BLOOMINGTON -- Through coaching changes and different players, Indiana University baseball has set a standard this decade where playing into June is expected.
“That’s what we work every day for,” first-year IU coach Jeff Mercer said.
The Big Ten regular-season champion Hoosiers will make their ninth NCAA Tournament appearance in school history and seventh tournament appearance since 2009, when they face Illinois State on Friday in the Louisville Regional.
IU (36-21) earned the second seed in the regional with Illinois State (34-24) as the third seed. Top-seed Louisville (41-15) will face fourth-seed Illinois-Chicago (29-21). Start times of the games at Jim Patterson Stadium have yet to be determined.
The games will be close enough to home where IU will be capable of generating significant fan support. Last season, IU was sent to the Austin regional, winning a pair of games before being eliminated by host Texas.
“Hopefully, we have a lot of IU fans down there, cheering and supporting us,” Mercer said. “It’s nice for the families to go down and be a part of it.”
IU clinched the Big Ten title on the final day of the regular season, knocking off Rutgers 13-3 at Andy Mohr Field. But as the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament in Omaha last week, the Hoosiers were sent home quickly, dropping back-to-back games to Iowa (4-2) and Minnesota (9-4) in the double-elimination tournament.
“We have been a polarizing team throughout the whole season,” Mercer said. “And it’s usually, you look at it, to be completely honest, we’ll get right, we’ll get where we need to be at and we’ll play well for a couple weeks, and then we do some knucklehead things and we have go back and get back to the basics.”
Mercer said the silver lining of losing early in the Big Ten Tournament is it will give IU the flexibility to set up its pitching rotation for the best matchups in regional play. Senior righty Pauly Milto will likely start one of the first two games, Mercer said.
Junior outfielder Matt Gorski expects IU to be able to regroup quickly from its Big Ten Tournament performance.
“We just need to go in with the confidence that we’re a great team, and we’ve shown it throughout the year in the regular season,” Gorski said.
Mercer, who held a long practice with his team Monday, said in order for IU to advance, it will need to clean up some areas that were lacking last week, which includes defense and pitch selection. IU committed five errors in the two Big Ten Tournament games and struck out 20 times.
“The life of this team is now in the balance every time we go out to play,” Mercer said. “Someone is trying to end your life. They’re trying to end your season. Yhey’re trying to end your career, and we have to make sure we play with that urgency again.”
Louisville is the No. 7 national seed while East Carolina is the 10th national seed. If IU wins the regional, it will face the winner of the ECU regional, which includes ECU, Quinnipiac, Campbell and North Carolina State.