Most collegiate coaches would consider themselves in a rebuilding stage after losing 11 letterwinners from the previous year, but not IU coach Tracy Smith.
As the Hoosiers get ready to fly west to battle No. 23 San Diego for its opening weekend matchup, Smith must decide between now and conference play who’s going to fill the void left by six starting position players and two of his three starting pitchers from 2009.
“I think we have some very talented guys that haven’t got to play much because they’ve been sitting behind some even more talented guys, in the same right,” Smith said. “So I think of it like we’re reloading, not rebuilding.”
Returning back to the lineup this year are second team All-Big Ten selections sophomore Alex Dickerson and junior Jerrud Sabourin. Dickerson, who hit 14 home runs in 2009, will see time in left field this year after playing as the designated hitter in 2009.
Sabourin hit .343 last year and will remain at first base. Senior second baseman Tyler
Rogers will return in the same position after hitting .314 with 5 home runs in 2009.
“If we’re throwing enough strikes and putting balls in play, we’re going to put our best defensive lineup out there and not worry so much about offense,” Smith said.
The team returns starter Blake Monar, who will get the nod for game one against San Diego to the front of the pitching rotation. Monar went 5-3 with a 4.64 ERA and a .251 batting average in 2009.
“I’ve just been refining everything mentally and just learning the game better,” Monar said. “I’ve been working on changeups. My out pitch last year was my breaking ball, so this year I definitely want to mix in more changeups.”
Filling out the rotation to start the season will be southpaw sophomore Matt Igel, who burst onto the scene late last year by winning the title-clincher against Minnesota in the Big Ten Conference Tournament.
Freshman Walker Stadler, who posted a 1.90 ERA and struck out 80 in 50 innings pitched as a senior in high school in Illinois, will pitch the series finale Sunday.
“I think the fact that the Big Ten is one of the only conferences in the country that doesn’t allow over-signing is a direct reflection on why we’re so thin on the mound,” Smith said. “With that said, I think we still got some good talent, some developmental talent and, in spite of that, some kids that are going to have to grow up a little bit sooner.”
The work will be cut out for the Hoosiers this year, as they play at least 12 games against teams who were in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. Add to the mix the 2010 Big Ten/Big East Challenge, and Smith’s squad will have to learn quickly.
“That’s why we’re playing such a tough schedule,” Smith said. “You can get fooled by playing a weaker one. We’re going to know right away after this series in San Diego what’s working, what we do well and what’s not.”