Hoosiers expect this to be different from ’09


 

No on one this year’s Indiana team was part of the 2009 squad that won the Big Ten Tournament but lost its first two games in the NCAA Tournament regional. The Hoosiers haven’t been back to the NCAA’s since, but according to coach Tracy Smith, this year’s team has operated as though it has taken the lessons learned from that disappointing end.

That year’s team was just happy to be in the NCAAs, Smith said. This year’s team, which is hosting a regional for the first time in school history and begins play against Valparaiso at 7 p.m. Friday, is expecting much more.

“I mean no disrespect to what we were trying to accomplish in 2009,” Smith said. “But I almost thought after the 2009 tournament — which, we were playing fantastic baseball, the media reports were saying Indiana was the sleeper team to get to the College World Series and so forth. But I think the sense and the feeling that I had — and it certainly played out that way in the regional — was there was this collective sigh of relief among the players that we got to the regional. I think there was so much focus to get to the regional, there was not an emphasis, to me, on winning the regional. I think that’s the difference with this team.”

The Hoosiers didn’t celebrate either one of their Big Ten championships — the regular season title or the tournament championship — like a destination point in 2009. There were dogpiles on the field, he said, but by the time they got on the bus and left the ballpark, they had refocused on the next step.

“It wasn’t this jubilance or these guys jumping around and going crazy like it was in 2009,” Smith said. “It was like OK, like (shortstop Mike Basil) said. ‘Check. We’ve won the tournament. And now we’re on to our next goal.’ It’s not fake. These guys are very even keel. I think it’s just an overall attitude. Talent wise, that 2009 team was very talented. Several draft picks. Three first-round draft picks. But I just think the mindset is we’re not satisfied. I’m not saying by any stretch of the imagination we’re going to roll through this thing. We can go out and lose the first two, but I can tell you for a fact this mindset right now is totally different from 2009. These guys expect to win. They want to win and they feel like they have a lot of season left to play.”

The season they’ve had to date certainly puts them in better position to continue it than that 2009 team was in. As talented as that group was, it finished 32-29 and was the No. 4 seed in the Louisville Regional that year and had to play the host Cardinals in the tournament opener. This year’s group is 43-14 and hosting the regional. The Hoosiers were one of four teams battling for the last two of the eight national seeds, and are effectively the No. 10 overall seed in the 64-team tournament.

The Hoosiers have a powerful lineup, leading the Big Ten in batting average (.305), runs scored (381) and home runs (47). The pitching staff is also the best in the conference with a sterling 2.57 ERA, and they showed in the Big Ten Tournament they are well built for tournament play. They have four reliable starting pitchers, five relievers they can consistently count on, and the sort of lineup that can put a team away early or come back when it falls behind.

“We’re never out of a game at any moment,'” Basil said. “Our pitching has kept us in every single baseball game we’ve played nearly. We know that we have the strong bats in our lineup that if we were down two runs in the bottom of the ninth, nobody on base, that does not mean the game is over. We have done it before. We’ve come back in situations like that, and we have all the confidence that we can do it again.”

The Hoosiers go up against a Valparaiso team in the opener that finished 31-26 this season and won the Horizon League title this year mostly because of solid pitching and a small-ball offensive approach. The Hoosiers will start redshirt sophomore right-hander Aaron Slegers, the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, who went 9-1 with a 1.93 earned run average. Indiana elected to start Slegers over left-hander Joey DeNato, who has been the Hoosiers’ Friday starter all season.

“We really have an opportunity to match up we wanted to match up Game 1 of the Big Ten Tournament. we wanted to match up for a regional,” IU pitching coach Ty Neal said. “Joey obviously matches up with some of the left-handed hitting teams, some of the better baserunning teams. For Valpo, Aaron Slegers is a strike-thrower. We’re gonna see a lot of right-handed hitters in the Valpo lineup. Not as much team speed as the other clubs. For us it was a no-brainer.”

AUDIO: Tracy Smith, Ty Neal, Michael Basil, Joey DeNato

2 comments

  1. While that little base-running snafu after Donley’s walk-off delayed the dogpile a bit and may have taken some luster and spontaneity out of it, you could almost sense that the Hoosiers were going to be a little tempered in their celebration anyway. It was as if they felt this is what they were supposed to accomplish anyway, and it won’t be their crowning achievement. At least that was my sense of it at the time. But good for them. They have the look of a team that can have fun but means business at the same time. Proud of our boys already, but looking forward to greater things to come.

  2. Nice job Hoosiers! Exciting game, well at least the 9th inning when IU took it to them. Kudos to the Casey Smith the coaches son really sparked the team!

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