Indiana Hoosiers (34-24-2, 14-9-1 in 2017)
Oklahoma Sooners (35-24, 12-11)
Kansas State Wildcats (29-26, 8-16)
South Alabama Jaguars (40-21, 22-8)
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (37-19-1, 22-7-1)
TicketReturn.com Field, Myrtle Beach, SC
Springs Brooks Stadium, Conway, SC
Friday, Feb 16, Noon ET - vs. Oklahoma
Saturday, Feb 17, Noon ET
Sunday, Feb 18, 10:30 a.m. ET
Monday, Feb 19, 11 a.m. ET
Sunday: TBD vs TBD
Monday: TBD vs TBD
The Hoosiers will kick off their 2018 season on Friday with the Oklahoma Sooners. Despite earning the 2-seed in the Louisville Regional last season, OU parted ways with head coach Pete Hughes. Hughes was replaced by pitching coach Skip Johnson, who was also a longtime assistant at Texas. Last season the Sooners ranked 29th in RPI and they made an appearance in the NCBWA Preseason Poll, coming it at number 33. They also received votes in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Oklahoma should be a good early test for Indiana against another team that should make a regional at the end of the season.
The second game of the weekend will see the Hoosiers matched up with a Kansas State team that finished last in the Big 12 and was ranked 98th in RPI in 2017. Last season, the Wildcats hit .278 as a team and scored over 6 runs per game. Their trouble came on the other side of innings. The player to watch for Kansas State will be sophomore outfielder Will Brennan. In 2017, Brennan led the Wildcats with a .350 batting average and received several postseason honors, including a second-team All-Big 12 nod.
On Sunday, Indiana will move play to Springs Brooks Stadium in Conway and take on the South Alabama Jaguars. The Jags were 32nd in RPI last season and finished near the top of the Sun Belt, which earned them a bid in the Hattiesburg Regional of the NCAA Tournament. The South Alabama lineup could be one of the best in the nation this season and Indiana’s one-two punch of Stiever and Milto will already be spent by Sunday, so the key storyline of this one will be whether or not the Hoosier pitching staff can hold the Jaguar bats at bay. The Hoosiers have yet to announce their starter for this game, saying that they’ll wait to see who pitched in relief on Friday and Saturday, but after Chris Lemonis indicated earlier this week that Cal Krueger will be used in the backend of the bullpen, one would think that Andrew Saalfrank will be given the task of slowing down the Jags.
Monday’s finale will pit the Hoosiers against the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. Last season, the Chanticleers took a step back after their magical 2016 National Championship season, finishing 60th in RPI and not receiving an NCAA Tournament invite despite being the Sun Belt regular season champions and winning 37 games. By the time the Monday game rolls around these teams could both have depleted pitching staffs, which could lead to some fireworks on the offensive side. With Stiever, Milto, and presumably Saalfrank taking the first three starts of the season, the starter for this game will leave an interesting decision for Lemonis to make. His options should include Brian Hobbie, Cameron Beauchamp, Tim Herrin, and Connor Manous, but I like freshman Nick Eaton to get the ball as an early test.
What to Expect
Good baseball. Indiana takes on 4 top-100 RPI opponents from last season which will make for an early-season test. Expect Indiana to try a few things out and get some younger guys on the field. Indiana could easily come out of this weekend with 3 wins, they could come out of it with 3 losses as well. It might be important to the season, and it might not. The one thing that’s sure about this weekend is that there will be baseball, and that should be good enough for many fans no matter the outcome.