25th ranked Minnesota comes to town this weekend as IU opens Big Ten Conference play at home with a 3-game tilt with the Golden Gophers. The series will undoubtedly be a big test for the Hoosiers (7-14) as the Gophers (13-6) are 13-2 this season when one of their 3 weekend starters is one the mound. The Hoosiers are coming off of a heartbreaking extra-inning loss against Xavier, and the team is still looking to bounce back from a very disappointing showing in Florida over spring break. Below is a breakdown of this weekend’s matchup.
Game 1: The senior vs. freshman matchup (Friday at 3pm)
Projected Starters: RHP Chauncy Handran (3-1, 3.00 ERA) vs. LHP Blake Monar (2-1, 3.55 ERA)
Handran is in his 4th year of collegiate ball, while Monar is making only his 5th collegiate start. Monar has not pitched like a freshman thus far, though, and Tracy Smith must agree since he is putting him in the Friday starter spot for this series. Handran will be a tough matchup for the Hoosiers as he throws a hard sinker and will consistently hit between 87-90mph on the radar gun. He is currently holding opponents to a .231 batting average as well.
Game 2: The strikeout matchup (Saturday at 1pm)
Projected Starters: RHP Tom Buske (4-0, 2.10 ERA) vs. RHP Eric Arnett (4-1, 2.57 ERA)
Buske has struck out 27 while only walking 6 in 30 innings pitched this season. With 35 strikeouts in 35 innings pitched, though, IU’s own Eric Arnett has been an even more prolific strikeout pitcher so far this season. With that said, there will likely be a lot of slow, frustrated walks back to the dugout on both sides (hopefully more to the first base dugout, though) in Game 2. Buske is the most experienced returning pitcher on the Golden Gophers’ staff and has been Minnesota’s Friday starter for the better part of the last two seasons. However, he has been pitching on Saturdays thus far, so I will assume he is pitching as the #2 this weekend until I hear otherwise. Buske sports a miniscule .170 opponent’s batting average, but he does have an abnormally high 3 balks on the season, an indication that he may be susceptible to base-runner distractions.
Game 3: Power vs. Finesse matchup (Sunday at 1pm)
Projected Starters: RHP Seth Rosin (1-1, 4.78 ERA) vs. LHP Matt Bashore (0-3, 7.24 ERA)
Seth Rosin is a big, athletic pitcher (6’6”, 245) who has shown the ability to throw in the upper 80s to low 90s. Rosin had a 4.34 ERA in 47.2 innings as a freshman last year and looks to improve on this mark as the Sunday starter for the Gophers this year. Bashore, who has gotten off to a slow start, should be poised to turn it around. As the conference leader in strikeouts last year, he has again demonstrated an ability to strike hitters out with 29 K’s in 27.1 innings pitched. He has simply been allowing too many hits, but he certainly has the talent and ability to turn things around. Hopefully that will start when he gets the ball against Minnesota on Sunday.
At the plate, Minnesota is led by outfielder Michael Kvasnicka. He currently leads the Big Ten in batting average (.462), hits (36) and doubles (10) and ranks 2nd in slugging percentage (.731) behind only our own Josh Phegley, 3rd in total bases (57), and 6th in both on base percentage (.494) and RBIs (24). However, he is susceptible to strikeouts as he has 18 on the year. Senior leadoff hitter and two-time First-Team All-Big Ten outfielder Matt Nohelty has also hit well thus far with a .372 BA and a .462 on base percentage. Not only is he a threat at the plate, though, but he is also a threat on the base-paths. He has 9 stolen bases on the year in 11 attempts. As a team, Minnesota has stolen 31 bases in 43 attempts.
In addition to those starters highlighted, Minnesota sports a 4.10 ERA and holds opponents to a .254 batting average as a team overall. However, IU’s batsmen are currently hitting at a .338 clip, so something’s got to give. Let’s all hope it is the Gopher arms and not the Hoosier bats.
IU was a team many experts predicted would compete for, if not win, the Big Ten this year. Given the team’s non-conference struggles, though, the Hoosiers may be experiencing some overall confidence issues right now. Therefore, it is important for the baseball Hoosiers to take at least 2 of 3 in this series and get things going on the right track again.
If you are in Bloomington this weekend, head on over to Sembower Field and take in a game or two or three. Students get in free with their student IDs! If you are not in Bloomington, you can listen in via the “Live Audio Broadcasts” link to the left, or you can following the game with GameTracker link on the baseball page at iuhoosiers.com. Go Hoosiers! Ground those Gophers!