TERRE HAUTE – It was ugly throughout, but to the Indiana State baseball team, Sunday’s 11-8 regional-clinching win over Iowa was a thing of beauty.
The Sycamores are moving on to next weekend’s Super Regional — college baseball’s version of the Sweet 16 and one step closer to the Road to Omaha. That’s where the final eight teams who advance from the Super Regionals will meet beginning June 16 for the start of the College World Series.
Indiana State (45-15) has advanced beyond the regional only one other time — in 1986 — a team that featured a freshman second baseman who would go on to become a four-year letterwinner, one of the program’s top players, and is now the head coach.
“You don’t realize at that moment as a young man what you’re really a part of,” said Indiana State coach Mitch Hannahs, a backup on that team. “As time goes by, you say that was a pretty big deal. I think these players are in the same mode. They truly don’t realize the depth of all this… and I hope they don’t realize it. I hope they just go out and play. At this point, they are underdogs. That is the best place to be in a lot of these situations.”
To get as far as that 1986 team, the No. 14 Sycamores will have to win two games in the best of three Super Regional series next weekend against the winner of the Fayetteville Regional that features No. 3 Arkansas as the top seed. Rain has delayed the outcome of that series, with the championship game to be played Monday. If the Razorbacks lose — they fell to TCU 20-5 on Sunday — Indiana State could be in play to host the Super Regional.
Former New Palestine standout Keegan Watson was the hero Sunday for the Sycamores, drilling a three-run home run in the top of the seventh that opened an 11-7 lead for his only hit of the game. Watson, who also walked three times, got the start in right field Sunday after not playing Saturday in the Sycamores’ 7-4 win over Iowa.
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAABaseball) June 5, 2023
“I can’t put it into words right now,” Watson said. “All the guys behind us, all our teammates, our coaching staff, have done an absolutely spectacular job this year preparing us for moments like this. I don’t think it’s set in for me yet. To have these experiences under our belt will serve us really well later on in this tournament.”
The game was one for the ages. The two teams traded leads on five occasions and tied the score on three. Ten times Indiana State players were hit by Iowa pitches — the NCAA single-game record for a team is 11.
Five of the Sycamores runs came on something other than a hit. Two were via fielders’ choice plays, one was on a sacrifice fly, one on a bases loaded walk, and one on a bases loaded hit batsman.
In just one example, Indiana State added a pair of runs in the top of the fifth to tie the score at 6-6. Three Sycamores batters were hit by pitch, with Miguel Rivera scoring on one of those and Mike Sears scoring the tying run on a fielder’s choice.
The nation’s top defensive team, Indiana State entered having not committed more than two errors in a game. They committed three on Sunday, leading to two Iowa runs.
A total of 11 players pitched — five for Indiana State and six for Iowa. Jacob Pruitt (2-1) picked up the win in an inning of relief, but Simon Gregersen locked up the Hawkeyes down the stretch, pitching the final three and one-third innings, allowing one hit and striking out six including for the final out as the crowd of more than 2,400 erupted at Bob Warn Field.
“It seemed like all of Terre Haute was out there,” Gregersen said. “We’ve definitely had great success with our fans. They packed the Bob all weekend. We couldn’t be grateful enough for them, definitely.”
Iowa (44-16) advanced to the nightcap after winning the afternoon game 6-5 over North Carolina in 13 innings. The Hawkeyes had less than two hours between games. The finale lasted three hours, 42 minutes.
“If Indiana State plays like they did this weekend, they certainly have a chance to win the Super Regional,” said Iowa coach Rick Heller, who coached at Indiana State from 2010-2013. “We knew we were short-handed with pitching. We had hoped we would limit the free bases better than we did. We couldn’t get out of our own way on the mound. We couldn’t find anybody to stabilize things to give us a chance. When Gregersen came in for Indiana State, he was a big key to the W for them. He pounded the strike zone and sealed our fate, unfortunately.”
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana State baseball beats Iowa again, headed to NCAA Super Regional