Indiana Baseball: Undaunted By Distance, IU Happy To Be In NCAA Tournament
For No. 4 seed Texas Southern, the distance from their home field to UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin is 171 miles, a little over a 2 and a half hour drive.
For No. 3 seed Texas A&M, the trip covers 105 miles, or roughly an hour and 45 minutes.
No. 2 seed Indiana?
It has 1,066 miles to cover from Bart Kaufman Field in Bloomington to regional host and top seed Texas' home turf. Save the near-16 hour drive, the Hoosiers will in all likelihood be flying to Austin.
Still, IU is undaunted by being the furthest competitor for the regional. Even though their postseason future was never in doubt despite last weekend's Big Ten tournament elimination loss to Illinois, the Hoosiers are happy to be in.
"Our kids are just excited to get on a plane and still be playing," IU head coach Chris Lemonis said.
One of four Big Ten teams to be selected - joining No. 1 Minnesota, No. 2 Purdue and No. 3 Ohio State - the postseason nod made Lemonis the only coach in program history to make three regionals in his first four seasons as IU's skipper. He also tied former IU head coach Tracy Smith (2009, 2013, 2014) for the most NCAA postseason appearances in program history. As a program, it's Indiana's fifth NCAA tournament appearance in the last six years and eighth overall in school history.
This year, the Hoosiers received the No. 2 seed as an at-large bid for the third time in program history and for the second year in a row, receiving the same designation in the Lexington (Ky.) Regional last summer.
Lemonis said on Sunday night he was hopeful the Hoosiers would get the No. 2 seed this year to justify the quality of competition they faced and because of how challenging of a feat it is to achieve.
Although the Field of 64 projections from national media are easily accessible online and perhaps would've given him an idea of where the program stood heading into Monday's selection show, Lemonis said he does not pay attention to them.
"I never look," Lemonis said. "My wife thinks I'm lying, but she tries to tell me where we're going and I say, 'It doesn't matter. It's not true. I look at the hosts when they come out, and I look at our RPI and how our RPI is affected in certain ways, but I never look at projections or anything like that. I feel like I'm wasting my time because obviously nobody had us going to Texas and we're going to Texas."
The players, however, did, which turned Monday afternoon's watch party inside the clubhouse into a guessing game rather than sitting on the proverbial pins and needles in anticipation of their seeding according to Lemonis.
"It was exciting. Everybody was excited," IU senior right fielder Logan Sowers said. "Unlike what coach said, we had some of the projections and I hadn't seen anything about Texas."
Though no experts slotted Indiana in Texas, the regional host is a program both Sowers and Lemonis grew up watching.
Lemonis, who grew up in Houston, has never played there but was accepted into Texas and grew up wanting to be a Longhorn. Sowers, meanwhile, admired them from afar while growing up in West Lafayette, Ind.
The Longhorns reached the College World Series four times in the 2000s, capturing the national title in 2002 and 2005 and finishing as runner-up in 2004 and 2009. They also own the Division I records for College World Series appearances (35), most individual CWS games won (85), most overall NCAA tournament games won (235), and most NCAA Tournament appearances (58).
"Texas, when I was growing up, they were so good in that span and it was a lot fun to watch them," Sowers said. "Now we get go there and play them. It's exciting."
Sowers said the distance between Bloomington and Austin hasn't crossed his mind at all. Lemonis is also unfazed by it, being used to coaching a Midwest program that spends the first weeks of the season on the road every February.
On their minds now is practicing in the heat Wednesday, then practicing in Austin Thursday before first pitch Friday.
"That's about perfect for a Big Ten school," Lemonis said. "We travel all year long, so getting to your regional is not a big deal for us."