LEMONIS ANNOUNCES 2016 CAPTAINS
On Friday, 2nd-year manager Chris Lemonis announced that his ball club has selected its captains for the 2016 season. Seniors Kyle Hart, Jake Kelzer, and Brian Wilhite were chosen by their teammates to lead the squad.
In a press release, Lemonis said of the captains, "This shows a lot of respect for these three players and how they go about their business on and off the field." He continued, "These are three upper classmen that have played in a lot of big time atmospheres, and I'm looking forward to having them help lead this team. Even though our players selected these three captains, we still have a lot of leaders in that clubhouse."
Hart will be expected to provide the Hoosiers with an advantage on paper throughout the entire season. The undeniable ace on the roster, Hart returned from Tommy John surgery in 2015 and appeared in 10 games. He went 5-0 with a 1.21 ERA and was the catalyst for improved pitching that allowed the Hoosiers to come back from the dead and find its way into the NCAA tournament.
Kelzer was Indiana's best pitcher during the first half of the 2015 campaign, but a few rocky starts resulted in a late season move to the bullpen. Nonetheless, Kelzer led the team with 73.0 innings pitched and was drafted in the 14th round by the Chicago Cubs. To give the Hoosiers what they need to compete for a conference title, he'll have to become a huge part of a rotation that, from the outside, appears to have an ace and then a bunch of guys who could be the Saturday and Sunday starters.
Brian Wilhite started 2015 shakily, but by the end of the season, he had earned the starting role at 3rd base all for himself, leaving Isaiah Pasteur out of the mix in the postseason. Over the last few weeks of the season, Wilhite's offensive production was second only to Craig Dedelow who could have been brought to the Hague for war crimes for what he was doing to pitchers. And in the Nashville regional, Wilhite went 4-for-9 with 2 RBIs and scored 3 runs.
HOOSIERS GET A FAVORABLE CONFERENCE SCHEDULE
Last season, the Hoosiers caught a lousy break from the Big Ten schedule makers. The four conference schools that the Hoosiers didn't face -- Nebraska, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Purdue -- finished 8th, 9th, 10, and 13th (last, as Wisconsin does not have a baseball program) respectively. This year, however, Chris Lemonis and company have as favorable a schedule as one could ask for in this ever-improving baseball conference.
The Hoosiers won't see Ohio State, who finished 7th after a late season meltdown took them out of the championship hunt.
They won't see Maryland, who finished T-3rd in the Big Ten, then eliminated Indiana from the conference tournament before knocking off National #1 seed UCLA in Los Angeles and pushing eventual National Champion Virginia to the brink in the Super Regional.
They also won't play Michigan, who gave the Hoosiers all sorts of trouble at Bart Kaufman in the regular season stole the 3-seed in the conference tournament, and then won the dang thing.
Penn State is the 4th team not on the schedule, but that's not exciting.
What's more, the Hoosiers got what should be the two biggest series of the conference season at home. They'll face Iowa and Illinois, both of which swept Indiana last season, in Bloomington.
In the first six weeks of the conference season, Indiana will only face two teams who finished in the top-eight of the conference standings last season to qualify for the conference tournament -- Iowa (2-seed) and Michigan State (5-seed). Then they'll get Illinois, the defending Big Ten regular season champions, and Nebraska, a traditional heavyweight who is struggling to find itself in the Big Ten, over the last two weeks. Having those two opponents to end the slate, and the relatively easy stretch to being conference play, could very well allow the Hoosiers to control their own destiny in the conference race.
Here's Indiana's full conference schedule:
|April 8-10||Purdue||Bloomington, IN|
|April 15-17||Iowa||Bloomington, IN|
|April 22-24||Michigan State||East Lansing, MI|
|April 29-May 1||Northwestern||Bloomington, IN|
|May 6-8||Minnesota||Minneapolis, MN|
|May 13-15||Illinois||Bloomington, IN|
|May 19-21||Nebraska||Lincoln, NE|
The Hoosiers announced this morning, via Twitter, that they will release the full schedule throughout the day on social media.
CQ confirm that the program will announce a series at Cal State Fullerton from February 26-28 and home-and-homes with Cincinnati on March 29 and April 6, and Xavier on April 20 and 27.
Indiana has already announced that the club will open its 2016 season on February 19 at Middle Tennessee State.
This story will be updated.
UPDATE, 12:45 p.m.: Via @HoosierBaseball on Twitter, the program has now confirmed that Indiana will play at Cal State Fullerton at the end of February and that they will the Big Ten home opener will be April 8 against Purdue.
UPDATE, 3:40 p.m.: The program has now confirmed the Iowa and Northwestern series. But more importantly, they have released an April 26 date with Notre Dame at Victory Field, something previously unknown to CQ. This matchup is great for Indianapolis alumni of the two schools, as well as the players who get to play in the greatest minor league ballpark in America, which, to be honest, is better than at least five major league parks.
However, it should be slightly disappointing to see that this won't become a full series because, as we noted on Twitter earlier, we've looked at a lot of schedules for power programs, and now we're running out of potential marquee nonconference matchups at the Bart. At this point, Hoosier fans should be hoping to see at least a home-and-home with Louisville, a series with the College of Charleston, etc. So far, there just aren't any big nonconference matchups on the schedule outside of Fullerton. And if it stays that way, the Hoosiers won't have the luxury of playing garbage baseball for the better part of a month and still being able to fight their way into the tournament because of all the impressive wins.
UPDATE, 4:55 p.m.: The Hoosiers have now released the full 2016 schedule and it is underwhelming, to say the least. We will have full reaction to this schedule in the coming days.