BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana's chase for a Big Ten baseball title finally brings them back home to Bart Kaufman Field this weekend, but weather is forcing an adjustment to the schedule.
Because of pending inclement weather on Saturday, the schedule for the three-game weekend has been adjusted. Now, Indiana and Minnesota will play a doubleheader on Friday starting at 1 p.m. ET, and the series finale on Sunday has been moved up to 11 a.m. ET.
Indiana is 15-8 on the season, and currently sits in third place in the Big Ten behind two red-hot teams, Nebraska (18-6) and Michigan (18-7), winners of four in a row and five straight, respectively. This is a big weekend with Minnesota coming to town. The Gophers are dead last in the Big Ten, just 4-20 on the season with a current seven-game losing streak.
It would be a good time for the Hoosiers to win all three games. And without really saying it, Indiana coach Jeff Mercer knows it.
"You can look at it that way, but there's nothing you can do about it, necessarily,'' Mercer said during his weekly news conference on Wednesday. We all want to win one game at a time and play one pitch, and we all have our coach-talk monikers and slogans, but there's nothing we can do about it.
"If I can say before the weekend started that we need to sweep this weekend, then I would say that every weekend. It's a big weekend and we need to play well, mostly because it's time to play well. It's time to grow up and become the team that we envisioned ourselves being.''
The two teams met on opening weekend, playing two games indoors at U.S. Bank Field in Minneapolis. Indiana won 5-2 and 8-1, with starters Tommy Sommer and Ty Bothwell both pitching well and getting their first wins of the season.
Minnesota's pitching has been horrific all season. The Gophers have a 7.93 team earned run average, easily dead last in the 13-team Big Ten. (Indiana is first at 2.83).
"We didn't have any fall ball, either, so we had pitchers with very few innings of college experience being thrown right into the Big Ten," long-time Gophers coach John Anderson said. "We've also had Tommy John surgeries and other injuries, and some of our vets are not doing as well as we expected.''
With Nebraska and Michigan so hot, Indiana, which has won four of five since losing four straight to Ohio State, needs to stay hot to keep pace. They play the two leaders next month.
The players are smart enough to read the standings, too, and they know what's at stake. In this crazy shortened conference-only season because of COVID, winning every game really matters, especially now that we're in the second half of the season.
"Hey listen, I got COVID, the coaching staff got COVID, it's been a crazy year and there's a lot of moving pieces,'' Mercer said. "But at a certain point in time, it's time to grow up, and toughen up, and play better baseball across the board. We're doing those things, and we need to do them this weekend, too.
"I have great confidence in this team, and I have from the very beginning. Even on the bad weekends when we don't play great, I still have confidence and still believe in this team and I believe our best baseball is still ahead of us. I can't be convinced otherwise.''
Mercer loves this team's work ethic, even early in the week during practice and scrimmages. They keep getting better, which he likes. That, of course, is the way it should be anyway.
"We're going to show up every day and I'm going to coach them as hard as I can and we're going to play as hard as we possibly can,'' Mercer said. "I hope we play as well as we can this weekend, and the next weekend and the weekend after that.
"If you want to be good, you have to go do it, and it's time for us to go and do it.''
Big Ten Standings, Schedule
For the current Big Ten standings, and this weekend's complete schedule, CLICK HERE