The Indiana Hoosiers 2018 baseball season came to an end on Sunday night after a brutal 3-2 loss to No. 1 seed Texas at the finals of the Austin Regional of the NCAA Tournament. Despite the disappointment from the game itself, the season marked yet another chapter in a now decade long run of national relevance for the IU program.
The 2018 NCAA tournament appearance was the 6th in the last 10 years after only making it twice before then in the history of a program that dates back to 1895.
The Hoosiers hit the 40 win mark for only the 8th time in program history, with three of those seasons coming in the last six years.
This week, IU had four players selected in the Major League Baseball Draft. That makes 94 all-time Hoosiers selected in the draft, with 24 coming in the last six years.
The decade long run of success isn’t just impressive when measured against the history of the program either. Since the start of the 2008 season, Indiana leads the Big Ten in wins (384) and conference wins (147). By just about any metric, IU is the premier program in the conference over the last 10 years.
We know what you are thinking. Or at least we know what we were thinking when the magnitude of the program’s growth started to come into focus a few years ago. They are just recruiting the south, right? The somewhat surprising answer is — not really. Or more accurately — not at all.
This team is not Indiana in name only. These are predominately native Hoosier young men. How Hoosier are they, you ask? Of the 35 players on the IU roster, 21 are from Indiana high schools.
These 21 in-state guys aren’t just the role players and walk-ons that fill out the roster around the stars either.
Matt Gorski, who would get our vote as the team MVP, went to Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Indiana. Luke Miller, who was just drafted by an MLB team for the second year in a row, went to Cowan High School in Muncie, Indiana. Tim Herrin, who was also just drafted, went to South Vigo in Terre Haute.
A third MLB draft choice, Logan Sowers, went to McCutcheon in Lafayette. You have to love how McCutcheon, in the shadow of Purdue, is feeding its best from multiple sports down to Bloomington…but we digress.
Still skeptical? Maybe the best of the rest of the non-Indiana native players come from the south? Nope.
Starting shortstop Jeremy Houston? Chicago. Key reliever B.J. Sabol and the 4th MLB draft choice Jonathan Stiever? Wisconsin. Mr. all-everything Matt Lloyd? CANADA.
Save for a couple Southern California guys (Ryan Fineman and Chris Lowe), there isn’t anyone on the roster from anywhere south of Bloomington — although we’ll admit that we didn’t study a map too closely to confirm that.
Part of what is driving these guys to succeed at a national level is the doubt that goes along with Midwestern guys playing what has traditionally been a southern game. We asked IU outfielder and Michigan City, Indiana native Logan Kaletha if the players think about what it means to be from the northern part of the country:
“Growing up as an athlete in Indiana you have to play with a chip on your shoulder. Being underrated compared to the rest of the country is what fuels us to perform. There’s a lot of talent in our state and playing with a Midwest mentality is the linchpin to our success,” Kaletha said.
There’s no doubt that a “chip on your shoulder” mentality is part of it. That has fueled people for as long as there has been something to compete about. But the thing is, these guys are actually good. Really good.
So what is going on here? This is the “north”. After a particularly cold spring in Indiana, hands are probably still stinging from a few games in Bloomington that saw flurries. How is IU competing at a national level with kids that are growing up in places where it was still snowing in April?
MY HOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED
I have a cousin that packed up and moved his family from Indiana to Florida several years ago. What was the driving motivation behind that move? Year-round baseball for his kids. That made sense to me at the time. Now? Something has changed.
This run by northern schools like Indiana couldn’t have happened 20 years ago. To be sure, Bob Morgan had some nice seasons in his more than 20 years as the IU head coach. But as we’ve illustrated, a statistically significant portion of the program’s major accomplishments have come in the last 10 years.
When you start asking around about what is driving the change, you keep hearing variations of the same central themes — travel baseball and specialization.
This is what the person behind the Twitter account “Baseball Indiana” (@BaseballIND), someone who is involved with baseball at the grassroots level in Indiana, had to say about that:
“I think most of the increase in quality players comes from quality travel programs. What the Indiana Bulls started has been expanded by so many other good programs. Kids now have a way to play with and against the best players from a multi-state area and never even leave the Indianapolis area. All summer you play with a team where 80% or more of the players end up on a college roster.”
He reminds us that this isn’t just an IU phenomenon. The improved in-state talent pool is trickling down. Programs like The University of Southern Indiana, Franklin and Taylor all had really good seasons with mostly Indiana kids. USI has won multiple Division II national titles recently. Even Purdue is reaping the benefits, as much as we hate to say it.
The trend has expanded beyond Indiana too. Four Big Ten programs made the NCAA tournament this year. You can’t get much further north than Minnesota in NCAA terms, and the Gophers won the conference crown and earned a No. 1 seed.
There will always be obstacles to competing with southern talent and southern programs, especially with spring seasons like we just had. There will always be doubters, like the ESPN announcer last weekend in Austin that couldn’t wrap his mind around why Kyle Schwarber went to IU. (Answer: See Chicago Cubs’ roster)
But the gap has been bridged significantly. Enough that when IU heads down to Texas and competes toe to toe with two of the better programs in the country, you come to expect it. They might not be all the way there yet, and Mother Nature may never let them be — but they’ve got a chip on their shoulder to take care of the rest.
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