TERRE HAUTE —
First place is there is for the taking for Indiana State's baseball team this weekend … so is redemption.
ISU opens a three-game series with Missouri State at 6:30 p.m. tonight. ISU has a 11⁄2-game lead in the Missouri Valley Conference over the Bears.
If the Sycamores win one game in the series, they will clinch their first MVC regular season baseball championship since 1985.
If it feels like déjà vu, it is. ISU was in the same boat against the same opponent in 2009 — and failed to win a single game against the Bears. In fact, ISU failed to win a single game for the remainder of the 2009 season as it went 0-for-the-MVC Tournament as well.
That was then and this is now. At least ISU hopes so.
“As veterans, we need to make the team understand it’s not going to be given to us and it’s not going to be easy. We have to take it when the opportunity presents itself. I think we’ll be ready to play this weekend,” said ISU senior left fielder Kyle Burnam, one of three players left from the 2009 team.
One notable difference between 2009 and 2012 is that the conference-deciding series is in Terre Haute instead of Springfield, Mo. The Sycamores will have the benefit of clinching on its home field, where it has lost just four out of 21 games this season.
Another notable difference between 2009 and 2012 is pitching. Baseball has changed since 2009 with less-explosive bats, but it doesn’t complete account for ISU’s pitching improvement. The Sycamores were last in the MVC in 2009 with an ERA of 5.94.
ISU had no starter with an ERA below 4.76 in 2009. This year, all three of ISU’s weekend rotation are below 3.09, along with fourth-starter Kyle Rupe. ISU’s team ERA is 3.03, second-best in the league.
Missouri State (35-17, 11-6) has an excellent pitching staff of its own. The Bears have a MVC-best team ERA of 2.56.
The Sycamores will also have to solve a Rubik’s Cube no other MVC team has figured out all season — MSU No. 1 starter Nick Petree.
Petree, the MVC’s Freshman of the Year last season, has an ERA of 0.00 in MVC action. He currently has a remarkable scoreless innings streak of 38 innings and an unearned run streak of 721⁄3 innings.
Scoreless innings is not an official record kept by the NCAA, but Petree has shattered the unofficial mark held by Tennessee’s Todd Helton, who went 471⁄3 innings without an earned run in 1994. Helton is still playing in the majors as a first baseman for the Colorado Rockies.
Petree does not have an overpowering fastball. He has baffling off-speed stuff and talismanic breaking balls. He throws from multiple arm angles and has the savvy to throw the right pitch at the right time.
“He pitches from the first base side of the rubber and throws from a backwards angle from what right-handers usually throw. It’s a funky angle. He’s got a quick arm and his change-up drops right off the table. His slider is good too. He’s tough to hit,” ISU coach Rick Heller said.
ISU (40-13, 13-5) comes into the game fresh off a disappointing 10-inning 2-1 loss Tuesday to Purdue in which the Boilermakers tied the game in their last at-bat. The Sycamores had runners on in eight innings, but only scored during one of them.
Whatever happens in the Missouri State series, ISU will either have the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the MVC Tournament, which begins next Tuesday at Missouri State. Spots in the rest of the conference are wide-open, there is just a 41⁄2 game-game gap between third-place and eighth-place.
ISU is also hoping to protect serve if it needs a NCAA Tournament at-large bid. As of press time, ISU had a RPI of 44. Most college baseball experts believe that’s good enough for the Sycamores to make the field. But ISU’s position is still precarious and a late-season swoon would damage
“During our captain’s meeting, we talked about one pitch at a time. You can’t think ahead and think we just need one. Baseball doesn’t work that way. It’s going to have to be execution and locked in to the way you play all the time. We’re playing a great team with awesome pitching. We’ll be ready,” Heller said.
n Special ticket price — ISU will sell single-game general admission seating for $2 and chairback seats for $5 for this weekend's series.
Pitching matchups for the Indiana State-Missouri State series:
Today (6:30 p.m.)
ISU RHP Dakota Bacus (6-3, 2.09) vs. MSU RHP Nick Petree (10-2, 0.58)
Friday (6:30 p.m.)
ISU LHP Sean Manaea (5-1, 3.09) vs. MSU RHP Cody Schumacher (7-1, 4.02)
Saturday (1 p.m.)
ISU RHP Ryan Torgerson (8-2, 3.04) vs. MSU RHP Pierce Johnson (2-6, 2.85)