Peoria, Ill. —
Most baseball fans know that the baseball season — even a college baseball season — is a marathon, not a sprint.
It’s not like basketball, and certainly not like football, where one loss can deep-six a season and NCAA Tournament aspirations. It’s all about how a team does over the grind of a near-60-game season.
The instant gratification or disappointment of a big win or loss in an isolated game inevitably gives way to the grind of compilation.
For a college baseball team, the primary week-to-week goal is to win its conference series. The little disappointments along the way really don’t matter so long as those two-out-of-threes and sweeps continue to be compiled.
Given that standard, Indiana State’s 28-9 overall record is great, but it’s not the most impressive achievement. ISU’s four Missouri Valley Conference series wins — three of which have come on the road — are.
ISU’s series wins over Evansville, Illinois State, Creighton and Bradley have carried the Sycamores into a first-place tie with conference favorite Missouri State. And with two of the three remaining MVC series to be played at Warn Field, the Sycamores are in great shape.
ISU’s close losses to Indiana on Wednesday and Bradley on Saturday were disappointing in the moment, but their effect may not live beyond those moments. And that’s how the Sycamores want it.
“It’s not make or break every single day. When you set your goals at the beginning of the season, you want to win every series. In the grand scheme of things, if you win every series, you’ve got a great chance at winning the conference. You have to keep your eye on the big picture and not get caught up in the ups and downs of each single game,” ISU junior infielder Koby Kraemer said.
It helps that ISU overflows with veterans who can keep the team on an even keel. ISU returned all of its position players and most of its bench from the 2011 season.
ISU starting pitcher Ryan Torgerson is one of the few newcomers to the team. He noticed right away that the Sycamores had the makeup to have a special season.
“The thing I noticed right away is the team chemistry we have. A few of us might get down, but there are 30 guys behind us keeping us up. We don’t let one loss stop us. The team chemistry I have here is like nothing I’ve ever had,” Torgerson said.
That team chemistry is forged in experience. The Sycamores have mastered the hardest of tricks — to not let a single loss knock them off-kilter for the seasonal goal.
ISU applied that attitude to Sunday’s 14-3 laugher over Bradley. ISU’s fall-from-ahead loss to the Braves on Saturday put it in a position to lose the series and could have sent them back to Terre Haute with lingering doubt.
With an eight-run second inning, ISU left no shadow of a doubt that it’s in it the MVC race for the long haul.
“After yesterday’s loss, it was over as soon as we walked out of the park. We were focused on today. We don’t dwell on games of the past,” ISU first baseman Jon Hedges said.
“Stuff like yesterday’s game and the loss at IU [on Wednesday], those games happen. Whenever we have a close game, if it doesn’t turn out our way, that’s just baseball, that’s our attitude. We have a ballclub that can push us into June and our record reflects that,” Hedges added.
ISU completed a 5-3 road swing that encompassed the first half of April and there are some enticing apples to be picked as ISU embarks on a 12-game homestand.
The biggest nonconference series in several years starts Friday against Dallas Baptist.
The Patriots may not have name recognition for casual fans, but they were an NCAA Tournament super-regional team in 2011 and are currently in the top 50 in college baseball RPI. ISU lingers just on the outside of the top 50 and a series win over Dallas Baptist would do wonders for the Sycamores’ at-large hopes.
“Dallas Baptist is a quality squad. It’s a good series to start the homestand. I think we’re all looking forward to getting home and to get off the road for a while,” Torgerson said.
While the opportunity in front of the Sycamores is exciting, its unlikely ISU’s players will get caught up in it.
The Sycamores are keeping their eyes on the prize — one series at a time.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please follow him on Twitter @TribStarTodd.