OMAHA, Neb. — The calendar says it’s June, and here are Indiana and Louisville playing for a national championship.
Yes, the sport is baseball this time, not the game played with the big orange ball for which both schools are traditionally known.
The Hoosiers (48-18) are making their College World Series debut as the first Big Ten team in 29 years to reach Omaha. They’ll open Saturday night against a Louisville team (51-12) that’s here for only the second time, and first since 2007.
“Maybe we should get a basketball and start a pickup game out here,” Indiana third baseman Dustin DeMuth said with a grin after Friday’s practice at TD Ameritrade Park.
The CWS begins at 2 p.m. Saturday with Mississippi State (48-18) facing No. 3 national seed Oregon State (50-11). Sunday’s openers in the opposite bracket pit No. 1 seed North Carolina (57-10) against rival North Carolina State (49-14) and UCLA (44-17) against No. 4 seed LSU (57-9).
The teams that make it through double-elimination bracket play will advance to the best-of-three finals that start June 24.
After the Hoosiers won their super regional at Florida State, basketball coach Tom Crean said Indiana was now a baseball state. Coach Tracy Smith said he appreciated Crean’s comment but that, as an Indiana native, he knows baseball’s place.
Right now, that place is Omaha. Like other teams that play in the CWS for the first time, they are sure to be the favorites of the locals.
One of the Hoosiers’ preseason goals, as stated in big letters on a clubhouse wall back in Bloomington, Ind., was to get to Omaha even though they had never made it out of regionals in their only other NCAA tournament appearances in 1996 and 2009.
Now that they’re here?
“We’re definitely here to win,” DeMuth said.
Indiana won two of three regular-season games against UL and will start left-hander Joey DeNato (9-2) against Chad Green (10-3).
Kendall Graveman (7-5) will start for Mississippi State against either Oregon State lefty Matt Boyd (10-3) or freshman Andrew Moore (14-1).
Mississippi State features All-America right fielder Hunter Renfroe, the No. 13 overall draft pick of the San Diego Padres who is batting .360 with 15 home runs. The only higher draft choice in the CWS is North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran, taken sixth by the Miami Marlins.