Indiana lands No. 3 seed in Nashville Regional #iubase

Indiana gathered as a team to watch each of the the last three NCAA Tournament Selection Shows, but this year’s event had a different feeling.

The Hoosiers knew they were safely in each of the last two tournament fields because of their grand bodies of work and also by virtue of winning the Big Ten Tournament. So the only drama on Selection Monday used to come from waiting on a national seed, or from anticipating who might join them in their field. This time the wait took on a different tone.

Senior Will Nolden sat near his locker inside the IU clubhouse on Monday with his feet propped up on a table and the collar of his shirt pulled over his chin. Over the last three seasons, he has experienced a range of emotions, from turning IU into a Big Ten power to playing in the College World Series. But he never felt like this.

So when Indiana’s name finally popped into the bracket more than 20 minutes into the show, Nolden threw both arms in the air, leaned his head back in his chair and let out a “Whoooooo!” for all the room to hear.

The at-large berth Indiana waited on arrived as a No. 3 seed in the Nashville Regional, where the Hoosiers will open their third consecutive NCAA Tournament against No. 2 Radford on Friday at 3 p.m. Eastern. Defending national champion Vanderbilt will host and face No. 4 Lipscomb at 8 ET Friday evening. Each game from the region will be streamed online via ESPN3.

“It’s the first time in the past couple years that you’re sitting in there actually nervous,” Nolden said. “You don’t know if your name is gonna be called. We’ve overcome a lot and we’ve faced a lot of adversity this year. I think that’s what’s gonna make us even tougher in this tournament.”

The Hoosiers won the Big Ten Tournament to earn automatic bids in each of their previous modern-day NCAA Tournament appearances in 1996, 2009, 2013 and 2014. They were selected to host a regional two years ago before earning a national seed last season.

Although their defense of back-to-back conference tournament titles fell short with a loss to Maryland on Saturday morning, the Hoosiers still felt confident about their NCAA odds.

Indiana has 11 wins over its last 14 games, and eight of its 15 wins against the RPI top 50 have come during that span. The Hoosiers stood at No. 31 in the latest RPI released over the weekend.

“You never really now until you see your name on the TV, but we all knew we were in,” IU pitcher Kyle Hart said. “I don’t understand the RPI to the full extent, but based on that and what we were hearing from the writers, we were in. So we were pretty excited even after the loss to Maryland. It was a tough tournament, but we’ve done enough in the last few weeks to work our way into the big dance. I think everybody’s pretty grounded and relaxed, but at the same time fired up to get down to Nashville and play.”

Radford is ranked in the top 25 by Baseball America (24) and D1Baseball.com (23), and won the Big South regular season and tournament titles. The Highlanders finished with a 43-14 overall record and went 20-4 in conference play.

Lipscomb earned an automatic bid after winning the Atlantic Sun Tournament, while Vanderbilt won the Southeastern Conference East division before falling to Florida in the SEC Tournament championship game. The Commodores are hosting an NCAA Regional for the fourth time in five years.

Although IU and Vanderbilt aren’t guaranteed to play, it’ll also be a reunion for former Bloomington South teammates Jake Kelzer and Nolan Rogers. The two players could square off at some point this weekend, with Kelzer settling into a role in the IU bullpen and Rogers batting .257 over 41 games for the Commodores.

“Reigning national champions, they’re going to have a big crowd there,” pitcher Scott Effross said. “Radford’s going to be a good team that we’re going to play and Lipscomb, them too. It’s gonna be a hostile environment, but we’ve played in hostile environments before. I think we’re just ready to go on the road and see what we can do.”

Indiana is one of a Big Ten-record five conference teams to earn a bid for the NCAA Tournament.

Illinois is hosting a regional after earning the No. 6 overall seed, and will take on Ohio in Friday’s opener . In the Springfield Regional at Missouri State, Iowa earned a No. 2 seed and drew Oregon. Maryland picked up a No. 3 seed in the Los Angeles Regional at UCLA and will have to make the long trip west to face Ole Miss on Friday night. Michigan earned the Big Ten’s automatic bid after winning the league tournament and drew the No. 3 seed in the Fullerton Regional, where they will open against Bradley on Friday afternoon.

The NCAA often tries to keep teams as close to their geographic region as possible, but No. 3 seeds can often be left to the whims of the committee. Because Indiana surged back to prominence late in the season and had at least one foot firmly in the tournament field, it seemed unlikely that the NCAA would have jettisoned the Hoosiers across the country given their body of work.

Nashville and Louisville both became logical and likely destinations for Indiana over the last week. A trip to Louisville would have been a homecoming of sorts for first-year IU coach Chris Lemonis, who spent the previous eight seasons as a Cardinals assistant.

Of the two destinations, Nashville was the first to flash onto the TV screen on Monday afternoon, setting up the Hoosiers for a date in Music City.

“The only positive (to Louisville) would’ve been my wife wouldn’t have to drive far to get to the game,” Lemonis said. “Besides that, we’re happy to go to Nashville.”