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Indiana Baseball: Freshmen Adding Punch to Hoosiers' Lineup

Freshman second baseman Paul Toetz has played a big role with the Hoosiers so far this season, and Kip Fougerousse has made a good first impression as well.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Jeff Mercer likes defined roles on his Indiana baseball team. He thinks it's a good thing that everyone knows what's expected of them when they show up at the ballpark.

It's simple, really. Playing time is earned. So when you get an opportunity, you need to take advantage of it. And when you're a freshman, you start at the bottom on work your way up.

That's what it takes.

It was that way for freshman Paul Toetz, who arrived on campus last year but didn't play in the COVID-shortened season due to injury. But this offseason, he proved that he belonged in the starting lineup.

Mercer has penciled his name on the scorecoard in all 11 games thus far, and all Toetz has done has get a hit in all 11 games.

Want a start? Earn it. Get accolades for playing well during Indiana's 9-2 start that leads the Big Ten? The Greendale, Wis., native has earned that, too.

'He's tough mentally, which I know is cliche, but in sports at this level, especially in baseball, you have to have a stiff spine,'' Mercer said. "You have to be able handle your success, but you have to handle your failure, too. That's where most young guys can't handle it, they can't handle the ups and downs at this level.

"But Paul is really tough mentally, and he's really smart. They're all talented, and they can't play at this level if they aren't talented, so the rest of it comes from can they handle the moment? Can they handle the ups and downs and are they smart enough to apply what they learn in real time, like right now. If you make a mistake, does it take a week to rectify that? A month? Does it take a year to fix that? Paul is one of those guys that you can see him learning in the middle of a game. You see him make a mistake, and you don't see him making that same mistake again.''

Freshman Paul Toetz has had a hit in all 11 games for Indiana. (Photo courtesy of IU Athletics)

Freshman Paul Toetz has had a hit in all 11 games for Indiana. (Photo courtesy of IU Athletics)

The second baseman is hitting .333 this season, with a homer and eight RBIs. And he battles through every at-bat, picking things up as he goes.

"He's still going to make mistakes like they all are, like even the best players do, but that's what has allowed him to really improve quickly and be an impactful player,'' Mercer said. "We talked about Paul before the season when we were asked about young guys, and we mentioned Paul because you trusted him.''

His last name, by the way, is pronounced TATES.  Pronunciation keys, as you'll find out, are important at times.

Mercer has the luxury of having a deep roster, both with position players and pitchers. It can be a juggling act at times, but it's working. 

"Everyone has a role, and when you come into the game, you have to be best you can be at that moment,'' Mercer said. "And if I want to expand my role, I have to excel at the role I have currently. We don't just coach top the nine guys here, we coach them all, and we hold them all to the same high standard. So when a guy comes off the bench, we expect him to perform, too.''

That's how it has worked lately for freshman first baseman Kip Fougerousse, a 6-foot-3, 230-pounder from Linton, Ind. He's impressed everyone since he got on campus, but he too had to wait his turn. He pinch-hit Saturday against Purdue and had a big RBI double, and then got his first start the next day and went 1-for-2 with a walk and another RBI. He's 2-for-5 so far, and both hits have been big.

He's learning the college game quickly, which is a trait that Mercer loves about him.

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"Watching the way that he changed his swing and how he approached offense after seeing offense played at a higher level, and seeing pitching at a higher level, was really impressive to me,'' Mercer said of Fougerousse's progress early in the season, even when he wasn't playing. 

"It was an indication of a really intelligent young man that also is obviously physically gifted. When you look at the freshmen that impact a program early, they're smart, they're talented and they apply what they learn quickly. Kip does that.''

Mercer and his staff have an established starter at first base in fifth-year senior Jordan Fucci, but he's been struggling of late, going 0-for-11 before getting a hit on Sunday. His struggles, along with Fougerousse's progress, opened the door to give him some playing time.

And Fougerousse responded.

Indiana freshman Kip Fougerousse made an immediate impact last weekend in the series against Purdue, with two big RBI hits. (Photo courtesy of IU Athletics)

Indiana freshman Kip Fougerousse made an immediate impact last weekend in the series against Purdue, with two big RBI hits. (Photo courtesy of IU Athletics)

"Going into this past weekend, the staff and I started talking about Kip as a potential option,'' Mercer said. "We really wanted to get him in there and get his feet wet, and then he stepped in there and did a really nice job.

"He'll continue to be a guy that we look at as a rotational piece, and if he earns an every day job, he earns an every day job. I think Kip is going to be a good player this year, and he'll be a good player here at Indiana and into the future. But I also think that time might be right now.''

He's working hard to make a name for himself. That name, by the way? It's pronounced FEW-JURS. That took some practice, Mercer said with a laugh.

"I had to get the actual pronunciation. I asked Kip several times, and I just called him Kip for a long time,'' Mercer said. "You call a lot of guys by their last names because we've got multiple first names, but I wouldn't call him by his last name until I made sure I had it right. It took a little time, but I got it now. ''

This weekend: Indiana at Michigan State

The Hoosiers, in first place in the Big Ten with a 9-2 record, have a three-game series this weekend against Michigan State in East Lansing.

Friday's game starts at 3:05 p.m. ET, with lefty Tommy Sommer on the mound for Indiana. He is 3-0 with a 1.40 earned run average. McCade Brown (2-1, 2.37 ERA) will start Saturday's game and Gabe Bierman (1-1, 3.38 ERA) gets the start on Sunday. Both weekend games start at 1:05 p.m. ET.

Indiana's starters have been sensational so far this season,  pitching staff has been electric this season, posting a team ERA of 2.49 with 127 strikeouts in 94 innings pitched. IU has allowed just 26 earned runs on 47 hits and has limited opponents to a batting average of .146. 

The Hoosiers are ranked first in the NCAA in hits allowed per nine innings (4.50 and WHIP (0.93), fifth in team ERA (2.49) and sixth in strikeouts per nine innings (12.2). •  

MIchigan State is 6-6 on the season thus far.

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  • UPDATE: Indiana beats Michigan 8-2 on Friday, led by Paul Toetz's three hits. To read the game story live from East Lansing, CLICK HERE