If we're being honest, there's no way to describe the 2016 Indiana baseball season other than disappointing.Throughout every stretch of the season, it was hard to get excited for what was happening and what lied ahead.
Disappointment the day the schedule was released. Kentucky would be the best team to step into the confines of Bart Kaufman Field, and Cal State Fullerton and Louisville were set to provide the only other four opportunities to impress in the non-conference.
Disappointment in the early season results. Six straight losses after an opening day win, which eventually led to a paltry 16-13 non-conference record against the likes of Middle Tennessee State and Toledo.
Disappointment during Big Ten play. Not even a 13-5 or 15-6 start could push the Hoosiers any higher than 95 in in the RPI, preventing them from ever even flirting with an at-large bid.
And a disappointing ending. Six losses over the final seven games, including dropping a three-game set at Nebraska after scoring a total of one run with the Big Ten regular season title on the line, and managing just two hits in an elimination game with Maryland.
There was so much promise. This team had the best pitcher in the Big Ten taking the ball every Friday night, and two other senior starters who were primed to go five or six inning each night and then get the ball to two of the best relievers in the league. And in a bad baseball league having a down year, that alone should have been enough to compete for a title. And it was, because that alone is what the Hoosiers had going for them.
The biggest disappointment in a season full of them was the offense and the lack of production from veterans and experienced youngsters.
Of the five returning players who had 75 or more at-bats in 2015, only Logan Sowers had a better batting average in 2016, and in the cases of Craig Dedelow, Austin Cangelosi, and Isaiah Pasteur, the averages took 23-, 23-, and 22-point drops.
The Hoosiers did see a light increase in power, hitting 36 homers in 2016 after belting 33 in 2015. But all other production numbers were down. The team's batting average dropped from .274 to .257. In three fewer games, they scored 46 fewers runs, down to 270 from 316 a year ago, dropping their runs per game over half a run, from 5.35 to 4.82. Slugging and on-base percentages were also down.
It wasn't all bad, though. The new position players on the roster -- Luke Miller, Alex Krupa, Ryan Fineman, Scotty Bradley, and Tony Butler -- all showed some flashes that have to be encouraging for next season. Miller and Krupa both hit over .280, while Fineman and Bradley hit .268 and .257, respectively, while displaying a knack for big hits in big moments. And Tony Butler, though he only hit .229, played an errorless season at 2nd base.
Still, while the future may not be so dull as the days in the recent past, for those leaving the program those dull days may hover. Unfortunately, Kyle Hart probably won't be remembered in the likes of Slegers, DeNato, and Effross, who all had shining moments throughout their careers, but sprinkled in postseason success. Brian Wilhite's gutsy and stellar performances at the end of the 2015 campaign and in the Nashville regional will be unfairly forgotten because of this team's struggles and underachievement. And the same can probably be said for the other seniors and their accomplishments.
There will be those who naysay the negative look back at this past season, those who would urge me to recount the good things that happened and look toward the future with a glowing eye. But it's not always that simple. When last season came to an end, it was easy to put the end into perspective, I wrote this:
But perhaps it wasn't. It at least took a year's vacation. Here, in 2016, there was just a team that never realized its potential. There was a staff and an athletic department that failed its players by piecing together the 176th toughest non-conference schedule in the country. And there were disappointments.
Stay tuned for #iubase coverage as CQ will have a look ahead to the 2017 baseball season and news on Hoosiers playing summer ball.