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Last updated: Sun. Jun. 01, 2014 - 06:25 am EDT

Criticize Indiana seeding at your own risk

Hoosiers advance to regional title game

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BLOOMINGTON -- Don't tell Tracy Smith his Indiana baseball team doesn't deserve a No. 4 national seed.

He knows better.

And the ever-mounting victories back him up.

So here are his Hoosiers, 44-13 and winners of eight straight, and 32 of 35, as hot a team as there is in college baseball, surging toward their second straight NCAA regional title.

They handled Stanford 4-2 Saturday night, taking down Cardinal ace John Hochstatter (he hadn't lost since a Feb. 15 defeat to powerhouse Rice) with a 10-hit barrage while their own ace, Joey DeNato thrived once again on a big stage.

One more victory puts them in next week's super regional, with the College World Series dead ahead.

So while national seeds Florida and Florida State flounder (both already are eliminated from the 64-team NCAA field), IU flourishes, which doesn't surprise Smith even as the criticism irritates.

“I wasn't real happy with the comment about us not deserving a national seed,” he said. “That didn't sit well with me. What more do we have to do? We made it to the College World Series last year. There are some pretty good teams that get there.

“We have a pretty good core of that group coming back. Our (earned run average) is in the top three in the country.”

The pitching, anchored by DeNato (13-1), hasn't allowed more than four runs in any game since April 13. Add All-America hitters Sam Travis, Kyle Schwarber and Dustin DeMuth, plus a rock-solid defense, and everything is in place for a national title run, critics be darned.

“It gets to me personally,” Smith said, “because it's an underlying theme that we don't play baseball up here (in the north) or that the Big Ten is a bad conference. I get sick and tired of hearing that stuff.

“Regardless of how this plays out, we earned the No. 4 seed.”

Smith, of course, isn't shy about using such criticism as motivation.

“I certainly remind them of who we are, and let's prove to people we are the best, that we are one of the better teams.”

IU played like it Saturday night against a Stanford team (31-24) that had emerged in the second half of the season as national force. Denato shut them down in front of a Bart Kaufman Field-record crowd of 4,312 by using a change-up as his out pitch when his fastball location deserted him. He went 7.1 innings, allowing two runs on six hits. The only Cardinal he couldn't contain was leading hitter Austin Slater, who homered and doubled while driving in two runs.

“Their pitcher did a great job,” Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. “He was really tough. He baffled us a lot, and changed speeds very effectively. We had a couple of chances to get back in it, but he wouldn't let us. He knows how to pitch. He has a great move to first base and keeps runners close. He's a winner.”

DeNato's performance justified Smith's decision not to use him in Friday night's opening win against Youngstown State.

"I thought I pitched pretty well," DeNato said. "The two runs they scored, maybe I had a few bad pitches all game, but they definitely executed on them, on pitches that I missed on. Overall I thought I pitched well enough to give my team a chance to win. That's all I can do."

When DeNato tired after throwing 104 pitches (and allowing a lead-off eighth-inning double), in came 6-7 redshirt freshman Jake Kelzer, once a Hoosier swimmer, now an effective strikeout reliever. He struck out Alex Blandino, then got Slater, Stanford's most dangerous hitter, to ground out to second to end the threat.

Kelzer pitched a scoreless ninth for the save.

“When you've got a 6-7 righthander who's been doing what he's been doing the second half of the season, it made the decision an easy one,” Smith said about replacing DeNato with Kelzer.

Travis came up big with his 12th home run and two runs batted in. Schwarber doubled in a run. Right fielder Will Nolden drove in the other run.

Indiana will play tonight against the winner between Stanford-Youngstown State. If the Hoosiers win, they get the regional title. If they lose, there will be a final game Monday night.

“Before the game I told myself to enjoy the moment and trust your players,” Smith said. “If you're good enough, it will happen. Joey was good enough. Sam stepped up big. Kelzer does what he's supposed to do and close them down.”

By staying in the winners bracket, and only using two pitchers Saturday night, IU ensured its bullpen would be rested for the rest of the regional.

“It's very important to save your pen,” Smith said. “We take nothing for granted. We expect a tough battle against whomever we play (tonight). The more pitching you can save, I like that.”

In Saturday's earlier elimination game, Youngstown State (17-37) beat Indiana State 5-2. The Penguins have won five of their last six games. The season is over for Sycamores (35-18), who went 0-2 in the regional after going 0-2 in their conference tourney.

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


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