IU baseball has found right formula to NCAA success – Indianapolis Star
BLOOMINGTON – For years, when his office was still a hole in the wall off the east hallway at Assembly Hall, former Indiana University baseball coach Tracy Smith kept the future within arm’s reach.
Graphic renderings of the new stadium he had been promised, the one his program badly needed, sat near the end of his desk. For his staff, his players and his recruits, they were a reminder of the potential Smith saw in his program — a glistening field, a Midwest powerhouse, a Big Ten program consistently competing at the top end of college baseball.
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Smith has since moved on to Arizona State. And that stadium underwent multiple redesigns (and a few false starts) before it was finally built. But it’s fair to say the dream was realized, thanks to both Smith and the man who came after him.
This weekend stands as testimony.
“I think it’s huge,” Smith’s successor Chris Lemonis said this week, after his team landed an at-large NCAA tournament berth. “It says a lot about the program.”
Slotting in as the No. 2 seed in the Lexington regional, hosted by Kentucky, the Hoosiers open the weekend at 7 p.m. Friday, against No. 3-seed North Carolina State.
The trip is their fourth to the NCAA tournament in the past five seasons, and the fifth since 2008. The last two, both achieved under Lemonis’ guidance, have come at-large, meaning the Hoosiers landed both bids on their merits, not via the automatic qualifier of winning the Big Ten tournament.
When Smith was hired in 2005, Indiana hadn’t even qualified for the conference tournament, at the time a six-team field, since 2003. The Hoosiers had been to two NCAA tournaments in their history, and just one since 1950.
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But since Smith’s first NCAA trip as coach in 2009, the Hoosiers have landed in the field of 64 five times, better than any other team in the Big Ten. They’ve hosted two regional weekends, earned a national seed in 2014 and advanced all the way to the College World Series in 2013.
What Indiana has achieved now looks sustainable, from recruiting to scheduling to understanding how to build a quality postseason resume.
“We pride ourselves here in thinking we know what the formula is to making a regional,” senior center fielder Craig Dedelow said, “whether it be playing good teams early in nonconference, obviously going through hard workouts in the fall and preparing us for these tough stretches. I think yeah, we have a good formula here at Indiana to make a postseason run.”
A member of three of those NCAA tournament squads, the Munster native speaks from experience. Indiana’s home runs leader this season, Dedelow’s 17 put him just one behind Kyle Schwarber’s best-ever mark.
He could match or pass it this weekend, but he and his teammates will have to navigate a difficult regional.
Despite a downturn in form late in the season, Kentucky finished second in the SEC East, lost just five times at home all year and was at one point in the conversation for a national seed.
And the Wildcats are only a problem if Indiana can get past North Carolina State. Picked by one voter to win the ACC in the preseason, the Wolfpack struggled early, but won 13 of their last 15 regular-season games.
The Hoosiers will have to contend with a lineup including slugger Joe Dunand (16 home runs) and a staff featuring three starters with a sub-3.75 ERA. Just part of the prize for making the NCAA tournament a habit.
“They’re talented, very talented,” Lemonis said of N.C. State. “I think they were picked as one of the top teams in the country to start, had a rough start, but playing well now. It’ll be a good matchup for us.”
Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.