VALPARAISO | The Valparaiso baseball team was happy to make the NCAA tournament last season. Now, the Crusaders are heading back to the postseason with their eyes on winning some games.
Valparaiso will take on host Indiana on Friday night in the first round of NCAA Regional play in Bloomington. Florida and Austin Peay will meet in the other game of the double elimination regional at Bart Kaufman Field.
The Hoosiers (43-14) won both the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles this season and are making their second appearance in the NCAA tournament in the last five years.
“We’re excited and we’ve played IU before, so we won’t be in awe of anything,” Valparaiso coach Tracy Woodson said. “We feel like we have a good team and we can compete and belong on the same field as Big Ten teams. We can win some games.”
Indiana is led by LaPorte product Dustin DeMuth. The junior infielder was named a Freshman All-American in 2011 and leads the Hoosiers with a .399 batting average and 85 hits.
The Crusaders (31-26) made it back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 44 years last season, but the experience had an ominous start. Valparaiso was sent to Purdue, but field renovations in West Lafayette relocated the tournament to the U.S. Steel Yard in Gary. Kentucky and Kent State began the regional with a 21-inning affair that pushed the start time of Valparaiso’s game back to almost 11 p.m. The Crusaders committed five errors in a 7-2 loss to the No. 15 Boilermakers. Valparaiso was eliminated the next day in an 8-1 loss to No. 11 Kentucky.
“We know what it’s like to be in the NCAA tournament, so that helps a lot,” Woodson said. “The Indiana guys, unless they are fifth-year seniors, maybe they don’t have that experience and it’s them that has some jitters.”
Valparaiso director of athletics Mark LaBarbera was in attendance at the Selection Show party at Wings Etc., freshly back from his final stint as a member of the NCAA Baseball tournament selection committee. LaBarbera knew where the Crusaders were headed, but kept the information to himself as the brackets were revealed.
“I don’t want to take away from any of the excitement,” LaBarbera said. “That’s part of the whole experience, is seeing your name on the screen.”
LaBarbera beamed in the selection committee room as other athletic directors offered congratulations after the Crusaders beat Wright State 3-0 in the Horizon League title game on Sunday morning. By Monday morning, it was LaBarbera who was offering his congratulations to Woodson and the rest of the Crusaders.
“It starts with the staff, with Tracy and (pitching coach) Brian (Schmack) and what they’ve been able to accomplish here,” LaBarbera said. “Getting back to the tournament also speaks to the quality of athletes that we can attract at Valparaiso. It’s great that we’re getting matchups with the Big Ten. They have so many resources and the fact that we can compete with them on the field, I’m very proud of that.”