Baseball

    Hoosiers Open 2007 at Wiregrass Baseball Classic

    Go Hoosiers! Senior Ben Greenspan and the Hoosiers head to Dothan, Ala., for the Wiregrass Baseball Classic to open the 2007 season.
    Go Hoosiers!
    Senior Ben Greenspan and the Hoosiers head to Dothan, Ala., for the Wiregrass Baseball Classic to open the 2007 season.
    Go Hoosiers!

    Feb. 22, 2007

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    SETTING THE SCENE
    The Indiana baseball team opens its 2007 campaign at the Wiregrass Baseball Classic in Dothan, Ala. The Hoosier roster features 19 newcomers, including 18 freshmen, as just four starters in the field return from the 2006 squad. Head coach Tracy Smith is in his second season in Bloomington. He posted a 22-34 record in his first year and has a 339-254-1 career mark.

    THE ALL-TIME SERIES
    Indiana holds a 2-0 record against Troy all time, posting wins over the Trojans in both 1996 and 1997. The Hoosiers have only faced Southern Mississippi three times, when they were swept in a three game set in Hattiesburg in 1990. IU has never faced Georgia Southern.

    SCOUTING THE FIELD
    Troy enters this weekend's contest with a 5-3 record and is coming off a loss to Auburn, 11-3, on Tuesday, Feb. 20. The Trojans opened their season by taking one of three from consensus top-10 team Arkansas, and have also defeated No. 19 Alabama this season. Troy swept a three-game set with St. Louis a week ago.

    Southern Mississippi is 5-0 on the year, allowing just 14 runs over its five contests. The Golden Eagles have defeated Southern Illinois, Northwestern State, Louisville, South Alabama and New Orleans this season. The USM staff has compiled a 2.40 ERA so far this season.

    Georgia Southern has seen the most action of any team in the Wiregrass Baseball Classic, posting an 8-3 record on the season. GSU opened its season by winning one of three at Hawai'i, and since has taken seven of eight contests, including a pair of victories over No. 21 Georgia Tech. The Eagles have scored a whopping 121 runs on the season, including 34 in a 34-1 victory over New Jersey Tech. GSU has scored 10 runs or more in six of its 11 contests, but is coming off a 7-5 loss at Kennesaw State on Tuesday, Feb. 20.

    MEDIA INFORMATION
    Indiana Athletic Media Relations Staff Assistant Matt Brady is the primary media relations contact for the Indiana baseball team. He can be reached at his office (812-856-0215), via cell phone (413-222-2788) or email (mlbrady@indiana.edu).

    IU IN SEASON OPENERS
    Indiana is 11-4 in its last 15 season openers, but has gone just 3-2 over the last five seasons. The Hoosiers were swept in 2006's season-opening series against Charlotte. Hoosier skipper Tracy Smith is 5-5 all-time in season-opening contests. IU is just 1-4 in its last four season openers away from Bloomington.

    INSIDE THE COACHING STAFF
    Along with head coach Tracy Smith, Ty Neal is in his second season as the team's pitching coach. Neal's impact on the Hoosier pitching staff was immediate in 2006, as he helped All-Big Ten selection Doug Fleenor post the lowest ERA by a Hoosier reliever in 10 years.

    Indiana's pitching saw strong growth throughout the season, as freshman Joe Vicini emerged as the team's go-to closer, posting a 3.93 ERA and tallying three saves. Neal was also a key force in seeing IU's ERA drop by more than six-tenths of a point in the final month of the season.

    Bryan Prince is in his first season as an assistant baseball coach at Indiana. Prince, who spent the 2006 season as an assistant with Georgia Tech, will serve as the Hoosiers' hitting coach and work with the team's catchers.

    Prince arrived in Bloomington after helping the Yellow Jackets advance to the program's third College World Series last season. Georgia Tech closed out the campaign ranked in the top 10 with a 50-18 overall record while playing in what was widely regarded as the nation's toughest conference - the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

    Kerry Rogers is in his first year as Indiana baseball's volunteer assistant coach. Rogers will serve as IU's outfield coach and assist with the team's hitters. Rogers brings with him a wealth of knowledge of the Bloomington area and the surrounding communities. He starred at Bloomington South High School before moving on to an injury-shortened pitching career at Vincennes University. After his playing career, Rogers served as the pitching coach at Bloomington South from 1992-93 and helped the Panthers to the 1993 South Central championship.

    HOOSIERS NAME 2007 CAPTAINS
    Senior Ben Greenspan, juniors Doug Fleenor and Jon Fixler and sophomore Joe Vicini have been named captains for the 2007 season. Fleenor and Vicini were Indiana's two most reliable pitchers in the 2006 season, while Greenspan and Fixler each hit better than .300 a year ago. Fleenor is one of two returning All-Big Ten selections for the Hoosiers this season.

    "The role of the captain is going to be a very important role for us this year," head coach Tracy Smith said. "Those guys are going to have to step up since we are so young. They need to provide that experience and that leadership and lead by example. I think everyday consistency and work ethic needs to be modeled. The young men that we have here are capable of doing that and need to continue to improve every day as we go on throughout the season. That is going to be a key for us as we approach Big Ten play."

    HAAS LEADS RETURNING HITTERS
    Senior infielder Keith Haas will be a key player for the Hoosiers in 2007 after earning second team All-Big Ten laurels a year ago. Haas led the Hoosiers with a .353 average and added 37 runs and 24 stolen bases for IU. Four other returning Hoosiers - Tyler Cox, Jon Fixler, Ben Greenspan and Andrew Means - hit better than .300 a year ago. Means finished fourth on last year's squad, going 16-for-18 on the basepaths in his 46 games of action.

    "Offensively, I think we are going to be a unique combination of both speed and power," Smith said. "That is what we are going to try to do, provide some balance in our lineup with guys that can run, but also some guys that can drive the ball out of the park. I don't think we had that ability last year, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out for us this year."

    Smith cites the team's work in the offseason as being key to improvement at the plate in 2007.

    "We have made some strides in the weight room and the strength factor," he said. "You are going to hear the common theme that we are young. Coming into the fall, a lot of these guys had never experienced the competition of college baseball. I think the strength and the speed of the game is still a bit overwhelming, but it's been fun to see the offseason. I think we are ready strengthwise now to compete at the college level."

    FLEENOR KEYS HOOSIER STAFF
    Junior Doug Fleenor became the first Indiana pitcher since 2002 to win all-conference laurels in doing so last season. Fleenor notched a 2.57 ERA for the season as both a starter and a reliever. He started four games in 2006, tallying two shutouts, in addition to posting 13 relief appearances. Fleenor, sophomore Joe Vicini and junior Chris McCombs will be the center of the IU staff in 2007. The veterans will face the task of easing the maturation of a young staff that features 10 freshmen and just five players who pitched a year ago.

    "We are young with a lot of inexperience on the hill," Smith said. "I think we're talented, but what is going to be key for us is to see how these guys compete and how well we do in competition. I have to think we can't be naïve, there is going to be a little bit of a learning curve, but I think we can shorten that curve because we have some pretty talented kids. We need to see how they are going to respond when it is the real thing."

    Smith cites McCombs and freshman Matt Bashore as pitchers who showed improvement in the fall and could surprise the Big Ten this spring.

    "Chris McCombs stands out in my mind at this point. He is starting to realize now that he is a junior, the consistency in his performance is not only going to help us win baseball games, but also it helps in his personal development. I think he's turned himself into a pretty good prospect and he has opened some eyes. For left-handed throwers, a surprise for me has been Matt Bashore. The thing that stood out the most was the way he would compete on the mound and mix in all of his pitches. He had a pretty good grasp and understanding of how to pitch and not just throw."

    DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
    Smith's teams have been known for their defense, and his first recruiting class reflects that. In addition to the Indiana Defensive Player of the Year in Terre Haute's Josh Phegley, the Hoosier skipper has added a number of players who can flash the leather and cover significant ground in the field with their speed.

    "From a defensive standpoint, I have always said that teams I'm associated with are going to be built around the mound," Smith said. "Speed certainly plays a part in that."

    The second-year head coach will likely have three or four returning starters on the field on a regular basis, though several will be in new positions on the diamond. Keith Haas moves from second base to shortstop, Andrew Means will move from right field to center and Jon Fixler moves from catcher to first base.

    "Keith is a solid, consistent middle infielder that we know we can count on to perform at shortstop this year after being strong at second base last year," Smith said. "In the outfield, Andrew is a strong defensive outfielder with above-average speed, and we'll look to him to step up as he moves from right field to center in 2007. As for the newcomers, Josh Phegley has an outstanding arm behind the plate and Kipp Schutz is very consistent defensively with an accurate throwing arm in the outfield."

    MR. BASEBALL TO BLOOMINGTON
    Tracy Smith's first recruiting class of 19 features six players from the Hoosier state, including Indiana's Mr. Baseball, Terre Haute's Josh Phegley.

    "I think it was important for our program to go out and make a statement," Smith said. "They always say in recruiting that you have to control your state. Josh was important for us, because he was the one that said yes. He got the pipeline started. Once he said yes, the other guys fell in line. The fact that the honor was bestowed upon him, it kind of legitimized the message we were trying to deliver. I think it is an important message, that Indiana has arrived, we are going to keep the good players in the state of Indiana, and Josh is certainly one of those."

    Phegley hit .592 with 13 home runs, 16 doubles and 50 RBIs a year ago for Terre Haute North, earning him all-conference and all-state honors. Additionally, the catcher was named the Indiana Defensive Player of the Year.

    ARE YOU NEW HERE?
    The 2007 Hoosiers will look quite different from their 2006 counterparts, largely due to the fact that 19 of the 34 players on the roster were not playing for IU the year before. Eighteen of the 19 players are freshmen for IU.

    Smith knows his 2007 class has a good amount of talent, but the bigger question is how that will translate to play on the field.

    "It's kind of a double-edged sword," he said. "From a coaching standpoint, you can fall in love with talent. I do think they are talented or we wouldn't have brought them here. But the real test and measure of how successful we are going to be as a team and how successful this program is going to be, not only this year but in the future, is how well guys compete."

    TOUGH ROAD TO HOE
    Indiana faces another top-notch non-conference schedule in 2007, the majority of which will be played on the road. The Hoosiers will make trips South to play a number of quality Southern teams in the early part of the season to help the squad gear up for Big Ten play.

    "I think the schedule is challenging," Smith said. "Obviously, the one disadvantage that jumps out to anyone that understands baseball in the North is the first part of your schedule you are on the road. You want to play quality opponents, and to do that we are going to travel a lot early. But the thing we tell our kids is that our preparation and our focus is to get ready for Big Ten play and then postseason play. The best way to do that is to play tough teams - whenever and wherever."

     

     

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