For the first time in school history, the Indiana Hoosiers will be hosting a NCAA Baseball regional. The Hoosiers (43-14), who took home the Big Ten Championship on Sunday with a 4-3 walk-off victory over Nebraska, will welcome Austin Peay (45-13), Florida (29-28) and Valparaiso (31-26) to Bart Kaufman field on Friday.
It was also the first time in school history that the Hoosiers have taken home both the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles in the same season and the first outright regular season championship since 1932. In the run up to the tournament selection, Indiana was a dark horse candidate for one of the eight national seeds in the tournament. While the Hoosiers were not selected for one of the top eight spots, they were still rewarded (as was expected) with home field advantage by hosting a regional. It was a historic season for IU, to say the least. The Hoosiers bested the previous school win record by 10, led the Big Ten in hitting (.305, 107 2B, 43 HR) and pitching (2.52 ERA) and had nine All-Big Ten Selections, along with redshirt sophomore starter Aaron Slegers taking home Big Ten pitcher of the year honors.
The Hoosiers will take on No. 4 seed Valparaiso Friday evening. The Crusaders finished second in the 5-team Horizon League regular season before beating Wright State 3-0 Saturday to win the tournament and earn an NCAA berth for the second straight year. Valpo battled through their postseason, winning their first two games by just one run before shutting out the Raiders behind good pitching from freshman Dalton Lundeen. Pitching has been Valpo’ strong suite all season as their 3.67 ERA as a team was tops in the Horizon. Closer Karch Kowalczyk was dominant at the end of games, tallying 12 saves in 22 appearances, compiling a 0.36 ERA. The Crusaders struggled out of the gate to start the season, compiling a 4-10 record including sweeps at the hands of Long Beach State and Belmont. However, Valpo strung together 10 straight wins after beating #9 Arizona State in Tempe 8-6. The Crusaders finished the season 17-3, and have won 10 straight coming into this weekend’s regional.
Austin Peay State University comes into Bloomington a No. 2 seed after an absolutely dominant year in the Ohio Valley. Despite finishing second to Tennessee Tech during the regular season, the Governors secured their third straight OVC Tournament championship with a 6-3 win over Eastern Kentucky last weekend. APSU is led offensively by pre-season All-America third baseman Jordan Hankins (.351, 11 HR, 52 RBI) and OVC Player of the Year, junior first baseman Craig Massoni (.388, 16 HR, 68 RBI). On the mound, the Governors also wield the OVC Pitcher of the Year in the form of senior closer Tyler Rogers. Rogers was a workhorse for APSU saving 21 games (shattering the previous OVC record of 16) in 44.1 innings worked and compiling a 1.83 ERA along with a 7-2 record. To make matters worse for their opponents, the Governors come into the tournament on a 15-game winning streak—the longest active winning streak in the country. Their number two seed will be the highest seed ever for an Ohio Valley team.
Facing Austin Peay will be one of the more talked about bubble teams in this year’s NCAA tournament: Florida. It is the sixth straight appearance for the Florida Gators under Kevin O’Sullivan—the first time any coach has made six consecutive NCAA tournaments. Florida is coming off a disappointing year in which they finished with a losing record in the SEC (14-16) and just a game above .500 overall. While the drop-off was expected to be significant from last season (the 2012 team might well have been the most talented in Florida history, if not division one baseball history), few could have predicted that this year’s iteration of the Gators would barely beat out .500. However, according to selection committee chairman Dennis Farrell, the team’s strength of schedule (they beat four of the eight national seeds this season) was a large factor in the committee’s ultimate decision to give the Gators an at-large bid. The Gators did not help their cause, struggling to the finish line with a 4-9 record in their last eleven games. The Gators lack the superstar power they had last season (Zunino, Tucker, Pigott, Fontana, et al.) with this season’s power coming from across the line-up: six players have three or more homeruns, but none of them have more than five. Pitching has likewise been a patchwork process this season with Coach O’Sullivan using ten different starters throughout the year (including three starts from closer Johnny Magliozzi, arguably the Gators most dependable arm this season). Interestingly, should the Gators get past Austin Peay, they will have to face the Hoosiers, who took two of three from Florida earlier this season in Gainesville.
More significantly, the match-up of Florida (the eighth of nine teams selected from the SEC) and Austin Peay (a mid-major power house) could have ramifications for field of 64 selections down the line. While in the past few years we have seen a trend of selection committees paying closer attention to the merits of mid-major at-large candidates (see UCSB with an RPI of 57 this year), the NCAA tournament continues to be dominated by two conferences (SEC with 9 teams and the ACC with 8). While this is not undeserved, a win by Austin Peay over Florida (who will most likely play twice—see below), and a Florida exit at the hands of a mid-major could have future selection committees thinking twice about taking nine teams from the same conference (ditto for TAMU as well, but obviously it helps when your AD is on the committee). For that reason alone, the Bloomington Regional will be one to watch.
No. 1 Indiana Hoosiers (43-14, 17-7)
Big Ten Regular Season Champions, Big Ten Tournament Champions
Team Batting: .305
Team Pitching: 2.57 ERA
Team Fielding: .966
Players to Watch:
3B Dustin Demuth, .399, 19 2B, 5 HR, 43 R, 11 SB
C Kyle Schwarber, .374, 16 HR, 46 RBI, .670 slg, .459 obp
DH Scott Donley .352, 14 2B, 4 HR, 52 RBI
1B Sam Travis, .308, 19 2B, 8 HR, 48 RBI
RHP Aaron Slegers 9-1, 1.93 ERA, 88.2 IP, 12 BB, 51 K
LHP Joey DeNato, 8-2, 2.52 ERA, 85.2 IP, 34 BB, 69 K
RHP Ryan Halstead 10 SV, 2.27 ERA, 3-4, 35.2 IP, 11 BB, 39 K
RHP Will Coursen-Carr, 3-0, 1.81 ERA, 49.2 IP, 17 BB, 27K
No. 2 Austin Peay State Governors (45-13, 22-7)
2nd in OVC Regular Season, OVC Tournament Champs
Team Batting: .315
Team Pitching: 4.26 ERA
Team Fielding: .968
Players to Watch:
1B Craig Massoni, .388, 18 2B, 16 HR, 68 RBI
LF Cody Hudson, .365, 19 2B, 3 HR, 42 R, 30 SB
3B Jordan Hankins, .351, 12 2B, 11 HR, 52 RBI, 66 R
SS Reed Harper, .345, 12 2B, 6 HR, 55 RBI
RHP Lee Ridenhour, 7-1, 2.22 ERA, 77 IP, 19 BB, 64 K
RHP Casey Delgado, 9-2, 4.83 ERA, 91.1 IP, 30 BB, 100 K
CP Tyler Rogers, 21 SV, 7-2, 1.83 ERA, 44.1 IP, 9 BB, 26 K
No. 3 Florida Gators (29-28, 14-16)
Third in SEC East, Eighth in SEC Overall
Team Batting: .268
Team Pitching: 3.91
Team Fielding: .975
Players to Watch:
RF Justin Shafer, .293, 17 2B, 4 HR, 22 RBI
C Taylor Gushue, .279, 13 2B, 5 HR, 33 RBI
RHP Johnn Magliozzi, 12 SV, 4-2, 2.59 ERA, 61.1 IP, 13 BB, 51 K
RHP Ryan Harris, 5-3, 2.75 ERA, 55.2 IP, 15 BB, 48 K
No. 4 Valparaiso Crusaders (31-26, 13-11)
Horizon League Regular Season 2nd Place
Horizon League Tournament Champions
Team Batting: .277
Team Pitching: 3.67
Team Fielding: .966
Players to Watch:
2B Tanner Vavra, .333, 42 R, 10 2B, 11 SB
RF Chris Manning, .320, 10 2B, 3 HR, 32 RBI
RHP Karch Kowalczyk, 12 SV, 0.36 ERA, 1-0, 25.0 IP, 7 BB, 17 K
RHP Cole Webb, 5-7, 3.59 ERA, 90.1 IP, 25 BB, 54 K
Game 1: No. 1 Indiana vs. No. 4 Valparaiso
Pitching Probables: RHP Aaron Slegers vs. RHP Cole Webb
Analysis: The Big Ten Champs’ hitting and pitching is just too much for the scrappy Crusaders. Indiana advances.
Projected Winner: Indiana
Game 2: No. 2 Austin Peay vs. No. 3 Florida
Pitching Probables: RHP Lee Ridenhour vs RHP Jonathan Crawford
Analysis: APSU’s pitching hasn’t been the best this season, but with their ace on the hill versus… well whoever Florida decides to throw, we like the Governors. While the Gators’ have a lot of young talent on the mound, the Governors are absolutely stacked with veteran talent at the plate. Advantage Governors.
Projected Winner: Austin Peay
Game 3: (Losers Bracket) No. 3 Florida vs. No. 4 Valpo
Probables: LHP Bobby Poyner vs. RHP Dalton Lundeen
Analysis: Valpo’s strength has been their pitching, but then again they haven’t faced SEC hitters. Florida should live to see another day.
Game 4: No. 1 Indiana vs. No. 2 Austin Peay
Probables: LHP Joey DeNato vs. RHP Casey Delgado
Analysis: In what could be the best game of the regional, Indiana will most likely throw junior lefty Joey DeNato on the mound against the Governors, while APSU sends hard throwing senior Casey Delgado. Delgado has been brilliant at times, and at others has shown why hitters are batting .280 against him this season. Indiana’s bats are the best in the Midwest and we like the match-up of Indiana’s offense against APSU’s pitching, rather than the other way around.
Game 5: (Consolation 2) No. 2 Austin Peay vs. No. 3 Florida
Probables: LHP Zach Hall vs. TBD
Analysis: To end the year, Florida had been going with freshman right-hander Eric Hanhold as their Sunday starter. However, Hanhold compiled an 0-4 record with 5.88 ERA so it remains to be seen whether Kevin O’Sullivan will give him the ball here. Zach Hall has been dependable for the Governors. The lefthander was 8-2 during the regular season with a somewhat elevated 4.68 ERA. However, we will give the advantage to the Governors’ line-up yet again as by this team the Gators will have to go even further down their depth chart.
Projected Winner: APSU
Bloomington Regional Final: No. 1 Indiana vs. No. 2 Austin Peay
Analysis: All season the Hooisers have proved doubters wrong and shown that a northern team can compete (and win) against the southern powerhouse teams. The Hoosiers are the deepest team, talent-wise, both at the plate and on the mound in Bloomington. Indiana is too talented not to win this regional and advance to the Super Regional against the winner of Tallahassee.
Projected Winner: Hoosiers