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May 26, 2014

Sycamores close to home for NCAA baseball regional

ISU plays Stanford at 2 p.m. Friday at Indiana

TERRE HAUTE — When Indiana State's baseball team went two-and-out on its home field in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, there was a nervous energy around the Sycamores.

ISU thought it had done enough to get into an NCAA baseball regional, but they feared the side effect of their flat MVC Tournament fade would mean a lower seed and a trip away from friendly regional sites such as Indiana.

When the NCAA Tournament pairings were revealed Monday, it showed that their worries were unfounded.

ISU will play in the Bloomington Regional at Indiana and will do so as the No. 2 seed in the four-team regional field. ISU (35-16) will take on Stanford (30-23) at 2 p.m. Friday at IU's Bart Kaufman Field.

The host Hoosiers (42-13) will play No. 4 seed Youngstown State. The Penguins (16-36, 270 RPI) were the surprise Horizon League tournament champions. The IU-YSU game is at 7 p.m. Friday.

"We battled through not having four or five arms in the mound [in preseason], but this team kept battling and refused to make excuses," ISU coach Mitch Hannahs said. "I think the other side is that I was hopeful for our guys as we didn't want to finish with how we represented [in the conference tournament]. We want to go out and play baseball like we played throughout the year."

ISU's players gathered in the Bob Warn Field clubhouse to watch the selection show. Unlike 2012, when ISU was very much on the bubble and was one of the last teams chosen, the Sycamores felt more comfortable this time around, though it didn't mean they were relaxed.

"It was kind of nerve-wracking. It wasn't even that far into a show and I turned to Connor [McClain] and I told him I was nervous. I was exciting getting a bid and it's cool to play near home. Stanford's a big name and it's cool to play them. Hopefully, a lot of people will come see us," ISU right fielder Jacob Hayes said.

ISU went to Oregon in 2012 and this trip will obviously be more manageable. The Sycamores will practice at Kaufman Field on Thursday, but will otherwise have a routine week.

Hannahs is glad the Sycamores are playing close to home, but was ready for anything when it came to site and seed.

"From the standpoint of friends and family, it's a convenience. I don't think at any point, especially late in the season, where we were worried about where we'd be at. We just wanted the opportunity to play," Hannahs said. "We're not going to apologize for our No. 2 seed, but it means very little if you're a two or a three."

ISU plays a Cardinal team that removed itself from the NCAA bubble with a hot finish. Stanford was 11-4 in May and won its final four games of the season. The Cardinal tied for fifth in the Pac-12 Conference and needed a season-ending sweep at Utah to ensure a winning conference mark. The Pac-12 doesn't have a conference tournament.

Stanford is similar to ISU statistically as both teams depend on pitching. ISU is ranked 47th nationally with a 3.23 ERA, Stanford is 76th at 3.45. Neither team is in the top 100 in hitting. ISU has a slight edge (.274 to .269) in batting average.

It will be ISU's first meeting against the perennial Pac-12 power. ISU lost three of four to end its season and wants badly to get back on-track.

"We need to get back to playing, having fun, and competing as a team. We kind of had a lull at the end of the season, but we're getting our focus back in practice, and we're ready to have a good weekend," ISU relief pitcher Ryan Keaffaber said.

Players said ISU's practices during the last two days were some of the hardest its had all season.

One area Hannahs wouldn't commit to was how ISU's rotation would be set for the regional. ISU's top two starters -- David Stagg and Brad Lombard -- struggled a bit down the stretch.

"I don't think at this point the plan is to sit in the rotation we had all year. We want to put the guy on the mound that gives us the best opportunity against that opponent at that time," Hannahs said.

ISU will play in its ninth NCAA Tournament. ISU went 0-2 at Oregon in 2012 and last won a game in a NCAA regional in 1995.

The winner of the Bloomington Regional will play the winner of the Nashville Regional in a super-regional. Vanderbilt, Oregon, Clemson and Xavier comprise the Nashville Regional field.

n Tickets -- According to information provided by ISU via Indiana, there will be 200 tickets held behind ISU's dugout for teams and fans to purchase. Tickets cost $12. Teams have until 10 a.m. Friday to purchase the tickets before they're released to the general public.

All-session tickets cost $84 for reserved chair backs for adults and $49 for youth. Reserved bleachers are $70 adults, $35 youth. General admission is $56 adult and $21 youth.

Single game chair back tickets cost $16 for adults and $11 for youth.  Reserved bleachers are $13 adult, $8 youth. General admission is $11 adult, $6 youth.

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