The Hoosiers steamrolled their conference this season, losing only three times along the way to their second straight regular season title. No one questioned the Hoosiers' conference dominance, but an interesting scheduling decision prevented them from quieting all claims to the B1G throne. The second-place team in the conference, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, were not on the Hoosiers' schedule, and unless they squared off in the conference tournament, we wouldn't have the opportunity to see how they measured up against each other.
This afternoon, that all changed.
The Hoosiers doubled up the Cornhuskers by a score of 8-4 thanks to some timely 2-out hits and some clutch pitching performances. Jake Kelzer, in particular, came up huge for the Hoosiers as he waited out a 42 minute weather delay and returned to the mound to polish off the last out of the inning. The delay came with 2 outs in the 7th, with the current batter in an 0-2 count and runners on first and second. Normally, a delay that long will prompt a new pitcher but Kelzer stayed warm with a heating pad and some light tossing, according to Tracy Smith. He fielded his position excellently, squeezing a glove-side one-bounce comebacker and tossing to first for the final out.
As far as the offense, well, they struck first and they struck early, leaving the score 3-0 in favor of the good guys before Nebraska would tie it up later. Indiana wouldn't be without the lead for very long, as Kyle Schwarber did something to a baseball that they probably shouldn't show on daytime television. THINK OF THE CHILDREN, BIG TEN NETWORK.
Indiana's Kyle Schwarber just absolutely crushed a home run and then showed some "swag" with the bat flip. WATCH http://t.co/AryGAcW7NG— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) May 25, 2014
The ensuing batflip might have made Yasiel Puig blush, and prompted this exchange between myself and fellow TCQ writer, Ben R.:
Nebraska seemed to get runners on in nearly every inning, as the Hoosier pitching staff was forced to pitch around dangerous situations for several innings, making a 7-4 lead seem a lot smaller. The vast and decidedly pro-Nebraska crowd in attendance added to the feeling, as the Cornhusker faithful would rise to their feet during any semblance of the start of a rally. It was an incredible atmosphere for the Hoosiers to compete in, and the fact they punched their ticket to the tournament in spite of it shows a lot about this team.
Despite all of that, my favorite play of the game was Will Nolden tagging up from second and going to third on a deep flyout to left field. It's a risky play to do when your only reward is third base with two outs, but it put him in position to score on the ensuing wild pitch. It's those little things that, to me, reflect how heady this entire roster is and, make no mistake, it starts at the top. This is a veteran roster who has bought into what their head coach is selling and after a few years of marinating, are really ready to compete with the elite of college baseball. The chance at a national title is very, very real.
Should they return to Omaha, they can do so with the memory of how this park didn't stifle their offense this weekend. The Hoosiers scored 25 runs in 4 games and did so in a variety of ways, be it from playing a little small ball or Kyle Schwarber obliterating the living daylights out of some poor baseball that probably hasn't even landed yet. Granted, should they come back to TD Ameritrade, the pitching staffs that will await them will, likely, be a lot better than what they saw in the B1G Tournament.
One negative note: in both Saturday and Sunday's game, the Hoosiers infield committed an error in a big spot. They would later recover from both but errors in the CWS will absolutely bury them if they commit them at the wrong times. Their infield defense was a question mark coming into the season and they've answered the bell for the most part, it would be awful to see this rear its ugly head during the most important part of the year.
Regardless, these guys play hard and questions about the infield defense aside, they are talented enough to achieve what they've wanted all along. As I watched them manhandle team after team this weekend, while also photo-bombing sideline interviews and dancing on buses, I kept coming back to the mantra that Tracy Smith repeated in my interview with him:
"Take your job seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously."
This Hoosiers team has embodied that.
Regional hosts are announced tonight, and the NCAA Tournament selection show will be tomorrow at noon on ESPNU. It would be a fairly gigantic upset for the Hoosiers to not be named one of the eight national seeds, but it isn't decided until it's decided.