In advance of Stanford baseball’s upcoming NCAA regional in Bloomington, Indiana, The Daily’s Jordan Wallach chatted with Evan Hoopfer, a sports editor at The Indiana Daily Student, to get perspective on the Indiana Hoosiers, one of the Cardinal’s three opponents this weekend.
Jordan Wallach (JW): Last season, Indiana ended a postseason drought and clinched its first College World Series appearance in team history. How did fans and students back in Bloomington react to the team’s postseason run and how did their excitement manifest into different expectations for this season?
Evan Hoopfer (EH): Bloomington is behind this team. Crowds aren’t very student heavy though. Even though IU has had great attendance statistics this year, the students haven’t come out like they do for basketball or soccer. Head coach Tracy Smith said that when they built Bart Kaufman Field last year, he wanted to become Bloomington’s minor league franchise. And that is what I would compare it to — a minor league franchise.
Last season was pretty amazing with all the “first time ever” things that were happening. The Hoosiers weren’t even ranked in their 118-year history before last year. So expectations are definitely raised with this team, especially with all the top-tier talent on it. But honestly, it seems like the fans are still in the honeymoon phase. If IU doesn’t make it back to Omaha, sure, there will be some displeasure. But it will be nothing like the vitriol and flat-out hatred that the fans can have during basketball season. Bloomington has essentially been a basketball town in a basketball state since its inception. A good baseball team is something new to them, and they are still enjoying it and learning the game of baseball along the way.
JW: After being ranked No. 3 in the preseason, Indiana got off to a disappointing 12-10 start, but turned it around to go 30-3 afterwards. What do you think was the reason for the team’s slow start out of the gate and more importantly, how did the team turn it around?
EH: I spoke to Smith after that loss to Indiana State back on March 26 that dropped them to 12-10 and he said he told the team, “Well, you’ve seen the light. It can’t get worse than this.” He mentioned that he also told his team that they had probably played their way out of a national seed, so they might as well just get that off their mind and start playing baseball. After that rocky start, [the team] rattled off sweeps of Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State and started hitting their groove. They didn’t like having the target on their back in the beginning of the season, and it showed. Indiana baseball isn’t used to being in the national spotlight. Plus, they played a killer non-conference schedule. That ability to stop pressing and the ease of the Big Ten compared to their non-conference schedule allowed IU to go on this tear that they are on right now.
JW: In such a fast-paced regional where teams could potentially play five games in four days, what is the current state of Indiana’s pitching staff and how has its rotation developed throughout the season?
EH: The pitching staff is nothing like it was in the beginning of the season, but it’s been historically good. Going into the season their weekend rotation was Joey DeNato, Kyle Hart and Will Coursen-Carr. DeNato has been superb. He’s 12-1 with a 1.77 ERA and just been ridiculous. He’s set the IU career records in wins, strikeouts and innings pitched this season. But the other starters aren’t in the weekend rotation anymore. After winning back-to-back Big Ten Pitcher of the Week awards, Kyle Hart had Tommy John surgery back in the beginning of April. And Will Coursen-Carr has gone through some major confidence issues and just can’t find the strike zone anymore.
Filling in for them are Christian Morris, who was named first team All-Big Ten, and Brian Korte, who is 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA over 38.1 IP. Smith said after practice today that he will probably hold DeNato until Saturday to face the winner of Indiana State-Stanford instead of throwing him against Youngstown State. So Smith doesn’t know exactly what the rotation will be. But the pitching staff has been insane. IU didn’t allow a Big Ten opponent this entire season to score over four runs in a game. That’s 28 conference games of allowing four runs or under to opponents.
JW: What are Indiana’s other strengths and weaknesses?
EH: With all that said about the pitching staff, IU’s strength is their hitting. Catcher Kyle Schwarber and first baseman Sam Travis will have their names called in the MLB Draft pretty soon. Schwarber is a projected top-20 pick and Travis just won Big Ten Player of the Year and is listed as a top-100 prospect. They are both heavy sluggers. They rank first and second in the Big Ten in homers — Schwarber with 12 and Travis with 10. And third baseman Dustin DeMuth was drafted in the ninth round last year by the Twins but opted to come back for his senior season. He’s more of a hit-for-average guy, as he’s leading the Big Ten with a .381 average this year and a .455 on-base percentage. In total, six Hoosiers in the starting lineup hit over .300. They can outslug just about any team.
The low-scoring affairs are where the team could potentially get caught up. The Hoosiers’ closer tandem of Jake Kelzer and Scott Effross has been great, but they are a freshman and a sophomore, respectively. All-time IU saves leader Ryan Halstead went down with a torn ACL on March 5, so Kelzer and Effross have taken over. I’d like to see the young guys close in a pressure situation before I anoint them the next Halstead. That’s the biggest potential weakness I see in this team.
JW: How do you see the regional playing out for Indiana?
EH: I think this regional shaped up real well for IU. I would be surprised if they didn’t come away with a sweep from this weekend. Bart Kaufman will be rocking, and the weather is supposed to be pretty warm so the bats should do just fine. My prediction is a 3-0 weekend for the Hoosiers.
Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’ stanford.edu.