BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- This week, IUHOOSIERS.COM will preview the 2003 Indiana baseball team. Today's highlight is the Indiana pitching staff...
In 2002, the Indiana baseball team exceeded expectations as it finished with a 35-20 record, ranked as the nations No. 12 hitting team and posted a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten to earn a spot in the Conference Tournament for the first time since claiming the championship in 1996. The plan in 2003? To build on it.
The Hoosiers have a solid nucleus back as they return four full-time starters in the field and six members of the pitching staff. But the major key, as 20th-year head coach Bob Morgan sees it, is leadership. Leadership that should come in the form of eight seniors.
Last season, we had a great team and great senior leadership. I think if we have the type of leadership we had last year, we are capable of getting back to the playoffs and winning a Big Ten Championship, Morgan said. Hopefully our seniors will carry that sword of great leadership and make sure the chemistry is right.
Mix the old with the new, which includes three Division I transfers, three junior college transfers, four redshirts and six true freshman, and IU should have increased depth at all positions. Depth will be important down the road, with 32 conference games on the slate.
In addition, look for a solid defense and a team that can run.
Were going to have good team speed overall, Morgan said. I think we can make some things happen on the base paths.
ON THE MOUND
Indiana has six hurlers back in 2003, including second-team All-Big selection Nick Vitielliss (Waldorf, Md./Thomas Stone HS) and the IU season record holder for saves, Ryan Smith. (Carmel,Ind./Westfield HS).
Said Morgan of the senior tandem, I look for Smith and Vitielliss to give us great leadership on the mound. They should really help us develop the rest of pitching staff.
Vitielliss compiled an 8-1 record and a 3.58 ERA in 73 innings of work as a junior. He had off season surgery on his shoulder and should return to full action not too long into the season.
Nick is our most experienced returning pitcher, Morgan said. We expect great things from him as our top pitcher. Hes got an excellent fast ball with lots of life.
Smith led the staff with 26 appearances in his junior campaign. He logged 32 strikeouts in 32 innings pitched en route to a record nine saves.
Ryan is our closer, who had record-setting season for us last year, said Morgan. Were looking for him to build on last years performance.
Senior Jacob Cary (Bruceville, Ind./North Knox HS) should also provide some valuable innings. Cary was a starter on 14 occasions for Indiana last season and pitched a total of 74.1 innings.
Jacob is a returning Big Ten starter," Morgan said. "He struggled last year and we will look to get more consistency from him. He is capable.
A pair of juniors in Adam Pegg (Yorktown, Ind./Yorktown HS) and Chris Behrens (Stafford, Va./Brooke Point HS) are possible starters in 2003. Pegg finished with a 3.34 ERA and a 5-4 record as a sophomore.
Adam has shown a lot of maturity and has excellent stuff.," Morgan said. "Chris has great size, good velocity and an above average breaking ball. Were hoping this is his coming out year.
Morgan also sees a chance for junior college transfer Steve Nielsen (Joliet, Ill./Joliet JC) to be in the rotation if he his healthy. Nielsen missed the fall practice season due to injuries.
"If he gets healthy, Steve could be a big contributor for us," Morgan said. "He has a chance to be Big Ten starter. He has great size and a very good arm."
Senior Kevin O'Brien (Patterson, N.Y./Carmel HS) may see action both on the mound and behind the plate. O'Brien pitched 23.1 innings with a 1-0 record and a 4.24 ERA in 2002.
"We look for Kevin to help us as both a pitcher and a catcher," Morgan said of O'Brien. "He possesses an oustanding arm, but we need himto be more consistent offensively and on the mound."
A trio of freshmen, Derek Hibbs (Owensboro, Ky./Daviess County HS), Troy Ragle (Newburgh, Ind./Castle HS) and Josh Lewis (Mt. Airy, Md./South Carroll HS) all have an opportunity to contribute to the strength on the mound as well.
Theyll have a chance to really help us, depending on their maturity. How quickly they come along with dictate how much, but they all have good upsides, Morgan said.
Redshirts Kevin Inglis (Zionsville, Ind./UMass), Dan Pezley (Marion, Ohio/Marion Harding HS) and Austin Rhoads (West Chester, Ohio/Lakota West HS) will all provide depth to the staff.
I feel like we have more depth on the pitching staff than weve had in the past, Morgan said. If we are healthy, I think well be much improved overall.