The last time the Hoosiers played at Michigan State, they were swept off three straight walk-off wins.
In the same year, the Hoosiers made an improbable run to the College World Series and used those three late-inning losses to figure out who they were as a team. This weekend when IU (21-14, 6-3) travels to Michigan State (26-8, 7-2), it will be a major test to see where they match up against one of the Big Ten’s best.
“It’s going to be a very big test for us, obviously the best Big Ten opponent we’ve played,” senior starting pitcher Kyle Hart said. “They’re going to have great pitching and great offense, obviously, which is going to be a great test for our pitching staff.”
The road trip to East Lansing will be the first conference matchup the Hoosiers have played away from Bart Kaufman Field since the beginning of April. The Spartans feature a balanced lineup, ranking 20th in the nation, with a team average of .307 with junior Jordan Zimmerman’s leading the club at a .417 clip.
Although the Spartans sit atop the Big Ten standings, there is just one game that separates them and the fifth-place Hoosiers in a tight knit conference. For how good their statistics are, the Spartans have shown their vulnerability lately by dropping the series finale to last-place Purdue on Sunday and a 1-0 pitchers duel against Notre Dame on Tuesday.
Michigan State also blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning Wednesday against a nine-win Western Michigan club, but the Spartans were able to rally in the bottom half and walk off a winner.
Pitching will highlight the series all weekend with Michigan State implementing the best arms in the conference and showcasing a 2.43 ERA, while the Hoosiers are second best in the Big Ten with a 2.70 ERA.
Junior starting pitcher Cam Vieaux will square off against IU’s Hart in a premier matchup Friday afternoon. Vieaux has been the rock for the Spartans’ pitching staff this year by owning a 1.18 ERA over 61 innings pitched while allowing just five extra base hits this season. The former 19th-round draft pick is going up against one of the best Hoosiers of all time, who is coming off a complete-game performance against Iowa last weekend.
“Just one game at a time,” senior shortstop Brian Wilhite said. “I know we’re facing a really good left-hander Friday night. We just have to be happy about how we’re playing right now.”
The pitching as a whole for the Hoosiers has been lights-out, as the club has won nine of its last 10 games. Over that stretch, the bullpen has been solid, supporting the starting rotation with a collective 2.21 ERA. Justifying those numbers Wednesday at Xavier, the Hoosier relievers tossed five shutout innings and allowed just one hit in the process.
IU Coach Chris Lemonis said it was exciting to see the pitchers dominate out of the bullpen because he knows they’ll be a crucial part for this weekend if the Hoosiers want to have continued success.
“We’re going up against the number-one team in the Big Ten,” junior outfielder Craig Dedelow said. “To win the series at least would really help us and get us on top of the Big Ten like we want to be.”