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There's one thing that goes through Bobby Whalen's mind every time he steps on the field.

"Win at any cost."

He carried that same mentality into Indiana's series opener against Minnesota on May 13, but Whalen's day didn't start the way he wanted. An infield pop out, a fly out to center field, a strikeout looking and a ground out to first base compiled his first four at-bats of the game.

Whalen said the Hoosiers lost their approach at times early in the game, leading to a four-run deficit heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. But it was only a matter of time until they got back to swinging at strikes and taking balls.

Matthew Ellis cut the lead to two runs with a double to the wall, and Whalen stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. He let the ball get deep and shot a line drive out to right field, allowing Ellis and Tyler Doanes to score easily. 

"I would say up to this day, that's the biggest hit of my college career for sure," Whalen said.

Whalen stood at first base, pumped his fist towards the ground and released his emotion towards the Indiana dugout, knowing he just tied the game.

"I got my chance to make an impact on the game, and I made it," Whalen said. "All of my emotion just came out."

Freshman Josh Pyne followed Whalen's lead with a two-RBI single, and Reese Sharp shut down the Minnesota lineup in the ninth to complete an 8-6 Indiana victory. 

Whalen has taken a huge step forward in his third collegiate season after only appearing in eight games for the Hoosiers last season and not playing at all as a freshman at Louisville. About midway through the season, Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer moved Whalen to the leadoff spot, a role in which he has thrived.

Whalen's team-high 68 hits gives him a .305 batting average with a .373 on-base percentage. In 52 games, he's driven in 33 runs with two home runs. He trails freshman Carter Mathison by one for the team lead in runs scored, and Whalen's 22 stolen bases are twice as many as any other Hoosier.

Mercer said Whalen recognizes pitches really well at the plate, which translates to few sings and misses, rarely chasing bad pitches. With what Mercer called a "flat swing," Whalen is able to shoot the ball the other way – like he did in his game-tying single against Minnesota – and turn around a fastball to the pole-side gap. 

"We just felt confident with [Whalen] leading the charge," Mercer said. "He’s done great job. He gets out of the box well, gets down the line well."

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Mercer said the recent emergence of Tyler Doanes and the return of Phillip Glasser from injury has also benefitted Whalen as a guy who can drive in runs, too. Whalen batted third for Indiana at times this season, and when Doanes and Glasser are producing at the bottom of the order, Mercer is confident in Whalen to bring them home. 

In the Minnesota series, Doanes and Glasser combined to hit 9-for-20 with four walks and nine runs scored. And as they turned the lineup over to the top, Whalen drove in five runs of his own. When you put all of this together, Mercer said Whalen plays with a terrific identity at the top of the order.

"You know [Whalen] is going to put the ball in play and compete," Mercer said.

During Whalen's breakout season, he's also been committed to becoming a better center fielder for the Hoosiers. Mercer compared Whalen to former Indiana centerfielder Grant Richardson, who was a first-team All-Big Ten player in 2021 and now plays in the New York Yankees organization for the Single-A Tampa Tarpons. 

The biggest similarity between Whalen and Richardson, in Mercer's eyes, is the way they take live reads during batting practice. Mercer said outfielders improve most noticeably when they take every read during batting practice seriously.

And at times, Whalen might even compete too hard. 

"I have to tell Bobby to stop diving," Mercer said. "Like, 'Stop diving. We don’t need you to dive in batting practice and get hurt.' 

That's because Whalen only plays at one speed. He's crashed into the outfield fence multiple times this year, and he's also come up with a few memorable catches. And most of all, he's been reliable. Starting all 52 games, Whalen has only committed one error this season. 

"He is fearless," Mercer said. "He’ll slam into the wall. He’s an awesome player.”

As Indiana prepares for its final regular season series at Iowa, the Hoosiers will quite literally follow Whalen's lead. One of Mercer's consistent sayings this season has been "the standard is the standard," and Whalen certainly sets the standard as Indiana's leadoff hitter and fearless centerfielder.

"If you don’t have the standard, then anything is acceptable," Mercer said. "If anything is acceptable, then you have no idea where you’re going."

Whalen and the Hoosiers hope to pick up another series victory this weekend and lock up a spot in next week's Big Ten tournament. First pitch between the Hoosiers and Hawkeys is at 7 p.m. ET on Thursday.

"You have to have a goal in mind and a plan," Mercer said. "These guys did a great job setting the DNA and the culture in the program in the right direction.”

Stories related to Indiana baseball:

  • ELLIS' GRAND SLAM DEFEATS ILLINOIS STATE: The Hoosiers rallied for a seven-run eighth inning, defeating Illinois State on Tuesday in their final game at Bart Kaufman Field this season. Matthew Ellis' monstrous grand slam put Indiana on top, and Ryan Kraft struck out the side in the ninth. CLICK HERE
  • BOTHWELL'S 7-INNING, NO-HIT GEM: Ty Bothwell entered the game in the third inning against Minnesota on Saturday and went the distance, striking out eight and allowing zero hits. It was his longest outing of the season, one that was a product of trusting his fastball and his teammates. CLICK HERE
  • HOOSIERS AND GOPHERS SPLIT DOUBLEHEADER: Indiana won 12-0 and lost 9-8 in its doubleheader with Minnesota on Sunday. Ty Bothwell tossed seven no-hit innings, and Carter Mathison extended his Indiana freshman home run record to 16, keeping the Hoosiers on track to make the Big Ten tournament. CLICK HERE
  • PYNE DELIVERS IN THE CLUTCH: Indiana trailed Minnesota 6-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth, but a trio of two-rbi hits from Matthew Ellis, Bobby Whalen and Josh Pyne gave the Hoosiers an 8-6 win over Minnesota in game one. CLICK HERE