News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local Interest

May 22, 2012

Sycamores try to catch Missouri Valley Conference tourney vibe

TERRE HAUTE — A Missouri Valley Conference championship season has bloomed for the Indiana State baseball team in 2012. The Sycamores have been dominant through most of the season.

But it’s a near-unanimous belief among the Sycamores themselves that the seeds for 2012 were sown during a successful 2011 MVC Tournament run.

“It’s great to have as many guys back as we did from that tournament run. Until you’ve done it, you really don’t know what it’s all about and what to expect. Having that experience certainly doesn’t hurt,” infielder Koby Kraemer said.

ISU was the surprise at Omaha’s T.D. Ameritrade Park in 2011. The unfancied Sycamores were the No. 6 seeded-team, but they eliminated Illinois State and pushed Wichita State to the limit before finally bowing out one game away from the MVC Championship game.

This time, ISU heads to Missouri State — site of the 2012 MVC Tournament — as the No. 1-seeded team. The prize for the winner is the MVC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

In some ways, the vibe from 2011 to 2012 has changed. In other ways, it hasn’t.

“Every team gets to start over. That’s what we did last year. We told ourselves that the regular season was over, we could wipe it clean, and go for a regional bid,” ISU catcher Jeremy Lucas said “That’s what gave us the energy to play well. We’re going to have to do the same thing. We had a great season, but none of that matters until we win the tournament and get a guaranteed bid.”

ISU coach Rick Heller said the test ISU will have this year is to handle the pressure of being the favorite. The proverbial target is on the Sycamores’ backs. Heller said

“Nobody was worried about us [in 2011]. It’s a different deal when you get every team’s last effort,” Heller said. “For the other team, it’s just a nothing-to-lose type of feel. It makes teams play more at ease because they’re not expected to beat you. If you lose, big deal. It eases the pressure.”

No. 4-seeded Illinois State, No. 5-seeded Evansville and No. 8-seeded Creighton are in ISU’s group at the MVC Tournament. It is double-elimination within the group. The winner plays in a single-elimination championship game on Saturday.

Creighton (22-28, 6-14) is first for the Sycamores and the Bluejays — the defending champions — aren’t an easy mark despite their low seed.

“The team I didn’t want to play was Creighton because I know they’ve been looking forward to the tournament for a long time since they’ve been out of the race. Coach [Ed] Servais has been pumping them up with that,” Heller said.

Yes Servais has.

“It’s anybody’s opportunity on Tuesday. Records don’t mean anything at this time of year,” Servais said last Saturday after Creighton lost to Wichita State. “We match up with Indiana State well.”

Creighton will throw No. 1 starter Ty Blach against the Sycamores. ISU defeated Blach in a 6-3 victory in Omaha on April 6, a game in which Blach allowed five earned runs. Blach (5-5, 2.60) is usually more difficult to solve than that.

“Blach is a pretty hard thrower from the left side. It’s pretty rare. We’ve had some success against him. When we played against him, he didn’t have his best stuff,” Kraemer said.

ISU will go with No. 2 starter Sean Manaea today, but on the pitching front, ISU needs its bullpen to improve from recent performance. The Sycamores had a bullpen ERA of 7.88 against Missouri State. ISU’s ninth-inning ERA this season is 6.57. The Sycamores’ ERA is below four in every other inning.

Injury-wise, ISU is hoping to get infielder Jeff Miera back. Miera suffered an ankle injury against Wichita State on May 4. He is questionable for the MVC Tournament.

ISU last won the MVC Tournament in 1995.

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