The Indiana baseball season kicks off today just outside of Phoenix, Arizona. Beginning at noon E.T. the Hoosiers will play two, starting with the Oregon State program that knocked IU out of the 2013 College World Series.
At. 4:00 p.m. Indiana will meet Gonzaga. Those two teams will meet again on Sunday and a rematch with Oregon State will be played on Monday before Indiana returns to Bloomington. The games are part of the Surprise College Basketball Classic in Surprise, Arizona.
"We've set up our schedule to play some of the nation's best and to really test us," head coach Craig Lemonis said this week.
The program is coming off a 32-24 season that that kept Indiana out of the NCAA tournament after three straight appearances,
This Wednesday it was announced by the Big Ten that Indiana was picked to finish fourth in the league based on voting by the conference coaches.
Three Hoosiers were named this week to the Players to Watch list. Senior outfielder Craig Dedelow, second baseman Luke Miller and veteran outfielder Logan Sowers.
Dedelow returned to Indiana after being was selected by Pittsburgh in the 34th round of the 2016 MLB Draft. The Munster native was the team's offensive MVP last year after leading the Hoosiers in batting average (.302), hits and runs scored.
Last year Miller was named a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American after 51 starts where he batted .284. The Muncie native came on late, batting .333 in Big Ten games, 10th in the conference.
Sowers was voted the team MVP after a sophomore season that saw him lead the team in slugging percentage, on base percentage and home runs (8).
Indiana went 15-9 in the Big Ten season last year, earning the No. 3 seed in the postseason league tournament in Omaha. This year that same tournament will be hosted by Indiana at Bart Kaufman Field beginning on May 24.
Maryland was selected as the preseason Big Ten followed in the preseason poll by Michigan and Nebraska. After Indiana the coaches had Michigan State and Iowa and Minnesota tied for sixth place. There are 13 men's baseball programs in the Big Ten and only eight qualify for the postseason league tournament. All 13 teams open their seasons today.
The Hoosiers were originally scheduled to play Duke to open the season but that changed earlier this week and a second game against Oregon State was added to keep this a four-game trip.
Indiana's season will in large part depend on the development of a young pitching staff followed the departure of veterans like Kyle Hart, Scott Effross and Jake Kelzer.
Earlier this week Lemonis said his Friday starters would be right-hander Jonathan Stiever and left-hander Tim Herrin. Stiever went 1-1 last year as freshman and sported a 2.47 ERA in 18 appearances. He made four starts last season. Herrin is a big 6-foot-5, 212 pounder who only threw three innings as a freshman last year, allowing no runs and just one hit.
Sunday's starter will be freshman lefty Andrew Saalfrank and Monday the current plan is to throw out junior right-hander Brian Hobbie. As a sophomore Hobbie posted a 2.08 ERA in 8.2 innings. He was 3-1 as a freshman, starting three times and was Big Ten Freshman of the Week after winning his first start against Eastern Michigan and later following with a relief win against Cal State Fullerton.
"I feel like we kind of have two different teams in some ways," Lemonis said. "We have a very older, mature lineup that a lot of our fans and media know about. Then we have a very young pitching staff, but a talented pitching staff."
Next weekend the team will travel to Boca Raton, Florida for a three game series against Florida Atlantic. The team's Big Ten opener will be the first of a three-game series at Northwestern on March 24th.
Talk about the team on our Hoosier baseball forum.