EUGENE, ORE. —
Nick Petree, Pierce Johnson, Ty Blach.
These aren’t just elite-level starting pitchers Indiana State’s baseball team faced this season. They comprise three of the last five pitchers the Sycamores faced period.
The Oregon Regional that ISU will be participating in starting today at Oregon’s PK Park embodies all that is college baseball in 2012. When the bats were neutered prior to the 2011 season, college baseball went from a power-oriented game to one predicated on pitching and small-ball offensive tactics at warp speed.
Austin Peay is the only team that doesn’t bring a strong three-man staff to Eugene and it’s the only team that doesn’t rely on moving runners via bunting, hit-and-runs and base stealing.
But the pitching is there in abundance. All three of Cal State Fullerton’s starters have earned-run averages under 4.00 and the team has an ERA of 3.09. Oregon also has three starters under 4.00 and has a team ERA of 3.02. ISU takes a back seat to no one as it has a team ERA of 3.18 and it has four starters with ERAs under 4.00.
Often times, a team like ISU can be overwhelmed by the pitching it sees at a regional. The Missouri Valley Conference’s pitching had ebbed and flowed in recent years.
But in 2012, the MVC’s pitching took a back seat to few leagues. The league’s overall ERA was 3.80. It’s just barely shy of the Pac 12’s 3.77 ERA — where Oregon plays. It’s better than the Big West Conference’s 4.00 ERA — home of Fullerton. It crushes the Ohio Valley Conference’s 5.63 ERA — where Austin Peay plies its trade.
Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook pleaded ignorance of the Sycamores when interviewed Thursday, but he knew all about the MVC’s pitching.
“Looking at Indiana State, I don’t know much about them and they don’t know much about us. But I heard about those Missouri State pitchers two weeks into the season. Someone told me that Missouri State has some dudes on the bump. And I’ve heard of the Creighton guy. They faced some good pitching,” Vanderhook said.
None of the Valley teams had a weak Friday starter this season, the first time that’s been the case for many years in the MVC. Petree was so electric that he was named the Louisville Slugger Player of the Year on Thursday.
ISU hit Petree hard when the Bears came to Terre Haute two weeks ago. ISU didn’t hit every MVC starter it faced, but it them as well as most teams did. It should serve the Sycamores well in Eugene this weekend.
“The pitching we saw in the last 10 days of the season is better than what we’re going to see in this regional, I really believe that. Not that we’re not going to see great arms, we are. We saw Petree, we saw Blach. I’m excited. As a coach, you want your team to have seen that,” ISU coach Rick Heller said.
ISU catcher Jeremy Lucas, who hit .361 in MVC games this season, said it wasn’t just the quality of pitching ISU faced, but the variety. Petree throws off-speed stuff from odd angles and multiple release points. Johnson is a fireballer par excellence. So was Blach.
“I feel like we faced every kind of pitcher college baseball has to offer. We faced the hard arms, the good arms, anything anyone has to offer. I feel confident that anyone on our team is going to be able to match up well,” Lucas said.
ISU’s battle-hardened lineup gives Heller a chance to preach an important lesson learned in his previous NCAA regional appearance.
Heller coached Northern Iowa to the NCAA Tournament in 2001. It was the Panthers’ only Division I appearance in the playoffs and it showed.
“We had some guys who didn’t play their best because they played the uniform and not the game. I’ve never stopped thinking about that,” Heller said. “It sits in my stomach today. Had they believed, we could have won that thing. I told the guys, ‘We can win this.’ If you believe, you can beat anyone.”
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.