After their 2020 season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Indianapolis Baseball Team has returned to a rocky start, dropping five of their first six games. Despite only one error in their first two games, the team has made mistakes indicative of a team that has not been outside a lot, Head Baseball Coach Al Ready said.
According to Ready, there were a lot of positives in the first two games against Tusculum University. He said redshirt senior pitcher Corey Bates had a good fastball in his first start. While Bates struggled in his offspeed command, Ready said Bates threw the ball very well overall. In his first start of the season, Bates gave up five earned runs and two walks alongside a six strikeout day in 5.2 innings pitched, according to UIndy Athletics.
Redshirt sophomore pitcher Justyn Eichbaum said with conference coming up, the team has a new focus and considered themselves 0-0 again. He said that since this is the only season with an upcoming conference, the team is more worried about it than anything else.
“It’s been pretty good. I mean, I think the guys are for sure getting better every day. Our first couple [of] weekends were a little rough but I think it was something that we needed,” Eichbaum said.
Senior pitcher Reid Warner was lights out at the third game against Tusculum on Feb. 21, Ready said. In Warner’s first start, he threw eight solid innings for the game resulting in the team’s first win of the season at 9-2, according to Ready.
However, the team made some physical mistakes at that third game, according to Ready. The pitchers gave up a lot of walks, which Ready said is uncharacteristic of UIndy’s ballclub.
“… If you walk as many people as we did on the third game on Sunday, those errors tend to mount,” Ready said.
Despite the abnormal circumstances and restrictions, the team had somewhat of a normal fall schedule, according to Ready. In addition to mask and social distancing protocols, he said he implemented a split-squad practice in which players split into smaller practice groups and met at different times. The purpose of this was to limit the number of bodies physically present at practices, Ready said.
“And it is a veteran team as well. So a lot of the plays … the systematic stuff that you’re teaching your players like your first and third plays, your buck coverages [and] things like that, most of our guys have been through it. They know how the system works,” Ready said.
Eichbaum said the team has done well with following COVID-19 precautions. However, he said the split-squad practices made things a little different.
“I think that’s the biggest thing was the team just kind of felt split a little bit because we didn’t know all the new guys yet,” Eichbaum said. “So I think just right now, in the past couple [of] months, we’ve really gotten to really get the whole team together and really became one big team, one big brotherhood right now.”
Including redshirts, there are 19 freshmen on the 2021 roster, according to UIndy Athletics. Ready said that while most of them are returning players who are still listed as freshmen, it still bodes well for the program to have young talent.
Ready said the team’s statistics such as their earned run average are inflated due to the first weekend. While those statistics will come back down to where they need to be, according to Ready, he expects more low scoring this season.
“We can swing the bats pretty well. There’s no question about that,” Ready said. “I do think that we are going to score a lot of runs against mediocre-type pitching. But when it’s the best guy against the best guy, yeah, I do expect it to be a little bit more lower scoring than what we saw last weekend.”
Eichbaum said that being inside and not having to play on turf instead of the field they are used to has been a learning curve. According to Ready, the weekend was a good learning experience. He said it was great to be outside playing again. “I told the guys, win or lose… just to have fun and enjoy it because they deserve it,” Ready said. “They’ve been shut down inside for the majority of last year and it was just really fun to see just the glow on everybody’s face, just the buzz around just being outside play[ing] baseball.”