TERRE HAUTE —
Forty-eight teams had been chosen for the NCAA Baseball Tournament Selection Show and things were getting antsy in the Indiana State clubhouse on Monday.
Pensive Sycamores, some wearing rally caps for good mojo, looked on as fellow bubble teams College of Charleston and Michigan State punched their tickets into the 64-team NCAA field. The wait wouldn’t be long for the Sycamores to experience ecstasy or devastation.
As the Oregon Regional was about to be announced on the telecast, one of the Sycamores’ players broke the silence and said, “send us to Oregon.”
No pre-NCAA Tournament projection had the Sycamores going to Oregon. Not a single one.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee, however, did.
After five tense days on the NCAA Tournament bubble, ISU got sweet relief, and received an at-large bid to the NCAA baseball tournament.
The Sycamores — seeded third in the four-team regional — will play second-seeded Cal State-Fullerton at 5 p.m. Friday at PK Park in Eugene, Ore. Top-seed Oregon hosts fourth-seeded Austin Peay in Friday’s nightcap.
ISU is in the tournament for the first time since 1995 and it is just the second at-large baseball bid in team history, the other came in 1987. It is the first at-large bid for any ISU team since men’s basketball received was selected to participate in the 2000 Tournament.
“The more and more we kept watching it we were getting nervous, but our name popped up. It was one of the best feelings ever. We had a great season. We knew we were deserving of it and we knew if we got the chance to go we’d make some noise,” ISU catcher Jeremy Lucas said.
The Sycamores watched the selection show behind closed doors, but their jubilant post-selection celebration was captured on video and is currently on Youtube. Selection to the tournament was a load off the Sycamores’ shoulders as they nervously awaited their fate after an unexpectedly quick exit from the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
“It is absolutely unbelievable. Words can’t describe it. We thought we’d be in that Gary Regional, which was about to be announced, then we find out we’re going to Oregon? None of us were expecting it. It was a swarm of emotion,” ISU senior first baseman Jon Hedges said.
While the Sycamores were cautiously confident the NCAA Tournament would be their destination, the site came as a surprise. Every tournament projection had ISU slotted in the Purdue Regional, which will take place in Gary.
“That was crazy. I think our name was on the screen for about three seconds before we realized it. It was an amazing feeling,” ISU senior left fielder Kyle Burnam said.
It’ll be the first time ISU has played on a state bordering the Pacific Ocean since 2000. Oddly, if ISU survives the double-elimination Oregon Regional and plays in a Super Regional, it will play the Purdue Regional winner.
ISU coach Rick Heller — three years removed from having his program eliminated at Northern Iowa and now NCAA Tournament-bound — was perhaps the only person not surprised to be headed out West.
“It was a lot of excitement and relief we were in the field, but part of me didn’t think we’d get to sent to a regional with Purdue and Valpo [both of whom are playing in Gary]. Traditionally, they don’t do that. A small part of me thought we’d go somewhere. The Valley gets sent out West a lot, so it wasn’t a total surprise,” Heller said.
ISU was one of three MVC teams to make the field — Missouri State and Creighton were the others — the league’s highest tally since 2000. ISU was very much on the bubble for selection to the tournament. NCAA selection committee chairman Kyle Kallander said during the Selection Show that ISU was one of the last teams included in the field.
While ISU (41-17) was jubilant to make the field, the Oregon Regional itself is daunting.
Fullerton (35-19) is a four-time College World Series champion, most recently in 2004. The Titans were considered to have an outside shot at hosting a regional themselves and their RPI was at 20 as of Monday.
The Titans’ pitching staff has a team ERA of 3.09. Dylan Floro (10-3, 2.52), Graham Wiest (5-5, 2.78) and Kenny Mathews (6-2, 3.68) lead the way for the Big West Conference champions.
One man who is very familiar with the Titans is ISU volunteer assistant coach Ronnie Prettyman. The son of ISU Director of Athletics Ron Prettyman, the younger Prettyman was the third baseman on the Titans’ 2004 championship team. He scored the winning run for the Titans in the clinching CWS game against Texas.
“These guys have worked hard and committed to getting the job done everyday. I can’t say enough about how grateful to give me a chance to face off against two of my former coaches,” Ronnie Prettyman said.
Oregon (42-17) is seeded fifth nationally and is coached by George Horton, Prettyman’s former coach at Fullerton. The Ducks revived their program in 2009 after baseball had been dropped at Oregon after the 1981 season, so their rise to national prominence was rapid. Oregon finished runner-up in the powerful Pac-12 Conference.
Austin Peay (38-22) won the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament and were regular season co-champions. ISU and Austin Peay have played frequently and ISU has a 22-14 series lead over the Governors. Austin Peay won the most recent meeting in 2010.
The games at the Oregon Regional will not be telecast. It is not known at press time whether the games will be streamed online.
Video of ISU’s Selection Show celebration is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjWby5qW7z0
Friday (all times EDT)
Game 1 — No. 3 Indiana State (41-17) vs. No. 2 Cal-State Fullerton (35-19), 5 p.m.
Game 2 — No. 4 Austin Peay (38-22) vs. No. 1 Oregon (42-17), 9 p.m.
Game 3 — Friday losers, 5 p.m.
Game 4 — Friday winners, 9 p.m.
Game 5 — Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 3 p.m.
Game 6 — Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 7 p.m.
Game 7 — Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 6, 9 p.m.*