Hoosiers want to crash Vanderbilt’s regional party #iubase

NASHVILLE — There are flashes of last season sprinkled throughout Hawkins Field, reminders of what could’ve been and never was.

There is the sign above the scoreboard in left field, the one that reads “Home of the 2014 national champions.” There is the team that lives here, Vanderbilt, which was ticketed for a trip to Bloomington if Indiana had held on against Stanford late in its regional.

For all of the bleak reminders, there are good ones, too. There are the seeds attached to each team’s name, numbers that don’t mean a whole lot once the first pitch is thrown. For IU, that was a lesson learned last year when Stanford arrived at Bart Kaufman Field and toppled the nationally-seeded Hoosiers. Stanford was a No. 3 seed, just like Indiana this weekend. Even with last season’s disappointment, IU brings solace and confidence into this afternoon’s opener against No. 2 Radford.

That’s because experience reminds the Hoosiers that anything can happen once the tournament begins.

Indiana feels like it’s the most suited team for this weekend’s regional because of the last month and the postseason implications that came with it. The Hoosiers had to win their final three series’ down the stretch to get in, and that’s what they did. So ever since their trip to Maryland on May 1, the Hoosiers feel like they’ve been in a tournament mode. Experience and success, they believe, will bode well in Nashville.

“We feel good about what we’ve done the last couple weeks,” IU starter Kyle Hart said. “Baseball is one of those sports where it’s like the hottest team is in the best shape, and is probably feeling the best. It just seems like if you’re doing the little things right, the ball is going to fall in your court. I feel like that’s where we’re at. I feel like we’re in good shape to win this regional, but for us, it’s about the first pitch Friday.”

Both IU and Radford enter this afternoon’s game playing exceptional baseball. The Hoosiers have won 11 of their last 14 games, while the Highlanders are winners of 15 in a row. The winner of today’s matchup could very likely earn a date with host Vanderbilt on Saturday evening. It would be a welcome opportunity for the Hoosiers, who would like to be the team that crashes another team’s regional party a year after theirs was ruined.

For IU coach Chris Lemonis, it’s a familiar feeling. He was the top assistant for the 2013 Louisville squad that came to Hawkins Field and knocked off a 54-win Vanderbilt team with two quick wins on the way to Omaha.

For him, this old town is ripe with good memories.

“That may have been the best Vanderbilt team ever and we were able to win,” Lemonis said. “They gotta roll the ball out and we gotta play it out. They’ve got a great team, too, and a really great program. I’m sure they’ll be preapred and ready to go. There are going to be No. 1 seeds who don’t make it out of regionals. There’s going to be national seeds not making it to Omaha just because some other team went somewhere and played better.”