It’s the beginning of the end of another season of IU baseball.
After months of road trips, winning streaks, home runs and heartbreaks, the Hoosiers will head to Austin, Texas, to begin NCAA Tournament play Friday evening.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee announced the Regional selections Monday, placing IU with Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Southern in the Lone Star State. It will be an opportunity for IU to move past its Big Ten Tournament struggles from last week.
“Our kids are just excited to get on a plane and still be playing,” IU Coach Chris Lemonis said. “Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Southern are three really good teams, so it should be a fun regional.”
Here’s what you need to know about each of the three teams IU will be competing against in the double-elimination Regional.
Texas (37-20, 17-7) is one of the blue-bloods of the college baseball world. With 12 College World Series final appearances and six championships, the program is no stranger to success.
This year has been no exception. Coach David Pierce’s crew won the program’s eighth Big 12 Championship this season, edging Oklahoma State by a single game after taking a series win against the Cowboys in Austin.
Despite their regular season success, the Longhorns got the hook early in the Big 12 Tournament, dropping their only two games in the competition in quick succession. Texas first lost to bottom-seeded Kansas, 3-2, then was eliminated by Oklahoma with a 3-1 loss.
Despite the conference tournament letdown, the Longhorns still sit high in most rankings. They’re 14th in the D1Baseball.com poll, and 22nd in the country in RPI.
When compared to the rest of the nation, the Longhorn lineup doesn’t stick out one way or another. It seems as if its success comes from having few flaws rather than a specific strength. Texas hitters have hit 53 home runs this season and have produced an average of six runs per game, both marks sitting just outside of the top 100 teams in the country.
The Longhorn lineup has also stolen 70 bases on the season, ranking 71st in the nation, and the team has a combined batting average of .272.
The Longhorn pitching staff could be a weakness of the team, as it has had its ups and downs throughout the season. Texas pitchers have combined to put up a 4.36 ERA, tied for the 103rd best in the country, and they’ve allowed an average of nine hits per nine innings, a mark that sits 119th in the nation.
On top of the allowed runs and hits, the Longhorns don’t average many strikeouts. This season they struck out just over seven batters per nine innings, making them a sub-200 team in that category nationally.
One player to watch if the Hoosiers take on the Longhorns will be junior infielder Kody Clemens. The Houston native was named the Big 12 Player of the Year after the conclusion of the regular season. He hit .341 on the season with 19 home runs and 61 RBIs. On top of all the on-field success, he’s also the son of former Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, who was a member of Texas’ 1983 National Championship team.
Texas A&M (39-20, 13-17) is the three-seed in the Regional. The Aggies finished 11th in the SEC, but that should be taken with a grain of salt as the SEC is arguably the strongest conference in the country. For reference, the Aggies are ranked 22nd in RPI. A&M followed up its disappointing regular season campaign with a strong performance in the SEC Tournament, where it reached the semifinals before being eliminated by Ole Miss.
On the national landscape, the Aggie lineup put up average numbers over the course of the season. Aggie batters hit .284 on the season, good for 64th in the nation, but scored just under six runs per game, which doesn’t crack the top 100 nationally. They also hit 50 home runs, a mark that is tied for 61st in the country.
A&M’s big strength is its pitching staff. One of the best in the country, the Aggie pitching staff has an ERA of 3.23, which is the 12th best in the nation. Aggie pitchers also give up just more than eight hits per nine innings, which is a top 50 mark nationally, but they fall just outside of the top 100 in strikeouts per nine innings, averaging just more than eight.
At the top of the list of influential players for the Aggies are junior second baseman Michael Helman and sophomore shortstop Braden Shewmake. Helman, a second-team All-SEC selection, hit .366 for the Aggies this season out of the two spot in the batting order. He also hit six homers and drove in 34 runs. Shewmake, a first-team All-SEC selection, hit .329 on the season with five homers and 44 runs from the three spot in the batting order. The duo combined to steal 24 bases, with each of them swiping 12 bags.
Four-seed Texas Southern (27-26, 17-6) made the NCAA Tournament via the automatic qualifier spot given to the winner of the SWAC Tournament. After missing out on the SWAC Regular Season Championship by just one game, the Tigers went on a tear in the conference tournament, winning four straight games by at least four runs to win the title.
The championship was capped by a dominant 18-3 victory against Grambling State in the title game.
As the four-seed, Texas Southern is the weakest member of the regional, ranking 215th in RPI.
The Tigers can swing the bat with the best of them. They hold the ninth-best team batting average in the country, hitting .307 on the season. They also put up plenty of runs as a group, averaging seven runs per game, the 26th best average in the country. The Tigers have had much of that offensive success without the benefit of home runs, as they hit just 38 of them in 2018, which is the 130th best mark for a team nationally.
While the Texas Southern offense is strong, its pitching staff has been equally weak. Despite having SWAC Pitcher of the Year Aaron Solis among its group of pitchers, Texas Southern still put up poor numbers. As a group, the Tiger pitchers posted a 5.23 ERA and allowed nearly 10 hits per nine innings, both sub-180 marks nationally, and struck out just over seven hitters per nine innings, which earned them a sub-200 ranking nationally.
Solis will be one player to be on the look out for when the Tigers take the field. The junior right-handed pitcher posted a 3.44 ERA in 2018, earning 10 wins and losing just three games. He also threw a trio of complete games and struck out 65 batters in more than 86 innings.
Another important player for the Tigers will be senior outfielder Kamren Dukes. Dukes was named the SWAC Player of the Year after a very strong season in which he hit .396, drove in 42 runs and stole 30 bases. He tacked on a trio of home runs and had an on-base percentage of .463.
If IU hopes to have success in this regional, it will have to execute both at the plate and on the field. On defense, it will be about limiting errors, which is what cost the Hoosiers in their first Big Ten Tournament loss against Illinois. On offense, they’ll have to focus on moving runners, getting down bunts and, most importantly, capitalizing on opportunities to bring runners in to score.
In their Big Ten Tournament run, the Hoosiers left 20 runners on base over the course of three games.
“We didn’t do a good job of executing out in Omaha,” Lemonis said. “We’re going spend a long time in the middle of the day tomorrow to get used to the heat, and we’re going to do it again on Wednesday and we’ll be ready to go.”
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