TERRE HAUTE —
A Missouri Valley Conference championship season has bloomed for the Indiana State baseball team in 2012. The Sycamores have been dominant through most of the season.
But it’s a near-unanimous belief among the Sycamores themselves that the seeds for 2012 were sown during a successful 2011 MVC Tournament run.
“It’s great to have as many guys back as we did from that tournament run. Until you’ve done it, you really don’t know what it’s all about and what to expect. Having that experience certainly doesn’t hurt,” infielder Koby Kraemer said.
ISU was the surprise at Omaha’s T.D. Ameritrade Park in 2011. The unfancied Sycamores were the No. 6 seeded-team, but they eliminated Illinois State and pushed Wichita State to the limit before finally bowing out one game away from the MVC Championship game.
This time, ISU heads to Missouri State — site of the 2012 MVC Tournament — as the No. 1-seeded team. The prize for the winner is the MVC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
In some ways, the vibe from 2011 to 2012 has changed. In other ways, it hasn’t.
“Every team gets to start over. That’s what we did last year. We told ourselves that the regular season was over, we could wipe it clean, and go for a regional bid,” ISU catcher Jeremy Lucas said “That’s what gave us the energy to play well. We’re going to have to do the same thing. We had a great season, but none of that matters until we win the tournament and get a guaranteed bid.”
ISU coach Rick Heller said the test ISU will have this year is to handle the pressure of being the favorite. The proverbial target is on the Sycamores’ backs. Heller said
“Nobody was worried about us [in 2011]. It’s a different deal when you get every team’s last effort,” Heller said. “For the other team, it’s just a nothing-to-lose type of feel. It makes teams play more at ease because they’re not expected to beat you. If you lose, big deal. It eases the pressure.”
No. 4-seeded Illinois State, No. 5-seeded Evansville and No. 8-seeded Creighton are in ISU’s group at the MVC Tournament. It is double-elimination within the group. The winner plays in a single-elimination championship game on Saturday.
Creighton (22-28, 6-14) is first for the Sycamores and the Bluejays — the defending champions — aren’t an easy mark despite their low seed.
“The team I didn’t want to play was Creighton because I know they’ve been looking forward to the tournament for a long time since they’ve been out of the race. Coach [Ed] Servais has been pumping them up with that,” Heller said.
Yes Servais has.
“It’s anybody’s opportunity on Tuesday. Records don’t mean anything at this time of year,” Servais said last Saturday after Creighton lost to Wichita State. “We match up with Indiana State well.”
Creighton will throw No. 1 starter Ty Blach against the Sycamores. ISU defeated Blach in a 6-3 victory in Omaha on April 6, a game in which Blach allowed five earned runs. Blach (5-5, 2.60) is usually more difficult to solve than that.
“Blach is a pretty hard thrower from the left side. It’s pretty rare. We’ve had some success against him. When we played against him, he didn’t have his best stuff,” Kraemer said.
ISU will go with No. 2 starter Sean Manaea today, but on the pitching front, ISU needs its bullpen to improve from recent performance. The Sycamores had a bullpen ERA of 7.88 against Missouri State. ISU’s ninth-inning ERA this season is 6.57. The Sycamores’ ERA is below four in every other inning.
Injury-wise, ISU is hoping to get infielder Jeff Miera back. Miera suffered an ankle injury against Wichita State on May 4. He is questionable for the MVC Tournament.
ISU last won the MVC Tournament in 1995.
Sizing up ISU’s opponents
The Missouri Valley Conference baseball tournament uses a double-elimination format among four teams in two groups. Indiana State is in Group A and it includes No. 4-seeded Illinois State, No. 5-seeded Evansville and No. 8-seeded Creighton.
Here’s a capsule look at ISU’s Group A opponents:
Record — 31-17, 10-9 MVC
Season series against ISU — Sycamores won 2 of 3 at Warn Field from March 30-April 1.
Pitcher to watch — Relief pitcher Kenny Long has a 1.93 ERA, pitches from multiple arm angles and is experienced.
Batter to watch — Second baseman Kevin Tokarski is sixth on the Redbirds in batting average at .309, but he causes chaos in other ways. Tokarski is patient at the plate (37 walks) and has stolen 14 bases in 19 attempts.
Overview — Illinois State was the one of the few teams in the league that failed to achieve balance. The Redbirds can hit, as evidenced by their .280 league batting average, but Illinois State also had the second-worst league-only ERA at 5.06.
Record — 31-25, 10-11
Season series against ISU — Sycamores won 2 of 3 in Evansville from March 23-25.
Pitcher to watch — If ISU plays Evansville, it is likely to face No. 2 starter Kyle Lloyd. Lloyd was 5-3 with a 3.01 ERA and struck out nine Sycamores on March 24.
Batter to watch — Shortstop Eric Stamets is an Aces’ stalwart. He led the Aces with a .311 average and led the MVC with 30 stolen bases.
Overview — Like most other MVC teams, Evansville has pitchers that can lock down on any given day — the Aces had a league-only ERA of 4.14. Evansville was less consistent at the plate with a league-only batting average of .235 and just four home runs.
Record — 22-28, 6-14
Season series against ISU — Sycamores won 2 of 3 in Omaha from April 6-8.
Pitcher to watch — Given that No. 2 starter Erik Mattingly held the Sycamores hitless for nine innings on April 7, he might seem to be the choice, but ISU probably won’t see Mattingly. No. 1 starter Ty Blach was considered to be one of the best arms in the conference entering the season. He “struggled” with a 5-5 mark and 2.60 ERA.
Batter to watch — Third baseman Chance Ross is emblematic of the aggressive way the Bluejays play under Ed Servais. He hits (.287), he draws walks (25), he can bunt (six sacrificies) and he puts pressure on teams on the basepaths (13 steals).
Overview — Creighton — the defending league champion — had no pitching problems … the Bluejays had a league-only ERA of 3.54, third-best in the MVC. Hitting was another issue. The Bluejays batted just .215 in MVC play this year and had just 32 extra-base hits. If the Jays’ bats don’t wake up, it’ll be a short stay in the Ozarks.
— Todd Golden
MVC baseball tournament
At Missouri State
Double-elimination within group. Single-elimination championship game
Group A — No. 1 Indiana State, No. 4 Illinois State, No. 5 Evansville, No. 8 Creighton
Group B — No. 2 Missouri State, No. 3 Wichita State, No. 6 Southern Illinois, No. 7 Bradley
Tuesday (all times EDT)
Game 1 — No. 4 Illinois State (31-17, 10-9) vs. No. 5 Evansville (31-25, 10-11), 10 a.m.
Game 2 — No. 1 Indiana State (41-15, 14-7) vs. No. 8 Creighton (22-28, 6-14), 1:30 p.m.
Game 3 — No. 3 Wichita State (35-23, 12-9) vs. No. 6 Southern Illinois (28-27, 9-12), 5 p.m.
Game 4 — No. 2 Missouri State (37-18, 13-7) vs. No. 7 Bradley (26-25-1, 8-13), 8:30 p.m.
Game 5 — Game 1 vs. Game 2 losers, 10 a.m.
Game 6 — Game 3 vs. Game 4 losers, 1:30 p.m.
Game 7 — Game 1 vs. Game 2 winners, 5 p.m.
Game 8 — Game 3 vs. Game 4 winners, 8:30 p.m.
Game 9 — Loser Game 7 vs. Winner Game 5, 10 a.m.
Game 10 — Loser Game 8 vs. Winner Game 6, 1:30 p.m.
Game 11 — Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 9, 5 p.m.
Game 12 — Winner Game 8 vs. Winner Game 10, 8:30 p.m.
Game 13 — Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 9, 1:30 p.m.*
Game 14 — Winner Game 8 vs. Winner Game 10, 5 p.m.*
* if neccessary
Championship game, 8 p.m.