EUGENE, Ore. —
Indiana State’s baseball team said from the time it got to Oregon that the pressure of the NCAA Tournament stage would not get to them.
Cal State Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook knows it’s easier said than done.
His Titans defeated the Sycamores 9-5 in Friday’s Oregon Regional opener. ISU’s four hit batsmen, two errors, two balks and other mental mistakes weighed heavily on the Sycamores.
The Titans, who have been in the baseball postseason in every season since 1992, sensed the Sycamores’ weaknesses and went for the jugular.
They did it through 1,000 tiny cuts, or more specifically, through a seemingly endless supply of bunts.
Fullerton had three sacrifice bunts and multiple bunt singles. ISU also committed both its errors via Titans’ bunts.
Bunting is Fullerton’s game, it has played small-ball all year, but ISU mistakes allowed them to take maximum advantage and get comfortable doing it.
“When you give opponents free bases, it generally goes downhill. It’s the first time I’ve seen that from this team this season,” Heller said. “We played poorly, we played awful. It was uncharacteristic of our team,” ISU coach Rick Heller said.
Vanderhook said it was all part of being on the big stage for the first time … and the Sycamores didn’t handle that part of the game well.
“That was the first some of those guys have been in the postseason. It’s different. It’s completely different,” Vanderhook said.
Heller said he didn’t think the Sycamores were over-awed by the occasion.
“I didn’t feel it from the team before the game. I thought we were loose, I thought our energy was good. Nobody quit or anything. Sometimes it looks worse than it is when pitchers aren’t throwing strikes,” Heller said.
Vanderhook said the trick isn’t about avoiding nerves; it’s about using those nerves and channeling them in the right direction. Experienced teams have the wherewithal to do that. The Sycamores don’t have that advantage in Eugene. It is the most inexperienced postseason team in the regional.
“I don’t know how many postseason games I’ve been involved in. Two-hundred? I’m still nervous when I go out there. You have to learn from successes and mistakes before you can jump into it,” Vanderhook said.
“You’ve got to have experience. There’s a reason that nearly every team that goes to Omaha has experience playing in the postseason. There’s very few first-timers that go. You learn by winning, you learn by losing,” Vanderhook added.
n Hutson in the house – Terre Haute native and former ISU track and field standout Kylie Hutson was among the fans in the PK Park stands rooting for the Sycamores.
Hutson will compete in the women's pole vault at today’s Prefontaine Classic at Oregon’s Hayward Field. She will be competing just before ISU’s game at 5 p.m. EDT.