Indiana State has been riding the best start in program history, and despite a stumble at the start of the Missouri Valley Conference season, the Sycamores are right in the race for the top spot in the conference. ISU visits Evansville this weekend for a series with the Purple Aces.
ISU dropped their conference-opening series to Missouri State salvaging one win against the Bears in the finale. However, both of their losses to MSU came in extra innings and could’ve gone either way. Since then, ISU has had a nightmarish schedule but has taken every punch on the chin and kept moving against solid Big 10 opponents.
In their second conference series, things went much smoother for the trees. ISU swept Valparaiso plating 32 runs in three games thanks in part to senior shortstop Clay Dungan. He had six hits in the series including two homeruns in game one to help his team easily push past the Crusaders.
Dungan received the recognition for his play the last seven days earning MVC Player of the Week, and deservedly so. However, the reemergence of senior second baseman Jarrod Watkins might be the most important part of ISU’s busy week on the diamond. Watkins hit .305 last year in his first season as a Sycamore. Heading into this past weekend, though, his average was at .246 in 2019. Something must have clicked recently because he collected seven hits and scored seven times against Valpo, coming up a triple shy of the cycle in game three. If Watkins returns to the .300 vicinity that he is capable of, ISU’s offense gains another dimension that would make them even more dangerous.
Watkins’s recent success has helped ISU raise their overall batting average to .274. Comparing the Sycamores and Evansville, the Sycamores get the nod at the plate. UE is hitting a lowly .237 this season but has still managed a 5-1 MVC record.
The Purple Aces come in with impressive series wins over Bradley and Dallas Baptist, the first of which was a sweep. Evansville allowed just six runs to the Braves who fell victim to a UE eight-game winning streak.
Since that eight-game winning streak the Purple Aces have fallen flat. Luckily for them it wasn’t during a stretch against conference opponents. Including the series finale with Dallas Baptist as well as a game against Austin Peay and four games against Indiana, UE has lost six straight. The matchup with ISU couldn’t have come at a better time for the Sycamores.
UE is 8-4 at home this season, but history still sides with ISU. Evansville hasn’t won a season series over the Trees since 2015. If ISU is able to come away with at least two of the three against UE, the Sycamores could move into one of the top two spots in the MVC, depending on how Illinois State does against Southern Illinois this weekend.