In the past year nothing in life has been consistent, and we all know how hard it can be to live with that. Routines changing constantly, cancellations of our favorite events, and even not being able to see our loved ones.
Now imagine you’re playing baseball for a Power Five team that expects to make the NCAA tournament every year. The pressure is loaded. Games being canceled, not being able to play in full stadiums, isolated travel and rigorous COVID-19 testing has plagued college baseball this season.
For Indiana baseball players this isn’t any different — they sacrifice their normal student life to play the sport they love. It’s easy to feel jaded from how exhausting the past year has been and I know I do, but the team can’t. The team has to go out there every weekend and is expected to play consistent and fundamental baseball.
This season, the Indiana baseball roster has 28 freshmen and only six seniors. The Hoosiers are and always will be a team that relies on leadership, teamwork and consistency. It would be extremely difficult for any team in the country to have any sense of consistency in a COVID-19 season, but even more so for the Hoosiers because of the inexperience. This is why the key to the season will be the younger guys finding their footing and providing consistent contributions.
Indiana took two out of three at Northwestern this weekend, improving the team's record to 15-8. A few freshmen in particular have been and will continue to be critical to Indiana’s success this season.
As a prospect, Morgan Colopy was drafted in the 34th round of the 2019 MLB draft by the San Francisco Giants and decided to come to Indiana to grow as a player and obtain more experience. The Dayton, Ohio native has been a sure-handed right fielder and a steady bat for the Hoosiers this season.
Colopy had the best game of his young Indiana career last weekend against Illinois. He hit 3-for-4 including a triple and a 451-foot home run he absolutely crushed over the left field fence. Colopy was responsible for four runs on that night and it seemed to be his breakout performance.
— Indiana Baseball (@IndianaBase) April 11, 2021
The right fielder has started 11 games this season and is really starting to come along as a player and find his footing in the middle of the lineup.
In this weekend's Northwestern series Colopy was solid. On Sunday the Hoosiers were up 1-0 in the top of the fourth — two outs, two strikes — and Colopy knocked one over the left field fence for a two-run homer. Moments like that are monumental for the team and propel the morale of the dugout.
Kip Fougerousse had his best game of the season last weekend against Illinois in Bloomington as well. The first baseman went 4-for-8 on the weekend recording his first career home run as a Hoosier as well as being responsible for four runs.
On Friday at Northwestern the 6-foot-3 freshman from Linton, Indiana was put in a tough spot. A tied game against the Wildcats in the top of the third with the bases loaded; two outs and two strikes. These are the moments as a kid you dream of being in and re-enact in your backyard by tossing the ball up to yourself. Kip didn’t back down, he stepped up. He roped one into right field scoring two and opened the game up for the Hoosiers.
— Indiana Baseball (@IndianaBase) April 16, 2021
Fougerousse has been nothing but solid and reliable in the field this season. The first baseman has 33 putouts and zero errors. Fougerousse is a big target and an easy gut to throw to, as he also uses his legs extremely well in his positioning around the bag.
Both Fougerousse and Colopy have been batting in the middle of the Indiana lineup recently, typically in the five and six holes. With the freshman duo both getting hot at the right time, Indiana finally gets some lineup depth that has been desperately needed all season.
James “Tank” Espalin Jr.
Tank Espalin is an emerging storyline for Indiana baseball this spring. Southern California born and raised, Espalin committed to the USC Trojans in eighth grade. Unfortunately for Tank, due to the pandemic his commitment couldn’t be honored by the Trojans and he looked for another home. Indiana was in need of a middle-infielder and a shortstop, and Tank was the guy. Head coach Jeff Mercer pulled the talented prospect in and Tank committed to the Hoosiers.
Espalin’s talent as a fielder can immediately be noticed when watching him play. His footwork is pristine and calculated. His arm angles are mechanically sound and he zips the ball across the infield with ease. But most importantly, he’s confident and consistent in the field — you always know what you’re getting. Espalin made the play of the night in the field on the 6-3 double play which clinched the first Indiana no-hitter since 1984.
Tank got his first start and playing time of the season last weekend against Illinois and he did struggle behind the plate, going 0-for-3. However, his potential was evident as he fought in an outstanding 14-pitch at-bat which led to a walk.
"That at-bat captured the night," Mercer said. "The attitude, the resiliency, the determination."
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— Indiana Baseball (@IndianaBase) April 13, 2021
Up at Northwestern, Espalin recorded his first career hit on Friday with a double and it will only get easier for the talented yet inexperienced freshman.
An early-season concern for Indiana baseball was the depth of the order. We know how dangerous and reliable the pitching rotation can be. But if these three young guys can play consistent and solid baseball toward the end or middle of the lineup it will be huge for the Hoosiers on the back end of their Big Ten schedule.
This past weekend in Evanston was the first time that Indiana has had the same lineup in all three games. This sense of regularity in the lineup is critical to success. Mercer has said how he thrives in consistency, waking up at the same time, eating the same meals, wearing the same clothes. Indiana baseball can thrive in consistency as well.
The Hoosiers won this weekend's series over Northwestern and have won four of their past five games. The three freshmen have been a huge part of this. Indiana will host Minnesota next week.
We’ve seen flashes of what Colopy, Fougerousse and Espalin can do and they’re all starting to put it together. Remember their names. They're here to stay for IU baseball for years to come.