Homegrown Talent Fuels IU's Success
April 18, 2018
Basketball and Indiana go together like sunshine and Florida, Idaho and potatoes, or lobsters and Maine. So when an Indiana University coach says his team’s success is due to homegrown players, the likely speaker is Archie Miller.
But Tuesday night at Victory Field in Indianapolis it was Chris Lemonis, talking about his ascendant baseball team after IU’s 3-0 win over in-state rival Notre Dame.
The Hoosiers (27-6) headed into the week ranked tenth among NCAA Division I teams in USA Today’s coaches poll. The only cold-weather school ranked higher was No. 9 Oregon State.
Lemonis, now in his fourth year at IU’s helm, relies heavily on local talent. Nineteen of his 25 players come from Hoosier high schools. “We’ve got good baseball in Indiana,” he said.
College baseball’s renaissance extends far beyond Bloomington, Lemonis claims. “It started probably in the last ten years, with the commitment to baseball throughout the Big Ten and throughout the Midwest,” he said. “The kids want to play near home (and) moms and dads want to see ‘em play.”
Lemonis believes his program benefits from Indiana University’s academic reputation, as well as from the support of the school’s administration. “(They’ve) given us the resources to build a program,” he added. “I think year after year, kids in our part of the country are seeing that and they want to be a part of it.”
Players who might have passed on IU in the past in favor of warm-weather schools in Texas, Arkansas or California are now having second thoughts. IU’s recruiting also gets a boost from Bart Kaufman Field, the Hoosiers’ impressive six-year-old home park. “It’s ready for cold-weather baseball,” said Lemonis. “When you get a nice field like ours, in a great conference, it’s not a hard sell.”
Something else in IU’s favor: of the 13 Big Ten schools with baseball programs, only four teams (other than Indiana and Purdue) currently have ex-Indiana preps. Ohio State leads the way with three, followed by Nebraska with two. Iowa and Penn State have one apiece.
“I hope they overlook (players from Indiana high schools), ‘cause we don’t,” Lemonis said. “We’re on ’em all. You look at our roster, it’s about 85 percent Indiana kids.”
Lemonis and his staff keep close tabs on Hoosier high school talent. “We’re just out there all the time,” he said. “We like to think we recruit as hard as anybody, so we’re out every night. We were at one (high school contest) tonight here in Indy, before this game started.”
Which high schools were Lemonis and his coaches scouting? “I can’t tell ya,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m not allowed to say it to the media.”
Lemonis did say his program maintains contact with high schools around the state. He and his staff also attend summer showcase events. “We go to a little bit of everything,” he added.
The results were evident Tuesday night. Even with junior third baseman Luke Miller (Cowan) sidelined by a foot injury, six players in the Hoosiers’ starting lineup were Indiana high school alums.
Junior left-hander Tim Herrin (Terre Haute South) started and got the win, shutting out Notre Dame on one hit over six innings. Herrin’s catcher, former California prep Ryan Fineman, provided the key blow for IU with a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth.
IU’s third score came in the seventh, when sophomore Scotty Bradley (who hails from New Jersey) scored from third on an infield out by freshman shortstop Justin Walker (Lafayette Jeff).
B.J. Sabol gave up two hits in two innings of relief and Matt Lloyd moved from second base to the mound in the ninth, allowing one hit while preserving the shutout. Sabol came to IU from Wisconsin, while Lloyd is a Canadian.
The Hoosiers’ leadoff hitter, Logan Kaletha (Michigan City), drew three walks in four trips to the plate and scored a run. Kaletha, a junior, joined IU this year from John A. Logan College, a two-year school. After Tuesday’s contest, the switch-hitting center fielder was batting .325 with six homers.
The complete list of IU’s homegrown players:
Seniors: Infielder Colby Stratten (Bloomington North); outfielder Logan Sowers (McCutcheon).
Juniors: Right-hander Pauly Milto (Roncalli); left-hander Tim Herrin (Terre Haute South); infielder Luke Miller (Cowan); outfielder Logan Kaletha (Michigan City).
Sophomores: Right-hander Cal Krueger (Jasper); ); left-handers Andrew Saalfrank (Heritage) and Cam Beauchamp (Peru); outfielder Matt Gorski (Hamilton Southeastern).
Freshmen: Right-handers Connor Manous (Munster), Austin Long (Bedford North Lawrence), Matt Litwicki (Lake Central) and Grant Sloan (Zionsville) left-handers Tommy Sommer (Carmel) and Nick Eaton (Cathedral); catcher/infielder Drew Ashley (Evansville Memorial); infielders Cole Barr (Yorktown), Justin Walker (Lafayette Jeff) and Elijah Dunham (Evansville Reitz); outfielder Sam Crail (Sheridan).
Notre Dame’s roster included a pair of former Indiana preps: junior second baseman Nick Podkuhl (Andrean) and freshman infielder/outfielder Niko Kavadas (Penn). Neither is a newcomer to Victory Field.
Podkul, who batted third for the Irish, starred for Andrean’s back-to-back IHSAA Class 3A state champions in 2014-2015.
Kavadas helped the Kingsmen to the 2015 IHSAA Class 4A state and was a member of last year’s runnerup squad. He saw action against IU as a pinch-hitter.
Pete Cava is the author of “Tales From the Cubs Dugout” and “Indiana-Born Major League Baseball Players: A Biographical Dictionary, 1871-2014.”
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