IU baseball picked to finish 3rd in Big Ten #iubase

Expectations remain high for Indiana baseball.

Big Ten coaches picked the Hoosiers to finish third in the conference, the league office announced Wednesday, giving IU another jolt of enthusiasm entering the second season under coach Chris Lemonis.

Coming off its first NCAA Tournament trip since 2008, Michigan is this year’s favorite to win the conference. The Wolverines return 19 letterwinners and eight starters from last season’s 39-25 team, including preseason All-American infielder/outfielder/pitcher Carmen Benedetti.

Maryland, which advanced to the NCAA Super Regional for the second consecutive season in 2015, is picked to finish second. League coaches picked Iowa to finish fourth, defending conference champion Illinois to finish fifth and Michigan State of finish sixth.

The Big Ten also announced its Players to Watch list, including three players from each conference team. Senior left-hander Kyle Hart, junior outfielder Craig Dedelow and junior right-hander Jake Kelzer represent the Hoosiers.

The road to the Big Ten Tournament could develop quite favorably for Indiana this spring. The Hoosiers don’t have either Michigan or Maryland on their schedule, while Illinois and Iowa — each of which swept IU last season — are slotted for trips to Bloomington.

Meanwhile, another year of Hart and Kelzer on the mound is expected to bolster Indiana’s pitching staff. Kelzer, the former Bloomington South standout, decided to return to school after becoming IU’s highest selection in the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft. The Chicago Cubs picked Kelzer in the 14th round after he led IU with 73.0 innings pitched and held opposing batters to a .237 average.

Hart returned from Tommy John surgery and found his niche down the stretch as IU’s most consistent starting pitcher. He pitched to a 1.21 ERA and led the Hoosiers to an NCAA Tournament win over Radford after posting season highs with seven innings and six strikeouts in the Nashville Regional opener.

Dedelow was an All-Big Ten Third Team selection after leading the Hoosiers with a .325 average, 76 hits, 116 total bases, seven home runs and a .496 slugging percentage.

Indiana opens the season with a three-game series at Middle Tennessee beginning on Feb. 19. The Hoosiers will play their first 10 games away from home before opening their Bart Kaufman Field schedule on March 11 with the first of three games against Western Carolina.

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