Looking ahead to Friday with senior outfielders Eric Toole, Kris Goodman. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
MINNEAPOLIS – As Iowa players recently looked back on their 2015 regular season, they pointed to a three-game sweep of Indiana as a launching point.
Nearly two months since that March 27-29 series in Iowa City, the Hoosiers meet Iowa at a crossroads again.
It's Iowa-Indiana at 3:30 p.m. Friday in an elimination game at the Big Ten Tournament. The winner gets Maryland – which snapped Illinois' 27-game winning streak with a late-night 2-1 win Thursday – at 9 a.m. Saturday. The loser would become the third team eliminated from this eight-team event at Target Field.
"Everyone in this tournament's good," Iowa's Kris Goodman said. "I think everyone in the tournament has 30 wins or so (he's right), so you have to come with your best and play your best baseball."
Sixth-seeded Indiana (33-21) carries swagger and momentum. The Hoosiers staggered out of Iowa City, but eventually the 2013 College World Series participants righted the ship. They won nine of their last 10 regular-season games, including a sweep of Ohio State.
Also in their hip pocket: The confidence that comes with winning the past two Big Ten Tournament championships.
"We were real confident last year with the team we had," Indiana catcher Brad Hartong said, "and we're just as confident this year."
The Hoosiers' starting pitcher will be junior right-hander Christian Morris, a first-team all-Big Ten selection last year. He's seen his ERA balloon from 2.04 as a sophomore to 5.44 this year in 14 appearances (10 starts).
Morris did not pitch during the Iowa series.
"He's been pitching really good," Indiana first-year coach Chris Lemonis said. "We feel good about our matchup."
Iowa (39-15) will counter with right-hander Calvin Mathews, a second-team all-Big Ten pick with a 5-2 record and 2.08 ERA. He got a no-decision after giving up three runs in four innings in Iowa's 10-6 win March 29.
Mathews' workload has been limited after suffering a shoulder injury last season. Right-hander Luke Vandermaten (2-0. 0.77) hasn't been used this week in Minneapolis and would likely be Heller's first bullpen call. Closer Nick Hibbing, the winning pitcher in Wednesday's 3-2 win over Ohio State, should be available, too. But in an ideal world, Heller would save one of his top-three relievers to stretch out as a starter vs. Maryland.
With an RPI of 39, Indiana can cement its case for an NCAA regional berth by beating the Hawkeyes, who have nothing to worry about when the field of 64 is revealed Monday. Meanwhile, Iowa is trying to bounce back from a three-error game in Thursday's 8-5 loss to Michigan.
"We've just got to go in and play like we normally do. We've got to come high energy, high effort, high intensity," Iowa senior leadoff man Eric Toole said. "Get out to an early lead, get Calvin some runs early, play errorless baseball."