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May 8, 2014

ISU baseball focused on taking care of business

NCAA talk not a distraction

TERRE HAUTE — With every passing day, the college baseball season gets a little bit older … and Indiana State’s baseball Ratings Percentage Index keeps staying at the same stage.

No one should be dazed or confused about the possibilities that are within reach of the Sycamores as the season turns for the home stretch. According to warrennolan.com, which tracks college baseball RPI on a daily basis, ISU is ranked 20th as it begins its penultimate Missouri Valley Conference series against Missouri State at 6:30 p.m. tonight at Bob Warn Field.

ISU (30-13) is well within RPI range of achieving an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. ISU’s 9-7 road win at Ball State on Wednesday, a team ranked comfortably inside the RPI top 100, only cemented the Sycamores’ lofty RPI status.

Few would have predicted prior to the season — when ISU was picked seventh in the MVC and had major pitching rotation questions — that a NCAA Tournament run was going to be in the cards.

ISU has seven regular season games left plus the MVC Tournament which the Sycamores host this season. It’s only natural to think of the NCAA Tournament possibilities, even to think ISU could play close to home in Bloomington, as Indiana’s strong season has it in position to be a regional host. ISU is included in all projected NCAA Tournament fields of 64, including those done by Baseball America and Perfect Game USA.

It’s a dream scenario, but ISU coach Mitch Hannahs prefers to let others dream NCAA Tournament dreams for him as he takes the wait-and-see approach.

“We’ve got to be able to play the rest of the way out. We can’t worry about those things on the outside. We’ll let [the media] worry about those things and hopefully our guys can stay focused,” Hannahs said.

ISU’s players — 12 of them are battle-tested after having gone through ISU’s 2012 NCAA Tournament campaign — have taken Hannahs’ approach to heart.

“We’re not focused on RPI or anything else but to show up at the diamond and play our best. If it’s good enough, we’ll come out with a win. If not, we go back to work,” ISU center fielder Landon Curry said.

Missouri State (21-25, 7-8) certainly isn’t going to lie down for the Sycamores. The Bears have been a thorn in the Sycamores’ side — ISU last won a series against Missouri State in 2010 and has lost the series in five of the last six seasons — and they come off their own solid mid-week win as Missouri State beat NCAA bubble team Kansas 5-3 on Wednesday.

ISU (9-6 MVC) is tied with Dallas Baptist and Wichita State for third place in the MVC. The Sycamores are two games behind leader Evansville and one behind Illinois State. The Purple Aces and Redbirds play each other this weekend.

The status of starting third baseman Cody Zimmerman will be made at game time. Zimmerman hurt his ribs on April 25 and re-aggravated the injury during Wednesday’s batting practice. Hannahs hopes for the best with Zimmerman and also hopes ISU can improve in other areas. One that jumped out Wednesday, despite the victory, was the 15 runners the Sycamores left on-base.

“We’ve got a lot of little things that we didn’t execute very well [on Wednesday] that we have to clean up. We have to continue to get better. That’s the focus for our club,” Hannahs said.

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