The IU baseball team will be tested quickly on how well it has restocked and reloaded for the 2010 season Friday.
The Hoosiers open play a long way from home with a four-game series at the University of San Diego. The schedule has the Hoosiers playing one game Friday, a doubleheader Saturday and closing out the series with a single game on Sunday, all at USD’s Cunningham Stadium.
In San Diego, IU faces a team already garnering national attention. The Toreros claim its highest rank (14th) in the Ping Baseball Top-25 poll, while the USA Today/ESPN college baseball poll lands the team at No. 23 in the preseason rankings.
USD was also recently chosen by West Coast Conference head coaches as the projected league champion in 2010.
Junior pitcher Kyle Blair is one reason for the high expectations surrounding the Toreros in 2010. The right-hander saw his name appear in Baseball America’s list of preseason All-Americans, though his sophomore campaign was abbreviated due to injury. Blair, who in 10 appearances last year garnered 62 strikeouts and a 3.13 ERA, is slated to start the series’ third game Saturday afternoon.
USD also returns the 2009 WCC Player of the Year in James Meador — the fourth player in school history to win the honor. Meador, a senior utility man for the Toreros, led the team in hits while batting .376 last season.
IU has some tools left in its arsenal despite losing six of its nine starters from a year ago. Left-handed sophomore pitcher Blake Monar will toe the rubber first for the Hoosiers on Friday afternoon, a year removed from being named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team thanks to a 5-3 season with a 4.64 ERA.
Monar said he believes IU needs to bring a can-do attitude, despite many counting the Hoosiers out for 2010.
“I think we need to have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder,” Monar said of his squad that took home last season’s Big Ten tournament championship. “I think we still have a lot of talent and a lot of talent coming in.”
IU coach Tracy Smith, though, is looking forward to the USD series as a way for some of the team’s new additions to get acclimated to collegiate baseball.
“Some of these guys are going to need to get — figuratively speaking — punched in the mouth to realize what college baseball is about,” said Smith, who will start his fifth season at the IU baseball helm. “Some of our freshmen still don’t get it.”
It helps then, Smith said, for the Hoosiers to be taking on quality opponents to start the season.
“That’s why we’re playing the good teams early,” Smith said. “We’ll know exactly what our deficiencies are and exactly what we’re doing well at so that when we get into the Big Ten, we can be ready to go.”