acquiring several players from the transfer portal to revitalize the team, hence why he called the team a “land of misfits.”

What happened: The search for consistency and a third starter

Indiana got off to a slow 2-6 start, but won the next four, including the first two at Bart Kaufman Field to open up the home slate and get back to .500 for the first time all season.

The non-conference inconsistencies continued, as the team ended March with a record of 10-13, but an impressive 7-4 record at home right before Big Ten play began.

It was always going to take some time for the new-look team to gel, so finishing the first month and a half under .500 wasn’t a huge surprise to many, but it seemed as if the team was getting better at the right time as conference play commenced.

The beginning of conference play in April was much like the first few weeks in February: More losses than wins. After beating Northwestern 6-5 on April 1 to start 1-0, Indiana went on to lose seven of its next eight games in the Big Ten, putting the team much closer to the bottom than the top, and creating a difficult second half of the conference schedule to turn it around and find a way to clinch a berth in the eight-team Big Ten Tournament, giving themselves an outside shot earning an NCAA Tournament berth via the automatic berth.

Indiana finally got a conference series win over Little 500 weekend, taking two of three at home against the defending Big Ten champs, Nebraska, in a battle of 2021 Big Ten behemoths that had thoroughly underperformed in 2022. Despite the series win, the Hoosiers were beaten badly in the finale 19-7, a common theme throughout the season.

The biggest issue through the first two months was the lack of pitching. This didn’t come as a surprise to many given all the talent they lost, but it was the clear downfall of a team that could hit the cover off the baseball at the snap of a finger and power its way to double-digit run totals in an instant. 

The biggest hurdle was the lack of a third starter. Jack Perkins and Bradley Brehmer quickly proved to the team that they were the top two starters for Indiana, but the third starter by committee plan for Indiana failed miserably. In the first four conference series finales, Indiana pitching gave up double-digit runs in every game, averaging 14.5 runs per game allowed. Although in some of those games the Indiana offense kept it close, there was a clear weakness the team had that needed to be sorted out if the team had any shot of playing postseason baseball in any capacity.

The Hoosiers were able to figure it out, as they won the next three series in conference play to put them inside the Big Ten Tournament picture for the first time all season. The biggest reason for that was the fact that guys in the bullpen were able to come in and give the team length, something that Indiana pitching desperately struggled with. Reese Sharp was one of two key pitchers alongside Ty Bothwell who pitched their best in May. Sharp was the winning pitcher in the rubber matches against both Illinois and Michigan, two teams that were way ahead of Indiana in the Big Ten standings. Bothwell earned Big Ten Pitcher of the Week after pitching seven shutout innings against bottom-feeder Minnesota to clinch the fourth straight series win.

The Hoosiers controlled their own destiny, as one win against Iowa in the regular season series finale would be enough to clinch a spot in the tournament. It appeared they would do so in the first game as they slugged their way to a 13-2 lead in the third inning, but yet again, the pitching let them down as they capitulated, losing 30-16 (!) in one of the highest scoring games all year across the country.

I just wrote four articles on the Big Ten Tournament games Indiana participated in, so I won’t bore you with those recaps. If you missed any of them, or anything else I wrote this year, click here.

Overall takeaways

Indiana ended up missing the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.

Sure, there were highs and lows this season, but I’m a very optimistic person, so here are my takeaways from this season:

The baseball team was much like the men’s basketball team this winter, in my opinion. There weren't a whole lot of players who had prior experience playing in the Hoosier uniform. There was not a ton of depth off the bench. The team played much better at home compared to when it was on the road. They didn’t win a whole lot of close games. But, they won the games they needed to so they could play in the postseason.

This team never gave up. Sure, there were days when it was almost unbearable to watch this team play — trust me, I was there for almost every Sunday home game. But, no matter the score, the team found ways to put good at-bats together in the last few innings and scratch some runs across. This was a constant throughout the season, no matter the team’s record or the opponent. Looking ahead to next year, the offense is once again going to be the strength of the team.

That’s because of all the young talent the team has returning on the offensive side of the ball. Indiana had — Lebron James voice — not one, not two, not three, but FOUR freshmen earn All-Big Ten Freshman Team Honors for the first time since 2012, when Kyle Schwarber was a first-year player. Evan Goforth, Carter Mathison, Josh Pyne and Brock Tibbitts were the four honorees. 

Mathison was the best Indiana hitter throughout the season, and let’s not forget that the Fort Wayne native had an awful start to the season, finding himself out of the lineup occasionally. Mathison turned it around and made history in the process, clubbing 19 home runs to break the freshman record by an Indiana player, previously held by Alex Dickerson, who oh by the way, is on the Atlanta Braves roster. Pyne and Tibbitts were everyday starters at the corners, and Goforth made the most of his limited playing time when Phillip Glasser went down with an injury, finishing with an OBP of .404.

A year under the belt everyone who played in their first year in the Hoosier uniform will make the boys of spring that much better next season — expect big things in Bloomington on the baseball diamond in 2023.

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