OMAHA, Neb. -- Welcome to the College World Series, Indiana.
We've all seen it before. The team that hasn't been to the CWS makes it for the first time in school history. The players are in a frenzy, just happy to be in Omaha as the pinnacle of their season. The euphoric feeling certainly is understandable, sometimes overwhelming.
The feeling before the CWS in regards to Indiana was mixed. Some thought the Hoosiers would approach the CWS like a business trip, others thought they might fall into the same trap all the new teams so often seem to.
The Hoosiers left absolutely zero doubt Saturday night, though, as they were dominant in a 2-0 win over Louisville, the third win over the Cardinals this season. Also interesting is the fact it was the Big Ten Conference's first win in Omaha since a Michigan triumph over Stanford in 1983.
"Well, I mean, it's new territory for us, so we're excited to certainly get that first CWS win out of the way, albeit not the prettiest of games," Indiana coach Tracy Smith said. "There were plenty of mental mistakes, plenty of base-running mistakes, plenty of excitement and some nice plays out there.
"But I think probably the most interesting thing was all I heard all week was about Indiana's offense, offense and offense," he continued. "So, with that, I was very pleased with what Joey [DeNato] did tonight."
Though we all knew the Hoosiers were a balanced club entering the CWS opener against the Cardinals, it was easy to pinpoint the IU offense heading into this tournament. The Hoosiers hit well over .300 during the regular season, hit very well against Florida State on the road last weekend, and entered the CWS hitting .324 in the NCAA postseason.
But on this night, against a very familiar foe, left-handed pitcher Joey DeNato once again shined -- the pitching, not offense, leading the charge to victory.
DeNato was no stranger to the Cardinals entering the contest, though, the memory was rather distant for Dan McDonnell's club. Way back in February, opening weekend to be exact, the Cardinals opened the season against the Hoosiers with DeNato on the bump. DeNato proceeded to strikeout three batters, walk one and allowed just four hits in four shutout frames.
Indiana won that game 2-0, Saturday night's result serving as a taste of déjà vu all over again.
"Yeah, I guess no matter what, we're not going to have to see him again in this tournament, so that's a bright spot," Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said. "He's just very effective. If you notice, I think we hit one line drive out, and it was Ty Young's line drive in the second. We just didn't put any balls in play hard. He could really jam you, and he has now handcuffed us twice this season."
DeNato was pretty good against the Cardinals in the first meeting. He was dominant on this night in Omaha, piecing together a performance that would remind CWS fans of some of the starts we saw from former South Carolina left-handed pitcher Michael Roth over the past few seasons.
From the get-go, DeNato was in complete command. Though not an imposing pitcher, DeNato mixed in a fastball that sat anywhere from 85-88, along with a curveball, that at times, was a plus pitch in the 73-74 range. DeNato finished the contest with eight strikeouts, only getting sharper as the game progressed.
"Getting ahead in the count was a big deal for me tonight," DeNato said. "I was throwing my curveball over for a strike, and that is what was kind of working for me tonight."
DeNato, a California native, didn't run into much trouble at all against the Cardinals. He walked the first batter of the UL half of the first inning, but that resulted in no damage. Then, in the third inning, the Cards had their best chance to score all night when Cole Sturgeon smacked a single into right field with Sutton Whitting on second base with two outs. The Cards, aggressive in nature, elected to send Whitting home, but he was thrown out at the plate by Will Nolden.
Louisville wouldn't touch third base the rest of the night, DeNato throwing a complete-game shutout, just the fourth at TD Ameritrade Park in three seasons of College World Series games here. He also threw 136 pitches and was a workhorse, something that truly could pay off for the Hoosiers as they aim for the program's first national title.
"That was huge [the complete game]. Our mindset coming into the game was to stay in the winner's bracket. If we had to use Monday's starter, we were going to do it," Smith said. "So I think anytime -- we just talked about that. When you have a tournament format such as this, it's such a grind, so it was huge for him to come out and do this. We could save our bullpen and keep guys fresh."
While DeNato put together a banner performance for the Hoosiers, Louisville right-handed pitcher Chad Green had one of his worst outings of the season. Green struck out four, walked four and allowed two runs on three hits in two innings, forcing the Cards to go to the bullpen much earlier than expected, pushing often-used reliever Cody Ege for 69 pitches in 4 1/3 innings.
Green threw two innings for just the second time this season, the last coming in late May against Rutgers, when he allowed six runs in just two innings.
"It wasn't like he was all over the place," Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said. "I thought the game came down to the fact there were some 3-2 counts in our favor and 3-2 counts in their favor. And to their credit, their guy just kept making those pitches when he was behind, and when he had to. And unfortunately, Chad just couldn't, whether he walked the guy or whatever, and it's just not like Chad at all."
Indiana didn't exactly piece together an offensive onslaught against Green and the Cardinals. But the Hoosiers were patient and drew some folks, but weren't opportunistic, leaving 11 runners on base as compared to just five for the Cardinals.
In the end, though, it wasn't the Indiana offense that had to lead the charge.
DeNato was the headliner, as contrary to popular belief, has actually been the case plenty of times throughout this season.
"As much as our offense has been the key for us, at the end of the day, if you're going to win a national title … you're going to do it with pitching and defense."
A sparkling debut, I must say.
CWS snapshot: Breaking down Indiana-Louisville
Player of the game: LHP Joey DeNato, Indiana -- In what might be the easiest player of the game selection in this year's College World Series, the nod goes to DeNato, who was simply fabulous against the Cardinals. He struck out eight, walked three and allowed just four hits in a complete game shutout win over UL. He threw 136 pitches in the contest, 83 for strikes, and was in complete command the entire game.
Turning point: With the Hoosiers already carrying a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the third inning, the Cardinals attempted to take back some momentum when Cole Sturgeon hit a single through the right side with Sutton Whitting on second base. However, Hoosiers right fielder Will Nolden's eyes lit up, and he threw Whitting out with ease at home plate, by three or four steps. DeNato wouldn't get into serious trouble the rest of the contest.
What they said: "There were plenty of mental mistakes, plenty of base running mistakes, plenty of excitement, some nice plays out there. We still feel like we have better baseball. But I think probably the most interesting thing as far as that game is all I've heard all week is about Indiana's offense, our offense, our offense. So I was very proud and pleased with what Joey was able to do and go out there and set the tone on the mound, because we've said even the a group when we talk privately, as much as our offense has been something very key for us this year, at the end of the day, if you're going to win a national championship, you're still going to do it with your pitching and defense." -- Indiana coach Tracy Smith
What's next: With the win over Louisville, Indiana won the Big Ten's first game in Omaha since June 8, 1983, when Michigan defeated Stanford. The Hoosiers move on to the winner's bracket, where they'll likely throw imposing Aaron Slegers or Will Coursen-Carr against Mississippi State, which defeated Oregon State earlier in the day. Meanwhile, the Cardinals head to the elimination game on Monday with right-handed pitcher Jeff Thompson, who was magnificent against Vanderbilt last weekend, on the bump.