Indiana cruises through first NCAA Tournament game, 10-2

WHAT HAPPENED: Indiana pounded out 15 hits and saw its unconventional pitching plan work almost perfectly in a 10-2 win over Youngstown State in the Hoosiers’ first game in the NCAA Bloomington Regional in front of 4,125 at Bart Kaufman Field.

The Hoosiers, seeded No. 1 in the Bloomington Regional and No. 4 overall in the NCAA Tournament, advance to play Bloomington No. 3 seed Stanford at 6 p.m. Saturday. They improve to 43-13 with their 31st win in their last 34 games. Youngstown State (16-37) plays Indiana State in an elimination game at 2 p.m. Saturday.

The Hoosiers took a 3-0 lead in the first. With two outs, IU third baseman Dustin DeMuth hit a high fly ball that came down in between Youngstown State’s center fielder right fielder and second baseman for a two run double. IU left fielder Brad Hartong followed with a double off the glove of YSU third baseman Matt Sullivan to score DeMuth.

IU first baseman Sam Travis hit a two-run homer in the third and designated hitter Scott Donley scored on a bases-loaded walk issued to center fielder Tim O’Conner. In the fifth, catcher Kyle Schwarber hit a three- run home run. In the sixth, designated hitter Scott Donley tripled and scored on an RBI groundout by DeMuth.

Scott Effross pitched four innings and allowed just one run in his first ever start. Right-hander Evan Bell pitched 3 2/3 innings and left-hander Will Coursen-Carr pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings to make sure the Hoosiers didn’t have to dig deeper into the bullpen.

WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: Kyle Schwarber was a double away from the cycle, going 4-for-5 with three runs scored as well as that three-run home run.

Sam Travis hit a two-run homer and scored two runs. Dustin DeMuth was 3-for-3 with a run scored and three RBI. Designated hitter Scott Donley went 3-for-4 with two runs. Hartong also drove in a run with two hits.

Effross struck out four batters and scattered three hits while walking just two batters, hitting 92-94 miles per hour with his fastball and playing his change-up and slider well off of it. He threw just 58 pitches while doing it, which means he can be available later this week.

Bell was also strong, striking out four batters, and Coursen-Carr allowed just one base-runner in 1 1/3 innings.

WHY IT HAPPENED: Offensively, the Hoosiers didn’t wait long to see what Youngstown State’s pitchers had. They swung and attacked early in counts and drove the ball when they did, finishing with six extra base hits, including four in the first three innings to jump out to a 6-0 lead.

The big lead allowed the pitching plan to work even better than IU could have expected. Smith said afterward that he would’ve used Effross for seven innings if need be, but that the big lead allowed them to pull him early with an eye on the rest of the tournament. He won’t be available on Saturday, but would be available on Sunday. That’s crucial, especially if the Hoosiers should lose to Stanford on Saturday and would need to win two games on Sunday to survive.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Even though Youngstown State entered the tournament with by far the worst record of any team in the NCAAs, there was still a level of risk involved in holding Joey DeNato out of the first game of the regional. There was also a certain level of risk involved in using Effross, who has been so important as a reliever in every possible scenario the last two years. But the Hoosiers came through the first tournament game in the best shape possible, not only having DeNato available for Saturday’s game against Stanford but also having Christian Morris still in the tank for Sunday. If the Hoosiers should sweep through the tournament, they could conceivably give No. 3 starter Brian Korte another week off to heal from stiffness in his elbow. ¬†And the bullpen was also mostly preserved with the Hoosiers not needing a single pitch from Luke Harrison, Thomas Belcher or Jake Kelzer.

Getting a decent outing from Coursen-Carr is also important. He hadn’t thrown a pitch since May 4 and he hadn’t recorded an out since April 30. He looked comfortable with his new motion and he had control and movement. It’s unlikely at this point that the Hoosiers would consider using the sophomore as a starter, but having a left-handed option in the bullpen is important and the Hoosiers haven’t had one since Korte moved into the starting rotation. Sullivan Stadler is an option as well, and Korte might be used that way if he isn’t ready to start this week, but having Coursen-Carr as an option is important regardless.

Also, winning the opener convincingly was an important step for the Hoosiers who went down to the wire with Valparaiso in the NCAA regional opener last season. This team already looks more in control. That said, the Stanford team they play Saturday is probably the most talented group they’ve played in a regional in the last two seasons. Even with DeNato a win is no guarantee, but it is good for them to know that they’ll have their best pitcher available for it.