Dunham heating up at right time

Five weeks ago, Elijah Dunham’s season was at its nadir.

The Indiana sophomore found himself in a 3-for-22 rut at the plate, while carrying a .217 season average into the home portion of an in-state weekend series against Evansville.

For Dunham, few things came without struggle during the first half of the spring. He broke a hamate bone (in his wrist) a week before the season opener in February, returned to the active roster in mid-March and found himself searching for hits across the next month.

Now, on the eve of the postseason, those early-season struggles seem far away. Dunham is the Hoosiers’ leading hitter, boasting a .313 average ahead of this week’s Big Ten Tournament in Omaha, Neb.

“Is he really?” IU coach Jeff Mercer said when informed of Dunham’s standing on the team leaderboard. “What a monster.”

That’s not to say Mercer didn’t think it could happen with Dunham. The 6-foot, 213-pound outfielder was one of IU’s better hitters during the fall ball period, which served as Mercer’s first look at his roster. By January, Dunham seemed poised for a big season, riding the momentum he built during the fall into IU’s preseason practices.

Then the injury happened.

“He said, ‘I can play through it,’” Mercer recalled. “And I said, ‘You might just be tough enough to do it.’ He goes out the first weekend and he tries, but it’s just not going to happen. So he has surgery, and if you’re familiar with the hamate, that’s tough. That’s a tough deal. So he works back, works back, and now you’re seeing the guy we saw earlier in the year.”

Over the past month — a span of 18 games that began with the series opener at Michigan State on April 19 — Dunham is batting .402 (27-for-67) with 14 RBIs.

Fourteen of Dunham’s 19 extra-base hits this season have also come in that stretch, making Dunham one of IU’s most productive hitters in a very potent lineup.

He’s been especially reliable as of late, collecting multiple hits in five of his past seven games.

“He’s a tough kid,” Mercer said. “You can speak directly to Eli, and you don’t have to sugarcoat it. He wants to know what’s right and what’s wrong. And because you can speak directly to him, like a man, he can fix it. He wants to fix it. I would never be hurtful, but I can be honest, and we can figure out where the holes are at and we can fix them. He’s gotten a lot better.”

Walker finds a groove
Sophomore shortstop Justin Walker has spent the bulk of the season trying to get his average up to .200.

A recent six-game hitting streak accomplished exactly that.

IU’s No. 9 hitter has enjoyed his most successful run at the plate across the past two weeks, going 11-for-40 (.275) over IU’s past 10 games. Walker enjoyed an especially productive series against Rutgers last weekend, driving in five runs and collecting four hits across the three-game set.

IU re-enters top 25
Winning the Big Ten regular season title vaulted Indiana back into the Baseball America top 25.

The Hoosiers went from unranked to No. 20 in this week’s top 25 rankings, making their third appearance this season in the Baseball America poll.

Monday marked the fifth straight week that Indiana appeared in at least one of the handful of national polls, jumping from No. 25 to No. 21 in the D1Baseball.com rankings and appearing at No. 24 in the USA Today poll. The Hoosiers fell one spot to No. 22 in the latest Collegiate Baseball rankings.

Indiana is also ranked 30th in the latest RPI.