It's graduation weekend in Bloomington, and on tap for Indiana University's baseball Hoosiers this time around are the Wildcats of Northwestern. In his 21st season as Northwestern's head baseball coach, Paul Stevens brings a 12-31 (3-13 in Big Ten play) Wildcat team to town to square off against the 22-24 Hoosiers. Coming off a rough weekend up in West Lafayette, it is imperative for IU to rebound against Northwestern and start building momentum for the conference tournament.
Game 1: Saturday at 11:30am EST
Projected Starters: IU - RHP Eric Arnett (10-1, 85 IP, 2.86 ERA, 85K) v. JR LHP Joe Muraski (3-5, 68.1 IP, 5.40 ERA, 50K)
*IU basketball coach Tom Crean will throw out first pitch
Game 2: Saturday at 3pm EST - Big Ten Network
Projected Starters: IU - LHP Matt Bashore (4-4, 67.2 IP, 4.52 ERA, 72K) v. SO LHP Eric Jokisch (3-6, 72.2 IP, 5.57 ERA, 45K)
*Army Day (including climbing wall); IU football coach Bill Lynch will throw out first pitch
Game 3: Sunday at 1pm EST - Big Ten Network
Projected Starters: IU - LHP Blake Monar (4-3, 63.1 IP, 4.83 ERA, 49K) v. FR RHP Zach Morton (1-6, 50.0 IP, 5.40 ERA, 28K)
*First 500 fans will receive a free IU t-shirt; mothers of current IU baseball players invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch
Looking at the season statistics for Northwestern's three projected starters this weekend, there is certainly not a lot to be positive about, especially when you look at their respective performances in Big Ten play. Together, this trio has combined to go 2-11 with a 6.78 ERA, a .323 opponent's batting average and 34 extra-base hits (including 12 homeruns) in conference action. As a staff, the Wildcats rank last in nearly every team pitching statistic category. In addition, Northwestern is very susceptible to the long ball as they have given up a league leading 46 on the year. Taking all this into account, it is clear that IU's hitters should have a "field day" at the plate all weekend long.
While Northwestern's pitching is not great, their hitting is not much better. The Wildcats rank at the bottom of the conference in nearly every offensive category as well. Northwestern is hitting a measly .263 as a team, and they only have one player hitting above .300 on the season. That player is Chris Lashmet (pictured on right), and he is arguably the Wildcats' best all-around hitter. The sophomore 3B leads the team with .319 average and has compiled 9 doubles, 5 homeruns and 27 RBIs on the season. As far as plate power is concerned, the Hoosier hurlers will want to keep an eye on senior catcher Tony Vercelli, who paces Northwestern with 10 homeruns, 37 RBIs and a .538 slugging percentage. Although he does have lots of power, Vercelli appears to be an impatient free-swinger as he has walked just 5 times all season against 37 strikeouts. In fact, as a team the Wildcats are by far and away last in the Big Ten with only 124 walks for the year. IU's solid crop of starters should have no trouble handling Northwestern this weekend. It looks like the Wildcat hitters will likely try to jump on pitches early in the count, so it will be important for Monar, Arnett and Bashore to avoid giving them anything "too good" to hit early in the count (but still get ahead early).
Behind the Plate Prediction: Hoosiers sweep the Wildcats! Although the Wildcats took a game from Ohio State and gave them a run for their money in game 1 against Alex Wimmers two weekends ago, Northwestern dropped a midweek game on Tuesday to Valparaiso (a team the Hoosiers beat 9-5), got swept at home last weekend against Illinois and have lost five games in a row and seven of the last eight. Clearly, this is not only a team IU needs to sweep but also a team they should sweep. While Paul Stevens' club will in no way be a pushover, IU is simply the better, more talented team, and there is no reason why they should not sweep the Wildcats this weekend.
With it being graduation weekend, there should be big crowds on hand to cheer on the team, so let's hope they can take care of business and send the Hoosier faithful home happy with a sweep! If you can't make it out to Sembower, you can catch all three games on the radio via Live Audio on IUHoosiers.com and games 2 and 3 on the Big Ten Network. Go Hoosiers!