This was supposed to have been an Indiana baseball team that would be led by its high-powered offense in a quest to return to the 2014 College Baseball World Series in Omaha.
Instead, pitching has become the dominant story for the Hoosiers.
"I really feel like we have been led by our pitching,'' said IU All-American catcher Kyle Schwarber, who is the primary handler for the IU pitching staff. "We just have so much depth there. Our pitchers have been carrying us.''
On Monday afternoon, Indiana senior pitcher Joey DeNato was named the Co-Big Ten Pitcher of the Week, his second such award of the season and third of his career. He threw eight scoreless innings Friday night at home in a 7-0 shutout of Michigan State.
DeNato is currently 8-1 this season with a 2.12 ERA, but his accolades have been just a small part in the bigger picture of IU's success, led by a pitching staff that has given up just two runs in its last 41 innings. During four games last week – three victories against the Spartans and one against Western Kentucky – the IU pitching staff logged a 0.45 ERA with 26 hits and 25 strikeouts in 40 innings.
Overall, the team is 13-1 in its last 14 games after a rocky 12-10 start, including three multiple-game losing streaks. During this latest winning streak, Hoosier pitchers have given up just 2.43 runs per game, opposed to the 4.0 ERA from the slow start earlier in the season.
The Hoosiers will have a tough matchup Wednesday against Ball State at Bart Kaufman Field, a team with hot bats scoring more than six runs per game this season.
Junior Sam Travis said in three of the four games last week where the Hoosiers scored a total of just seven runs, it was the IU pitching staff that kept the heavy hitters like Travis in the game.
"Sometimes it's not going to be there. The past couple games, it wasn't there," Travis said. "Pitching kept us in the game, and you need that if you want to be a good team. Tip of the cap to our pitchers. They did a great job this week."
Senior Brian Korte, who pitched 6.1 innings giving up just one run, on Sunday in a 4-1 victory, said he thinks the strength of his pitching staff, and therefore the entire team, is how close they are both on and off the field, and a close team leads to trust on the field when the game is on the line.
"I would venture to say we're one of the closest staffs in the country. We do everything together," Korte said. "It's next guy up. Everyone on this team can pitch very well. If one guy can't do it, the next guy will dominate.
"I have so much faith in everyone else. They're going to help me, and I'm going to help them, and I think that's why we're so successful because we know each other is going to get the job done."
Junior Luke Harrison did just that for Korte Sunday, coming in for his teammate in the middle of the sixth inning after Korte had given up two walks and a single in a string of three batters.
The first batter he faced, with the bases loaded, Harrison fielded a ground ball, tossed it home to Schwarber who threw to first to finish off the double-play to end the inning and avoid giving the Spartans a lead.
That play, Harrison said, shows just how deep and reliable IU's pitching staff has been and continues to be, as the Hoosiers have taken a comfortable lead atop the Big Ten with an 11-1 conference record.
"Our starters have been so good lately. I've always come into a situation where I might need to save them or something," Harrison said. "It just means a lot to me that I'm able to get them out. The pitchers, we all have each others' backs, and we all have confidence in each other whenever we get a chance to help someone out."