The situation is simple.
Indiana needs to put together a three-game winning streak beginning today or the 2015 baseball season will come to an end.
To do so, the Hoosiers will have to beat a Radford team that has only lost two games in the last 21. One of those losses, however, was a 7-1 setback against Indiana on Friday in a first round NCAA Tournament game in Nashville.
If IU can get past the Highlanders when the teams square off at 4 p.m. ET today, the Hoosiers would then have the daunting task of beating defending national champion Vanderbilt in back-to-back games to win the regional and advance.
The first of those games would be tonight at 8 p.m. ET. If IU could win, the two teams would play again tomorrow for the regional title.
There are lots of if’s here. But the reality is if the Hoosiers can take a ‘one-game-at-a-time’ mentality, stranger things have happened.
Here is what I think IU has going for it beginning with today’s game with Radford.
1. This is a confident group: Yes, the Hoosiers lost a heart breaker Saturday night on a two run home run with a one out in the top of the ninth in a 6-4 setback to host Vanderbilt, but if nothing else IU came out of the game feeling like it could play with the Commodores. That’s important. If IU can find a way to beat Radford Sunday afternoon, going into the Vanderbilt game with a confident attitude is going to help.
I asked Craig Dedelow on Saturday night after the loss how he thought the Hoosiers would bounce back. He was very matter of fact about it.
“I mean we are a great team and the last couple weeks our backs have been up against the wall, and we responded pretty well to that,’’ Dedelow said. “So, I think it will be pretty easy for us.”
2. This is an experienced IU baseball team: This is where experience can play a big role. This is IU’s third straight season to make the NCAA Tournament and just two years ago IU played in the College World Series. In fact, IU won its first game there before losing two in a row in Omaha and getting eliminated. But having had NCAA Tournament experience should help IU today. Compare that to a Radford team that is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. Radford lost to IU in the first game and then beat No. 4 seed Lipscomb on Saturday. Sure, the Highlanders will want revenge but Indiana will be a tough foe standing in the way.
3. Pitching is key in tournament situations: And you need a lot of it. And frankly, that has been IU’s strength this season. They have a lot of guys that can work some innings moving forward. Guys like Caleb Baragar, Evan Bell, Will Coursen-Carr and Jake Kelzer all come to mind. Ryan Halstead hasn’t been used out of the bullpen yet. Thomas Belcher was able to get a day’s rest. Luke Harrison is fresh after pitching just the one inning. Same is true for Austin Foote. It may very well be pitching-by-committee today but in that circumstance, one has to believe that Indiana gets some form of advantage.
How will the Hoosiers fare today? Hard to say. The 2015 season could very well come to an end at some point today at Hawkins Field at Vanderbilt.
But I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Indiana won a pair of games today and forced one more for the title on Monday night.