Headed to their fourth regional in five years, an appearance in the NCAA Tournament is now expected in Bloomington. Garnering a two-seed in the Lexington Regional, Indiana’s road to Omaha starts close to home and figures to be a weekend chock-full of action as there is never any love lost between the Hoosiers and hosts Wildcats if a showdown is in store. Here’s a look at the regional where NC State and Ohio join the IU and UK.
Record: 39-20, 19-11 in SEC; second
Head coach: Nick Mingione, first year
NCAA Tournament history: Seventh appearance, last in 2014.
Offense: .317 AVG, 138 2B, 9 3B, 66 HR, .495 SLG, 367 SO, 275 BB, .418 OBP, 59-91 SB-SBA
Pitching: 3.65 ERA, 14 SV, 515.2 IP, 185 BB, 528 SO, 1.21 WHIP, 91 2B, 3 3B, 56 HR, .228 BAA, 29 WP, 58 HBP
Defense: .971 fielding percentage, eight passed balls, 15 stolen bases allowed, 17 caught stealing
Noteworthy: In his first season as Kentucky’s head coach, former assistant Nick Mingione has the Wildcats back among the elite in college baseball, on the tails of in-state rival Louisville as the Bluegrass State’s premier program. Kentucky has never won a regional, but in boasting a 27-5 home mark, UK has to like its chances. Kentucky’s pitching coach, Jim Belanger was previously at Maryland, so he will know more about Indiana than a typical regional team may. The Wildcats beat the Hoosiers, 5-2, on May 9.
Record: 33-22-2, 14-9-1 in Big Ten; sixth
Head coach: Chris Lemonis, third season.
NCAA Tournament history: Sixth appearance, last in 2015
Offense: .266 AVG, 106 2B, 8 3B, 67 HR, .430 SLG, 455 SO, 190 BB, .347 OBP, 55-76 SB-SBA
Pitching: 4.48 ERA, 15 SV, 512 IP, 152 BB, 385 SO, 1.39 WHIP, 118 2B,
Defense: .978 fielding percentage, 11 passed balls, 39 stolen bases allowed, 12 caught stealing
Noteworthy: IU opens the NCAA Tournament with a game NC State, a team that saw some as a top 10 team at the start of the season. If they survive the Wolfpack, a showdown with the host Wildcats await, setting the stage for a raucous evening in Cliff Hagan Stadium. But if any Big Ten is ready for such a setting it is the Hoosiers. Though they finished sixth in the conference, the Hoosiers enter the tournament with the Big Ten’s highest RPI and are the lone program with four appearances over the last half-decade, this is an old hat for them. Indiana picked up series wins against fellow NCAA Tournament participants Maryland and Michigan, the start of a second-half surge that saw Indiana grab a two-seed.
#3 North Carolina State
Record: 34-23, 16-14 in ACC; fourth in Atlantic division
Head coach: Elliott Avent, 20th season
NCAA Tournament history: 29th appearance, last in 2016
Offense: .277 AVG, 130 2B, 10 3B, 58 HR, .444 SLG, 406 SO, 211 BB, .356 OBP, 33-46 SB-SBA
Pitching: 4.01 ERA, 16 SV, 505 IP, 249 BB, 447 SO, 1.42 WHIP, 92 2B, 10 3B, 44 HR, .252 BAA, 30 WP, 46 HBP
Defense: .975 fielding percentage, 11 passed balls, 41 stolen bases allowed, 17 caught stealing
Noteworthy: The Wolfpack are in the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season. NCSU started the season ranked sixth by D1Baseball.com. North Carolina State obviously didn’t have the season on par with such lofty expectations, but they have played their best baseball of late, taking their final three ACC series, going 8-1, with sweeps of Pitt and Boston College before taking two of three against Clemson.
Record: 30-26, 13-11 in MAC; tournament champions
Head coach: Rob Smith, fifth season
NCAA Tournament history: 16th appearance, last in 2015
Offense: .277 AVG, 93 2B, 9 3B, 47 HR, .400 SLG, 380 SO, 206 BB, .358 OBP, 36-48 SB-SBA
Pitching: 4.33 ERA, 18 SVs, 522 IP, 240 BB, 477 SO, 1.44 WHIP, 78 2B, 4 3B, 43 HR, .265 BAA, 34 WP, 59 HBP
Defense: .980 fielding percentage, 25 passed balls, 50 stolen bases allowed, 19 caught stealing
Noteworthy: The MAC program most recognizable to many is probably Kent State, after the Golden Flashes went to the 2012 College World Series. But it is their East Division rivals down I-77, Ohio, that have appeared in two of the last three NCAA Tournaments as the MAC representative. The Bobcats were the fourth-seed in the 2015 Champaign Regional, falling to Illinois, 10-3 in the regional open. OU’s ties to the Big Ten don’t stop there, head coach Rob Smith is an IU alum and appeared in the 1996 NCAA Tournament with Indiana under head coach Bob Morgan.
Three keys to Hoosier success
Miller and Sowers can’t swing and miss
They have mighty swings, which can either hit tape-measure home runs or cool off the stands with a forceful breeze from an empty swing. Sophomore third baseman Luke Miller and junior outfielder Logan Sowers have 19 home runs between them, but Miller has 40 strikeouts while Sowers has 72 punch outs on the season. Indiana has an aggressive approach which has led to a Big Ten-best 67 home runs, but with college baseball down to 64 teams, the pitching will pick up in the tournament and the duo need to find ways to make contact and get on base if the Hoosiers have a chance. Craig Dedelow leads IU with 17 home runs, but the offense clicks when Miller and Sowers are locked in, setting the table for Dedelow to really do damage.
It’s likely that at some point Jonathan Stiever will have the ball in his hand at the start of a game. Which game is unknown. Stiever has had an up-and-down season, showing flashes of brilliance but also moments of struggles. On April 14, in 4.1 innings against Minnesota, Stiever allowed seven runs off 13 hits. In his next outing against Michigan, Stiever blanked the Wolverines, scattering just six hits. Pauly Milto and Cal Krueger have down well for IU, likely the game one and three respective starters, if IU has a third game. And if so, it’s likely IU will need Stiever to be on.
Bullpen steps up
Indiana’s roller coaster season has been a reflection of the state of its bullpen. Early in the season the IU bullpen struggled, head coach Chris Lemonis couldn’t figure out who could step up in a key situation. When Indiana won back-to-back-to-back series against Minnesota, Michigan and Maryland, the Indiana pitching staff was stable. The most recent look at Indiana saw the Hoosiers give up a 6-0 lead to Minnesota, with a five-run eighth inning by the Gophers send IU home early from the Big Ten Tournament, played at their Bart Kaufman Field. Indiana has plenty of options to turn to, which can be a blessing and a curse. Lemonis can play match-ups, but there still isn’t a true lockdown guy, outside of closer Matt Lloyd that can be relied on.
IU baseball has found right formula to NCAA success -Zach Osterman, Indianapolis Star
A guide to the NCAA baseball regional in Lexington -Kentucky.com
Hoosiers excited to ‘prove that we deserve to be in this tournament’ -Fletcher Page, Lexington Courier-Journal
Pack Readies for Indiana -Rob McLamb, Scout.com