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BLOOMINGTON – Will Coursen-Carr is cool with not sweating the small stuff.
“I need to focus on what I'm doing and not what everybody else is doing,” the Indiana sophomore pitcher says.
Why worry when the former South Side High School standout knows he'll have a big-time opportunity for IU's potential national championship baseball team? He might be the No. 3 starter, the No. 4 or starter, a relief pitcher or, well, he goes with the flow.
“If I come in relief, pitching is just pitching. There's no change in mindset for me. Whatever role I have, I'm fine with,” he says.
Coursen-Carr relaxes after an afternoon practice in IU's Mellencamp Pavilion, protected from the outside winter conditions that can make you think baseball season is months away instead of days. The third-ranked Hoosiers open this weekend with a four-game series at Texas Tech, and much is expected – from them and from Coursen-Carr.
Last spring Coursen-Carr, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound left-hander, became a postseason wonder, going 5-0 with a 1.93 earned run average as IU rolled to its first College Baseball World Series appearance in Omaha, Neb. He made the All-Big Ten freshman team. He won big game after big game, shrugging off pressure as if it was a paper cut.
But a rough Cape Cod League summer ball experience – 0-3 with a 7.71 earned run average – reflected what happens when strong competition meets fatigue.
“I played against a lot of really good competition,” he says. “I did struggle. That was tough for me. Our new pitching coach (Brandon Higelin) has helped with my mechanics and keeping my confidence up.”
Coach Tracy Smith hasn't lost confidence in him.
“He didn't have a good summer, but we're not worried about it. That kid had probably the most pressure-packed games in Indiana history, and performed well.
“We're looking for him to be that consistent guy early in the year. Some of his summer woes were because he was fatigued. We're just now getting him back, so early in the season don't expect him to be going five to six innings. We'll work him in because we're just now getting him healthy.”
And the clincher: “We expect him to be a weekend guy for us,” Smith says.
IU's first two spots in the rotation are held by senior Joey DeNato and junior Kyle Hart. DeNato went 10-2 last year with a 2.52 ERA and a team-leading 87 strikeouts. Hart was 8-2 with a 3.01 ERA.
Christian Morris will challenge Coursen-Carr for the No. 3 spot. He had a 4.68 ERA in 25 innings last season, but had a strong fall.
Indiana's No. 3 preseason ranking reflects its returning talent. Baseball America lists catcher Kyle Schwarber (.366, 18 home runs, 54 RBI) and first baseman Sam Travis (.316, 10, 57) as preseason All-Americans. Third baseman Dustin DeMuth (.377, 5, 41), outfielder Casey Smith (.309, 5, 34) and pitchers Ryan Halstead (11 saves, 2.89 ERA) and DeNato were among Baseball America's top 50 senior prospects. DeMuth chose to return despite being picked by the Minnesota Twins in the eighth round of last year's Major League draft because of IU's national title opportunity.
“It's really cool that we're ranked No. 3,” Coursen-Carr says, “but we're not buying into it. Once we start the season that ranking will play itself out.”
The Hoosiers will get a big test Feb. 23 in Arizona when they face Oregon State, a top-five preseason team. They also will play No. 8 Louisville and highly regarded Kentucky in nonconference play.
It's all designed to prepare Indiana for the Big Ten and potentially give it a high enough rating to earn a high NCAA tourney seed to host postseason games.
But it starts, Smith says, with perspective.
“This group has said we have some unfinished business to take care of and (getting back to Omaha) is one of their goals,” he says. “If you say you want to be a national champion, then what you say had better match what you do every day. We've got a lot of guys coming back, but you still want to manage expectations.
“We're talking Omaha. That would be wonderful to get back there, but it's a different scenario. Last year we weren't ranked, so we were able to sneak up on people. This year everybody will circle Indiana on the schedule, so how do we manage that?
“The talent is there. We've got most everybody back, but a lot of things have to happen. You have to be good, but you also have to be lucky.”