EUGENE, Ore. —
If the end of Indiana State’s baseball season – when it went 0-2 in the NCAA Regional, lost six in a row and seven of its last eight games – is what is remembered by some Sycamores fans, well, that’s only human nature.
We tend to remember beginnings and ends more so than the whole.
But it’s also unfortunate and not always accurate. While the Sycamores did not end the 2012 campaign to the standard they had set for themselves, the truth is that the standard they set had been cemented by a season of excellence.
ISU won its first Missouri Valley Conference regular season championship – in the best MVC season since 1999 from an RPI standpoint. It finished with its first 40-win season (41-19) since 1992.
It claimed its first MVC Player of the Year in catcher Jeremy Lucas. It also claimed Newcomer of the Year with No. 1 starting pitcher Dakota Bacus.
Along the way, there were a 13-game winning streak, series wins on 12 consecutive weekends, series and/or midweek wins over NCAA Tournament teams Dallas Baptist and Missouri, and several other memories that served to make 2012 one of the best seasons in recent ISU memory.
The Sycamores accomplished all of this after being picked a pedestrian fourth by the MVC’s coaches and lower by some national publications in the preseason.
“Indiana State has had a strong tradition in the past, but it hasn’t been at this level for a long time. To get back there will definitely make it easier the next time,” ISU coach Rick Heller said.
What should probably be remembered most were the contributions of a large group of upperclassmen. Ten seniors have the legacy of a 138-87 mark during the last four seasons of the program.
Many of the upperclassmen were recruited by former coach Lindsay Meggs, but they shepherded a smooth transition to Heller, who augmented the team he inherited with players of his own, particularly on the pitching staff.
“It was pretty special for us. We made that run [at the 2011 MVC Tournament] and that made us come together for this year. We helped build it, now we want to make sure it goes farther next year,” Walterhouse said.
The legacy of those upperclassmen will be tested in 2013. There were four starters among the 10 seniors who are departing (Walterhouse, Kyle Burnam, Lucas Hileman and Jon Hedges), in addition to important relievers such as Reggie Hochstedler, Chris Machado and Brandon Dorsett.
In addition, it is a near certainty that starting pitchers Bacus and Ryan Torgerson will be taken in the Major League Baseball draft. Lucas is a near certainty to be drafted as well. Other Sycamores position players such as Rob Ort and Koby Kraemer are eligible to be drafted.
“These guys who are leaving us left a great legacy for the guys coming behind them. The guys I inherited did a tremendous job of buying in and playing the style I wanted to play. This is the group who took us over the hump,” Heller said.
In other words, the Sycamores have several holes to fill, but they do have enough returning players to form a nucleus.
Shortstop Tyler Wampler will anchor the infield. Kraemer – who has one year of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2010 season due to injury – could return too if he’s not drafted.
Landon Curry had a fine freshman season and could return to outfield duty presuming the team works with him in the offseason.
The starting pitching staff returns Sean Manaea, who had 115 strikeouts, tied for the third-best total in team history. Midweek starter Kyle Rupe figures to move into the weekend rotation next year.
Outfielders Owen Conway and Casey McCurdy also return. Infielder Jordan Pearson is a solid defensive option.
Two familiar transfers should contribute in 2013. Terre Haute native Jacob Hayes will be eligible after transferring from Ohio State. Hayes could fill Hedges’ starting spot at first. Robinson, Ill., native Derek Hannahs, who came to ISU with Hayes from the Buckeyes, could help solidify the infield.
Heller is excited about his recruiting class. Catcher Taylor Steen, from Grand Forks, N.D., might get a chance to fill Lucas’ starting spot at catcher.
Terre Haute North’s Tony Rosselli will join the fold, too, along with Evansville Mater Dei shortstop Hunter Owen. Junior college transfer Mike Fitzgerald could challenge for time at first base, along with Portage High School recruit Michael Jercha.
Pitchers coming aboard include junior college left-hander Jeff Degano, a Canadian by way of Marshalltown (Iowa) Community College. True freshmen Bobby Boynton (right-handed), Jeff Hackworth (left-handed) and Nick Martin (right-handed) are also Terre Haute-bound.
“We have a good nucleus in place. If we can make it back here, we’ll have a different feel when we get back here,” Heller said.