Yarina: Bright days ahead for Indiana baseball

Indiana sophomore first baseman Sam Travis delivered quite the message following Wednesday night’s season-ending loss to Oregon State at the College World Series.

“The reason you succeed is because of failure,” Travis said. “And we’ll be back next year.”

To be clear, Indiana, in no way, shape or form, “failed” during the 2013 season. Far from it. The Hoosiers won their first outright Big Ten title in 81 years, became the first Big Ten team to make the College World Series since 1984 (Michigan) and finished with a sterling 49-16 clip (.754%).

[ IUHoosiers.com: 2013 stats | 2013 schedule | Baseball homepage ]

Any way one looks at it, 2013 goes down as the greatest season in Indiana history. It might even go down as the greatest season in Big Ten modern history.

“You can’t overstate what this means to Indiana baseball,” Indiana AD Fred Glass said, “and I’d like think to Big Ten baseball, as well.”

But when a team believes in itself as much as Indiana does and when it showed it can play with the nation’s top teams (swept Florida State in Tallahassee Super Regional; went 3-1 vs. Louisville; lost by one run to Mississippi State and Oregon State in CWS), it’s normal for it to view anything less than an NCAA title as a failure.

Tracy SmithIt’s not right or fair, but it’s the case. The bigger takeaway from Travis’ message is the second part. The words about being “back” next year.

With Travis and fellow sophomore Kyle Schwarber, an All-American catcher, back in the fold, among other key contributors, the Hoosiers boast the nucleus to compete for a second consecutive trip to Omaha.  At the very least, they should be the favorites to repeat as Big Ten champs. From there, as sports fans know and as the Hoosiers proved this year, anything can happen.

“We feel like we got some pretty darn good players coming back, mixed with the ones coming in,” Indiana coach Tracy Smith said. “I think the future for Indiana baseball is bright.”

The immediate future is especially bright. Travis and Schwarber, who combined to hit .342 and totaled 28 home runs, 111 RBI, 118 runs, are the headliners. But they also figure to return Scott Donley (.358), Casey Smith (.309), the coach’s son, and Will Nolden (.303). And if Dustin DeMuth (.377), an eighth-round pick in the MLB draft, returns, Indiana will welcome back six of its top seven hitters.

[ VIDEO: Watch all of our Indiana interview from Wednesday night ]

The lone guaranteed loss among the group: Senior and team leader Michael Basil (.313). Basil and center fielder Justin Cureton (.216), in fact, are the only everyday starters Indiana is certain to lose.

As for the pitching staff, postseason star and freshman Will Coursen-Carr (5-0, 1.93) and junior Joey DeNato (10-2, 2.52) are expected back. Ace Aaron Slegers (9-2, 2.04) and all-time saves leader Ryan Halstead (11 saves, 2.89) have decisions to make after being selected in the fifth and 26th rounds, respectively, by the Minnesota Twins.

Basically, regardless of what happens with transfers and pro decisions, Smith has the tools – not to mention the brand new facilities – to help the Hoosiers make another CWS run. Yes, as soon as next year.

“We plan to perennially compete for the Big Ten championship and hopefully get here to Omaha every so often,” Glass said.

You know the players, the same ones responsible for Indiana’s historic season, are well aware of next year’s goal.

“For the guys coming back, hey, now we know what we can do,” the younger Smith said, reciting his father’s postgame speech to the team. “Let’s win a national championship.”

And, that’s exactly what Travis was implying.

About Brent Yarina BTN.com web editor Brent Yarina covers football and men’s basketball for BTN.com. He writes the popular uniform feature “Clothes Call,” which also focuses on the latest cosmetic changes across Big Ten arenas and stadiums. Read all of his work here. You can subscribe to Yarina’s RSS feed and follow him on Twitter @BTNBrentYarina.

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ryan eaton on 7/6/2013 @ 10:06am EST Said:

that sounds good to me. GO HOOSIERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!