Hoosiers eager to bounce back this weekend at Fullerton #iubase

The hardest part is waiting, and that’s exactly what Indiana is left to do.

An opportunity to atone for a season-opening series loss at Middle Tennessee State is still days away, but by the time the Hoosiers returned to practice on Monday afternoon in Bloomington, their sights were already set on the upcoming weekend trip to Cal State Fullerton.

“Honestly, sitting the whole (week) to wait and play again is rough because you walk off the field after losing two walk-offs and all you want to do is play again,” IU’s Friday starter Kyle Hart said. “You want to play again and you want to win. I don’t think Friday can come soon enough for us.”

Yes, for a Hoosier team that lost a pair of extra-inning contests during Saturday’s doubleheader, there is an eagerness to return to the field and prove their worth.

In the meantime, IU is still in the process of finding its offensive identity after stranding 36 runners across all three games. That includes the 22 men stranded between both ends of Saturday’s doubleheader. Indiana is also aiming to cut down on the 29 strikeouts posted last weekend.

Entering the season, the ability to string together quality at-bats was expected to be a challenge for a younger — and largely unproven — lineup. Through one weekend, that still appears to be the case.

So while they wait for the next opportunity to take the field, the Hoosiers are emphasizing better plate focus and demanding more timely hits as they prepare for Fullerton.

“With the quality at-bats, we want to strike out a little bit less,” said outfielder Craig Dedelow, who collected four of his five hits last weekend in the series opener. “Timely hitting (is important), of course, because we left a lot of guys on base and those are runs that we ended up needing in the later innings.”

Indiana’s lineup should see an extra jolt this weekend with the addition of left fielder and leadoff man Alex Krupa. The junior college transfer was suspended for a violation of team rules and did not play during the season-opening series, but IU coach Chris Lemonis said he’ll be available at Fullerton.

Krupa batted .428 and posted an on-base percentage of .492 last season at Iowa Western Community College, where he led JUCO baseball with 10 triples.

Meanwhile, Logan Sowers demonstrated his ability to provide the big bat Indiana needs in the heart of the order. Sowers authored a strong start to the season, batting 6-for-12 with two home runs last weekend. Perhaps most impressively, Sowers struck out only twice in the series after fanning a team-high 67 times in 59 games as a freshman in 2015.

“I felt really good,” Sowers said. “I saw the ball really well this weekend. There’s obviously some at-bats I wish I could have back, but for the most part, I’m happy about the way it went for me, personally.”

There was also plenty to like about IU’s starting pitching out of the gates.

Kyle Hart offered five strong innings in the opener, followed by a 5 1/3 inning effort from Caleb Baragar and a 4 1/3 inning start from Evan Bell. Though Lemonis said he would have liked to have gotten another inning or two from each, pitch counts at this time of year play a factor in the duration of each pitcher’s outings.

All told, Hart, Baragar and Bell combined to allow only four earned runs, eight hits and two walks across their 14 2/3 innings, backing up preseason beliefs that IU’s starting pitching can be the program’s ticket to a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.

“I think if you had asked every starter, they’d say, ‘Maybe I had the one inning where I could have improved on,’” Hart said. “I think Caleb would have liked to have liked to have gotten six, I think Bell would have liked to have gotten five there. There are just a few pitches in that game that each guy would like to have back, but it was a really good base for us to see those starters get out there and throw a lot of strikes. That’s really what it was. Throw to contact and make them hit the ball.

“(MTSU is) a really good team. They had some really nice hitters and some free swingers, which is kind of scary when you’re a pitcher. But I think the starting pitching is something we’ve worked to improve upon over this off-season, because as you saw last year it was a little inconsistent. That’s been a big benchmark for us and will continue to be for our success.”