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Last updated: Fri. Apr. 25, 2014 - 02:00 am EDT

Best is coming for Indiana's Coursen-Carr

Hoosier coach confident pitcher will regain form

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BLOOMINGTON – Will Coursen-Carr will get it back. Indiana baseball coach Tracy Smith insists he doesn't doubt that. Today's pitching struggles will become tomorrow's successes.

The No. 13 Hoosiers' College World Series prospects might very well depend on it.

“He'll get it back,” Smith says of the former South Side standout. “I've said this before, he's pitched in some of the biggest games in the history of this program, and not just pitched in them, but succeeded.”

Smith pauses.

“He'll get it back.”

Last spring's postseason dominance -- Coursen-Carr won the clinching games in the Big Ten tournament, the NCAA regional in Bloomington and the NCAA Super Regional in Tallahassee -- became this season's inconsistency. Coursen-Carr was projected as the No. 3 starter, and pitched his way into irrelevance.

That was a problem when IU was at full pitching strength. Now that starter Kyle Hart (torn elbow ligament) and closer Ryan Halstead (knee) are out for the season, the Hoosiers need their remaining best pitchers pitching their best.

Coursen-Carr at his best is one of the Big Ten's most formidable pitchers. It wasn't a fluke when he went 5-0 last season with a Big Ten-leading 1.93 earned run average to make the All-Big Ten freshman team.

This season's numbers aren't bad -- 2-2 overall with a 3.12 ERA, 1-0 with a 0.73 ERA in the Big Ten. But he has 21 strikeouts and 22 walks, and has only pitched more than five innings in a game once. Since getting hit hard in his first start against Texas Tech (five runs, seven hits in 4.1 innings), he hasn't given up more than two earned runs, but Smith expects more, needs more, demands more.

The stakes are high. The Hoosiers are 26-11 with 14 wins in their last 15 games. They are 11-1 in the Big Ten and have a two-game lead entering this weekend's three-game series at second-place Illinois. Their No. 4 Ratings Percentage Index puts them in strong position to host one of the NCAA's 16 regionals if they sustain this momentum. Smith wants everyone playing to his potential, and perhaps a little bit more.

Smith hasn't liked Coursen-Carr's confidence and mindset. He pulled the lefthander after just five batters in a Sunday game against Morehead State 12 days ago, even though Coursen-Carr had gotten three of them out, including one by a strikeout. But 14 of his 23 pitches were balls, and two of them hit the backstop on the fly.

After Coursen-Carr walked the first batter of the second inning on four pitches, Smith took him out in what became an 8-7 loss.

So, for now, others have taken Coursen-Carr's place. Sullivan Stadler started Wednesday's 10-1 victory over Ball State. Brian Korte, who until last week had pitched just nine innings all season, started last Sunday's 4-1 win over Michigan State.

Overall, in the last 50 innings, IU pitchers have allowed just three earned runs. They lead the Big Ten with a 2.52 earned run average.

“We give you an opportunity,” Smith says. “What you do with that is up to you. If you're pounding the strike zone, being aggressive, that will lead to more opportunity.”

Coursen-Carr did pitch one scoreless inning of relief against Ball State, with two strikeouts. That suggests he might be on his back to earning third-starter status behind Joey DeNato and Christian Morris.

“We'll take it at his pace,” Smith says. “We don't feel we have to gamble and wonder, 'Hey, is he ready,' and potentially cost us a game.

“He has to show it in practice, then show it in practice again, then show it in mid-week. Then we'll start getting him back on track. As long as he's ready by postseason, that's when I want him. A lot of it depends on him. The good thing is, we have time.”

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


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