Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Pitching Power -- IU Advances in Big Ten Baseball Tourney

What’s all this stuff about Indiana not having any pitching? Check that. It was actually that the Hoosiers had the Big Ten’s worst pitching.

Suddenly that’s a myth courtesy of Drew Leininger’s eight-hit shutout of Northwestern to open Big Ten baseball tourney play.

The final score was 5-0 and you couldn’t have scripted a better start for the defending tourney champs. They don’t have a lot of pitching depth and can’t afford to drop into the loser’s bracket, which would almost certainly ruin their chances at repeating and earning a second straight trip to the NCAA tourney.

IU’s only chance is to stay in the winner’s bracket. Next up is regular season champ Minnesota and a victory is not exactly mission impossible. The Gophers are a good team (hey, at least they have a winning overall record, something Northwestern can’t say with its 24-31 mark).

The Hoosiers might be fine if they could pitch Leininger (photo courtesy of IU athletics) every game. He is 9-3 on the season. That ranks fourth in school history for most pitching victories in a season.

Still, IU remains an offense-dominated team behind sophomore outfielder Alex Dickerson. He was named Big Ten player of the year after winning the conference triple crown by hitting .415 with 23 home runs and 73 runs batted in. He is the third Hoosier to win player of the year honors. Mike Smith in 1992 and Kennard Jones in 2002 were the others. Dickerson ranks fourth nationally in home runs.

Sophomore designated hitter Josh Lyon was on the All-Big Ten team after leading all Big Ten designated hitters with a .370 average, 21 doubles and a .721 slugging percentage. He also has hit 11 home runs.

Junior first baseman Jerrud Sabourin was second team All-Big Ten. He finished second to Dickerson in batting average, at .410. He had a career-high seven home runs and 53 runs.

Also outfielder Michael Early made third team all-conference after hitting 13 home runs along with a .352 average. Second baseman Tyler Rogers also made third team by hitting .427 in conference play. He has hit better than .300 in all three of his IU seasons. He moved to center field a few weeks ago and made a diving, over-the-shoulder catch in the seventh inning to preserve the shutout.

What does all this mean? Basically, that the Hoosiers still have a chance to win the Big Ten tourney. And that, after all the lost players courtesy of the Major League draft and injuries, is an impressive feat.

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