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IU baseball leads Big Ten after slow start

Indiana is finally looking like the team it was expected to be.

Coming off its first College World Series appearance, the Hoosiers were ranked as high as No. 3 in the preseason. But they started 12-10 and had two pitchers go out with season-ending injuries.

With a month left in the regular season, the Hoosiers (25-11, 11-1) have won 13 of 14 and lead the Big Ten by two games over an Illinois team they’ll face this weekend on the road.

“We weren’t winning,” coach Tracy Smith said, “so the rough start is defined by the wins and losses. But I felt good about the way we were playing. We hit the ball but weren’t getting hits. Our pitching was solid and our defense was solid.”

Dustin DeMuth, Sam Travis and Kyle Schwarber are the big bats, as expected, and the Hoosiers’ 25 home runs lead the Big Ten. But they’re not the same as they were offensively a year ago. They’re batting .279, 23 points below their 2013 average, and scoring 5.5 runs a game compared with 6.7.

Indiana has been winning with strong defense and a pitching staff that has had to adjust to the loss of weekend starter Kyle Hart and closer Ryan Halstead. The Hoosiers have allowed just two runs the last 41 innings.

Left-hander Joey DeNato (8-1, 2.12 ERA) has been a rock on Fridays, and Christian Morris (2-2, 2.49) has been solid in place of Hart on Saturdays. Will Coursen-Carr, a South Side product, was outstanding as a freshman, but he’s struggled. Enter senior lefty Brian Korte, who made his first Big Ten start since 2011 on Sunday and gave up one run in 6 1/3 innings against Michigan State.

Scott Efross, Luke Harrison, Thomas Belcher and Jake Kelzer have anchored the bullpen.

“We know they’re good, we’ve seen them in practice,” Smith said of redshirt freshmen Belcher and Kelzer. “The only thing missing was game time.”

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