Indiana State certainly earned the right to host this weekend’s NCAA Super Regional.
It shrugged off a 2-8 start, shut out rival Evansville in the decisive Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship game after splitting the first two contests, protected its home turf last weekend with back-to-back victories against Iowa to claim a rare regional title and then watched TCU take down higher-seeded Arkansas in another regional championship Monday.
For just about any other team needing two wins to make the eight-team College World Series, it would be a milestone moment -- the surprising Sycamores’ first Super Regional on campus. Instead, scheduling conflicts are forcing them to again demonstrate their fearlessness on the road.
“I don’t really care where we play,” said Keegan Watson, whose three-run home run in the seventh inning sealed Sunday’s title-clinching 11-8 victory. “I know we can go anywhere and compete against anybody in any stadium.”
Certainly, they’ve done it before.
Indiana State (45-15) owns wins against four Big Ten schools including cross-state rival Indiana this season, has beaten Mid-American Conference tourney champ Ball State and even logged a 10-2 victory at Vanderbilt, winner of two national titles and two runner-up finishes in nine seasons.
The Sycamores, meanwhile, are as hot as any team in the nation. They’ve won 37-of-41 and haven’t lost to a non-league opponent since March 21. Next up is Big 12 Tourney champ TCU (40-22), which advanced to its eighth Super Regional in school history and its first since 2017.
And, of course, playing in front of more packed stadiums in Terre Haute, Ind., might give 14th-seeded Indiana State the inside track to the school’s second CWS trip. The only other time the Sycamores made it was 1986 during the All-American career of current coach Mitch Hannahs.
But finding workers for an unexpected third consecutive weekend of tournament baseball and a scheduling conflict with Indiana’s annual Special Olympics Summer Games made it almost impossible. Indiana State and Rose-Hulman, a Division III university in Terre Haute, host nearly 3,000 Special Olympians and in a city with a population of about 59,000, requiring roughly 1,500 volunteers made it difficult to find additional help.
That prompted the university’s athletic department to decline the hosting opportunity.
“With the potential for multiple large-scale events occurring in the area simultaneously and due to NCAA limitations on hotel distance from the field, there is a lack of hotel space to handle the accommodations required to house the visiting team, the support staff for the games, and the ESPN production crew that would be in attendance,” the statement read. “Finally, the personnel to run the event is a factor we must consider. After hosting the Missouri Valley Tournament and the Terre Haute Regional in back-to-back weeks, keeping additional staff available that are not already working with Special Olympics has affected our potential workforce for another large-scale operation.”
NCAA officials made it official Tuesday, naming TCU one of eight Super Regional host sites. Game 1 will be played Friday afternoon in Fort Worth, Texas. Game 2 is slated for Saturday evening.
Naturally, Indiana State is disappointed with the turn of events. But players understand the circumstances.
“I wouldn’t say people are down about it,” said Connor Fenlong, the Sycamores’ ace pitcher. “We’re obviously going to play in the Super Regional. We’re obviously going to go somewhere that is a great baseball facility and we’ll be able to put on a show for them. And we’ve already won at Vanderbilt.”
Besides, it only creates more motivation to prove their early-season turnaround was no fluke and Indiana State is bigger than just Larry Bird.
“If you get on Twitter, it’s just a bunch of people talking about I have no idea where Indiana State or Terre Haute is, that the only thing I’ve ever heard of was Larry Bird went there,” said Watson, who started his college career at Nebraska after playing prep baseball near Indianapolis.
Two more road wins against a power-conference team to make it to Omaha, Neb., just might do the trick.
“We’re trying to block out the noise a little bit, but you know we don’t really care about that (home field),” Watson said. “We’ll go anywhere and play anybody.”