Indiana State preview: The Sycamores are well-rounded with elite pitching, strong defense


Charles Baggarly

Indiana State practices at Lupton Baseball Stadium ahead of the Fort Worth Super Regional on June 8, 2023.

By Charles Baggarly

Indiana State, a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, swept the Terre Haute Regional. With a 45-15 record, the Sycamores are D1 Baseball’s No. 23 ranked team in the NCAA and the No. 14 overall national seed.

Now, the Sycamores are on a collision course with the Horned Frogs. Indiana State will take on TCU in the opening game of the Fort Worth Regional at 4 p.m. Friday.

What type of team is Indiana State? Well, they’re a fundamentally sound ball club with a variety of strengths. Their offensive stats don’t jump off the page, but the lineup gets the job done; the pitching and defense win the Sycamores games.

TCU head coach Kirk Saarloos said teams that can pitch and defend will be competitive in every game. Saarloos mentioned teams don’t “luck into” winning 45 games in one season.

“They can really pitch,” Saarloos said. “Everybody right now is either really good, hot, or both. And I think they’re both, you know, they have some guys in the order that can do some damage.”

Saarloos said Indiana State is a “really good opponent” who he is excited to compete against.

“They’re a really good club,” Saarloos said “If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be here.”

Indiana State ranks third in the NCAA with a .983 fielding percentage, which is one percentage point away from the best in college baseball. The Sycamores have made 39 errors compared to the Frogs’ 51.

“We’re gonna really need to play really good baseball against this Indiana State team,” Saarloos said.

Catcher Grant Magill leads the Missouri Valley Conference with 18 runners caught stealing, which makes the Fort Worth Super Regional an interesting matchup. TCU ranks sixth in the NCAA in stolen bases and first among teams playing in super regionals. 

Saarloos said the two teams will play cat and mouse.

“I know [throwing runners out] will probably be a big emphasis for them,” Saarloos said. “And, you know, we’ll figure out ways to be aggressive on the base paths.” 

The Missouri Valley Conference has nine total College World Series appearances since 1947, when the tournament was created. The Big 12, on the other hand, has 82 total appearances.

 Saarloos, however, could “care less” what conference Indiana State plays in.

“DBU played in the Missouri Valley,” Saarloos said. “And they know Indiana State very well. And, you know, up until this last year, we haven’t had very much success against DBU.”

Breaking down the offense

Third baseman Mike Sears has one of the most impactful bats on the team with 19 home runs and 62 RBIs. The power comes at a cost; Sears leads the team with 95 strikeouts, 42 more than any other Sycamore.

Sears suffered a season ending injury in 2022 after starting four games. The junior third baseman is having quite the bounce back season for the Sycamores, leading the team with a .579 slugging percentage.

Designated hitter Luis Hernandez and shortstop Randal Diaz have a bit more variety with their power. They’ve hit five and ten home runs, respectively. They lead the team with 32 combined doubles.

In terms of overall batting, left fielder Adam Pottinger has the most well-rounded stats. He leads the team in several categories: batting average (.306), walks, runs, on-base percentage and on-base percentage plus slugging.

Centerfielder Seth Gergely and second baseman Josue Urdaneta have solid batting averages of .290 and .277, respectively. They’re also the biggest threat on the basepaths with 21 combined steals. 

The nine Sycamores who average two plate appearances per game combine to average a .813 OPS. To put that into context, the Horned Frogs average a .926 OPS with a higher strength of schedule.

Indiana State, however, doesn’t necessarily need an offensive onslaught to win a ballgame.

Sycamore pitching paves the way

The Sycamores rank fourth in the NCAA with an excellent 3.83 team ERA. Among the players who have a minimum of one inning per game, starting pitcher Lane Miller has a team-high 2.77 ERA.

Saarloos said Indiana State’s starting pitchers have different looks with “really quality stuff.” To Saarloos, the numbers mean they are versatile and consistent.

“[The starting pitchers] command both sides of the plate,” Saarloos said. 

Miller started in the Terre Haute Regional Championship, tossing three innings and allowing two earned runs. The redshirt senior has seven wins and zero losses; Miller, in 2023, has held opposing batters to a .219 batting average.

Connor Fenlong, who leads Indiana State with 108 innings pitched this season, threw eight innings against Iowa in the Terre Haute Regional on Saturday, allowing four earned runs. Fenlong has tallied a team-high 10 wins and struck out 70 batters.

In the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, Fenlong tossed a shutout, striking out eight batters and allowing five hits in the process. The Sycamores, in the eighth inning, completed the run rule with Fenlong throwing just 67 pitches.

Matt Jachec started the opening game of the regional against Wright State, giving up three earned runs in four innings of work. Jachec’s ERA, 4.02, and his opposing batting average, .256, is the highest of the Indiana State regional starters.

Jachec does lead the team with a whopping 97 strikeouts. Since he threw on Friday, he’ll have the most rest heading into the Fort Worth Super Regional.

“When somebody has good strikeout numbers, it’s not so much the two-strike pitch,” Saarloos said. “It’s the pitch that you have opportunities to hit prior to getting the two strikes.”

Saarloos added if you’re worried about getting jammed, it’s harder to put the ball in play. According to Saarloos, it’s important to battle until you get a pitch to hit in a tough at bat.

“We’re an aggressive offensive ball club, but what we’ve also been able to handle our at-bats when we get to two strikes, and so part of it is getting the right pitch and not missing it,” Saarloos said.

In terms of go to relievers, keep an eye on these Sycamores to warm up in the bullpen: Cameron Hollycross, Zach Davidson, Jared Spencer, Simon Gregersen.

Holycross leads the pack with a 1.98 ERA. Many Sycamore relief pitchers are more than capable; out of the relievers with 20 or more innings, five of six have opposing batting averages of less than .250.

The Horned Frogs averaged 14.6 runs per game in the Fayetteville Regional Tournament. Can they continue the offensive onslaught against the Sycamores?