Names like Kyle Schwarber, Aaron Slegers and Sam Travis regularly appear on award lists, are mentioned frequently in broadcasts, and grace the sports section as key
But the leadership of its four seniors — Michael Basil, Justin Cureton, Walker Stadler and Trace Knoblauch — has been integral in IU baseball’s historic ascent to its first College World Series appearance.
“We’re not sitting where we are right now if we don’t have that kind of leadership in this team,” IU Coach Tracy Smith said. “I’ve had talented teams, and I maybe even had more talented teams than this, but what we didn’t have is exactly what we have in those guys, which is their leadership, their perspective, their work ethic has been off the charts.”
All four joined the program a season after IU won its first Big Ten Tournament title and appeared in just its second NCAA Tournament, so the program wasn’t in terrible shape.
Cureton said he never expected a season this good, though.
“Coming in, I saw the records we’ve had in the past and I just wanted to make the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “But then coming into this year knowing the talent we had, I overlooked that.
“It feels good, always to give back to a program. By having this good of a season, it just makes it that much more special because my senior year is my last year. Why not go out on top?”
All four have experienced a rollercoaster ride over the four years. The team made the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 6 seed in 2010 before missing the cut the following year.
In 2012, IU got hot in the second half of the season and stormed into the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 2 seed, but its season ended there.
“It’s unbelievable to be able to finish it with a season like this,” said Basil, a four-year starter at shortstop. “Last year started off terribly. Ever since that season turned around it’s been amazing. To know that I’ve been able to be an upperclassman and a starter throughout all that and playing a big role in it, it’s definitely special to me to know I’ve been able to be a part of that.”
Cureton, Basil and Stadler talked about leading by example, both on and off the field. Basil said that he and his fellow seniors get help from sophomores like Schwarber and Travis, who he described as natural leaders.
In turn, he said, the freshman were taught the expectations of the program early on in the season.
“I’ve said all year this is the easiest team to be considered a leader of because everyone knows what’s expected,” he said. “We just come to practice and make sure we’re doing everything right, and if we do stuff the right way, then the younger kids will see that and they will do it too.
“Vocally, there’s not that much that has to be done to keep the team in check. Everyone is always helping each other, and I think the thing that’s really helped the team is this is the closest team I’ve ever been with from top to bottom.”
Stadler and Knoblauch don’t have nearly the same impact on the field as Cureton and Basil.
Knoblauch is a career .199 hitter in 171 at-bats, having started just 34 games.
Stadler has a 5.96 ERA in 90.2 innings pitched and has thrown just 9.1 innings in six appearances this season.
But Smith said having both players around is like having extra assistant coaches, and that without their leadership the team would not be headed to Omaha.
“We don’t really care what our roles are,” Stadler said. “We’re just happy to be here and this is an unbelievable team.”
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