As regular season ends, Hoosiers getting closer #iubase

Senior Casey Rodrigue’s household grew by three this week, with the additions of two outfielders and a third baseman.

Once the spring semester ended and the campus dorms began to empty, the upperclassmen on Indiana’s baseball team opened their homes to displaced freshmen. So Christropher Lowe, Laren Eustace and Isaiah Pasteur packed their belongings and moved in with Rodrigue and company for the final few weeks of the season.

“They bring their beds and whatnot, so it’s not a big slumber party,” Rodrigue said with a smile. “… We got a lot of kids. I have to keep track of my children.”

It’s an annual tradition for those within IU’s baseball program and it’s Rodrigue’s favorite part of the season, a time when camaraderie and bonding truly take shape.

It’s also time that players can spend focused and dedicated to baseball. No class, no papers, no distractions.

“It’s a lot of fun to play baseball when there’s no school so all you have to do is wake up, eat, come to the park, get your lift in and just play the game,” Rodrigue said.

For Indiana, it is the ideal time for its season to be trending upward. The Hoosiers have now won six of their last seven games heading into this weekend’s three-game series against Ohio State, which begins Thursday at 8 at Bart Kaufman Field. The final series of the regular season represents an opportunity to clinch a berth in the Big Ten Tournament, while giving the Hoosiers three more chances to pad their resume for a possible NCAA Tournament invitation later this month.

“It’s our No. 1 focus right now,” reliever Scott Effross said. “School’s done, we got our final grades done, so we don’t have to worry about that too much anymore. It’s just baseball from here on out. This is the best time of year, honestly.”

And it could get even better for an IU program that is already predicted to make the NCAA Tournament by one outlet. In D1Baseball.com’s latest tournament projections, Indiana could be a No. 3 seed in the Los Angeles Regional at UCLA.

With a series win over Long Beach State and Tuesday’s victory at Ball State in tow, Indiana is now a top 50 team in the NCAA’s latest RPI, slotted at No 49. The Hoosiers have a chance to leap further ahead with a series win or sweep against the Buckeyes, who arrive in Bloomington ranked No. 25 in the RPI.

Ohio State has dropped five of its last nine, while losing back-to-back weekend series’ to No. 4 Illinois and Maryland.

“It’s another Big Ten weekend and every Big Ten weekend is important,” Effross said. “We’ve definitely let some weekends get away from us, but we’ve also had some really good weekends where we’ve put ourselves back into place where we can make a run in the Big Ten Tournament. This weekend is obviously very big.”

Indiana, now in seventh place in the Big Ten standings, can clinch a trip to Minneapolis for the conference tournament with a win Thursday or a Minnesota loss. As the Hoosiers continue to pull themselves out of a mid-season rut that dropped them out of the national polls and, briefly, out of the Big Ten Tournament picture, they’ve done so with all of the postseason implications weighing heavily upon their shoulders.

They way they’ve carried on has impressed first-year coach Chris Lemonis, who inherited a program coming off back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. Indiana, backed against a wall after dropping 14 of 21 contests in the middle of the season, has played through the funk, while trying to keep its postseason streak alive

The Hoosiers’ response and timing have been encouraging.

“It’s a team that, for the most part, they’ve played under a lot of pressure for the last couple of years,” Lemonis said. “This time of year, everybody’s playing for something, so they kind of get that and they’ve been pretty focused. I’ve been pretty pleased.”

The only glaring weakness is Indiana’s starting rotation. The Hoosiers’ bullpen, led by Effross, Luke Harrison and Ryan Halstead, has been fine, but their starters haven’t logged more than five innings over a 10-game span that dates to April 26.

With that in mind, Lemonis is shaking up his rotation this weekend, dropping Caleb Baragar and former Bloomington South star Jake Kelzer from the mix — for now. Harrison, who’s worked to a 0.90 ERA over 22 appearances in relief, will start Thursday’s opener, followed by Kyle Hart on Friday. Lemonis has not decided on a starter for Saturday’s finale.

The hope is that Harrison, whose longest outing of the season was 3 2/3 innings on April 29, will be able to deliver a quality start before the bullpen takes over.

“He could go through a lineup two our three times,” Lemonis said. “The strength of our team is our bullpen. We’re trying to figure out how to get the first one, then we’ll get the second one and get the third one and use everybody in those games. I think he can get to the fifth or sixth inning. We’d be happy with that.”

In the meantime, the Hoosiers are simply happy to be where they are in the national conversation, to be playing good baseball at the right time, and to be home for one final weekend.

Even if that means living in tight quarters.

4 comments

  1. Without winning the B1G tourney, does this team really have any shot at an NCAA bid?

  2. With a series win this weekend, they should be in pretty good shape. 10-3 vs ranked teams, 11-8 vs all teams projected to get in by most. Need a good start from Luke tonight. Go Hoosiers! Pack the Bart to send these seniors off right!!!

  3. CalCheaneyfan, as jmbennett pointed out they have a great record versus ranked teams and they have a pretty high RPI, currently 49, and that could go up if they do well in the tournament. Especially with Louisville being ranked #2 in the country and beating them. If they don’t win the Big Ten, they should get an at large bid or at least a good look as an at large team.

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