Hoosiers Open 2007 at Wiregrass Baseball Classic
Feb. 22, 2007
SETTING THE SCENE
THE ALL-TIME SERIES
SCOUTING THE FIELD
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.
IU IN SEASON OPENERS
INSIDE THE COACHING STAFF
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
"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
"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
"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
"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."
"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?
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
"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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