The Indiana State baseball team takes on Illinois State this weekend, with the victor emerging as the Missouri Valley Conference frontrunner. Tied at 9-3 apiece in conference play and with just three weeks left until the postseason, the winner of this weekend series will be that much closer to claiming the number one seed in the MVC Tournament.

Indiana State has the wind at their back coming off of a three-game sweep of Southern Illinois—their seventh sweep of the season. The Sycamores collected 29 hits against the Salukis and allowed just 15.

While the Sycamores have the wind at their back with a five-game win streak, the same can’t be said for the Redbirds. Going into last weekend Illinois State had the conference in their hands, but Dallas Baptist tossed a wrench into their season. Down in the Lone Star State, the Patriots put Illinois State’s pitching on blast. DBU plated a whopping 32 runs to take two games in the series and bring the Redbirds down a few pegs.

Their first conference loss since April 6, Illinois State’s reaction to their struggles in Texas will be a key factor in the series this weekend. Will their pitching be able to bounce back?

The Redbirds have used a high-octane offense to push themselves to the top of the MVC this season. Hitting .317 against conference opponents to go along with a conference-leading 16 homeruns in MVC games, the Redbirds lean on their batting order to win games. Five different Redbirds are hitting over .300 in 2019.

Luckily for Indiana State their lineup, like a fine wine, is getting better over time. Their offense has failed to score five or more runs just twice this season in conference games. Senior second baseman Jarrod Watkins has been key to the Sycamore’s dominance. The Washington, Ill. native is hitting a staggering .467 in MVC games—the top mark in the conference. His bat has been consistent and timely, recording 16 RBIs in conference play and nearly half of his hits have gone for extra bases.

After a tough series on the mound against DBU, Illinois State’s team ERA now sits over five—putting them in the bottom half of the league. That number gives Indiana State the edge when it comes to pitching. The Sycamores starters in each of the first two games recorded double-digit strikeouts against SIU. After Triston Polley picked up 11 strikeouts in nine innings Friday, Collin Liberatore struck out 10 in eight innings allowing a single run en route to being named MVC Pitcher of the Week.

Illinois State will come out firing Friday looking to bounce back after a letdown series against DBU. Home-field advantage will be on Illinois State’s side, but that is something the Sycamores will need to get used to considering they will be back to normal in a few weeks for the MVC Tournament. This weekend has to be seen as a practice round for both teams as the pressure begins to mount.