One more game

It’s come down to this: USI’s baseball team needs to win just one game to capture its second NCAA Division II national championship. But before it faces Colorado Mesa in that game on Saturday night, think back over this season and recall how remarkable it has been. This team has won 48 games of the 61 it has played. Yet, the most amazing stat may be that, among all those victories, the Screaming Eagles have won 15 one-run games. Successful teams don’t necessarily dominate opponents but they almost always manage to win the close games. And the only way to do that is with timely hitting and timely pitching — something USI has been doing all season.

It was on display again during the team’s 4-3 victory over Minnesota State on Friday. The Eagles trailed 3-0 when they suddenly strung together not only a series of hits but employed trickery with a steal of home — by catcher Ryan Bertram, no less — while another USI runner was stealing second (not surprised to see coach Tracy Archuleta pull that one out of his bag of tricks, something GLVC coaches would have been ready for but a move that nobody at Minnesota State had ever seen, I’m willing to wager). Then starting pitcher David Toth did his thing: struggling in the first inning by giving up three runs right off the bat, then settling down and keeping Minnesota State from scoring again. But the key moment was reliever Andrew Mercer replacing Toth with two runners on base and just one out and pitching out of the jam without a run scoring.

Survive and advance is all but a cliche nowadays. But there’s no other way to describe how the USI baseball team plays the game. Besides, it doesn’t matter how you win as long as you win, and the Eagles seem to know how to do that better than anyone else right now.

Johnnie Guy and Elly Rono

They’re separated by 16 years, but they’re together now in the USI men’s track & field record book. Johnnie Guy on Thursday night became the first USI runner since Ely Rono in 1998 to win the 10,000 meters at the NCAA Division II Outdoor National Track & Field Championships. Next up for Guy, who’s just a sophomore, is taking aim at Rono’s two other national championships, set in 1997-98: the indoor 5,000 meters and a cross country title. Guy could also add an outdoor 5,000 championship someday (maybe Saturday, when this year’s race will be contested).

Assuming he remains healthy, Guy could easily surpass Rono. By the way, Guy’s winning time of 29 minutes, 33.31 seconds isn’t anywhere close to the school record. That’s held, not by Rono (who ranks second), but by Dustin Emerick, at 28:33.35, set in 2012 at the Payton Jordan Invitational (Rono’s best time was 28:51.91 set at the 1998 Penn Relays). Guy’s time doesn’t even surpass his best: 29:29.67, set this year at the Hillsdale “Gina” Relays; it ranks fourth on USI’s all-time list. But then, the pace of Thursday night’s race apparently was slow, which wasn’t Guy’s fault and probably played to his strength, which involves gradually pulling away from the field starting around 7,000 meters.

That was an interesting part of Thursday night’s race. Apparently, nobody knew anything about Guy’s running strategy. USI coach Mike Hillyard, with Guy’s concurrence, had deliberately kept Guy from going all out until the nationals. So nobody ever saw exactly what he could do. “Nobody had their eye on me and thought I was capable of winning,” said Guy. “So when I went by them the guy who was leading at the time I didn’t think took it seriously.”

One more thing: the runner Guy beat for the title, another sophomore named Michael Biwott, is Kenyan. Thus another feather in the USI runner’s cap — defeating a competitor from the best distance running country in the world.

All hail Tracy Archuleta

Seriously. USI’s head coach has his baseball team on such a roll that it has won 25 of its last 27 games, has put together a 39-9 overall record, a 29-5 mark in the GLVC, a No. 1 ranking in the Midwest Region and a No. 8 ranking in the entire nation in Division II. Next up is the GLVC Tournament, with USI as the No. 1 seed in games taking place at Bosse Field and USI starting Thursday (under conference rules, USI must play at Bosse Field because it is the host) and a really good shot at hosting the NCAA Midwest Regional.

Of course, Archuleta would be the first to downplay his role in this. But consider what happened the past two years.

USI didn’t even make the GLVC Tournament — even though it has been the host the past two years. In a way, that was Archuleta’s fault as much as he deserves credit for this year’s success. Several key injuries didn’t help, but the team also never seemed to get its footing until it was too late in the season to make up for lost ground. The same coach who guided the Screaming Eagles to a DII national championship in 2010 seemed to have lost his touch.

Not.

Several players who were part of last year’s disappointment are key components in this year’s run. Others are either new or moved into the starting lineup off the bench. But if you’ve ever had the privilege of watching a weekday practice, you’d know that what’s been happening in 2014 could just as easily have happened in 2013 or 2012. Archuleta’s concentration on the basics of the game — things like throwing to the right base, bunting, knowing when to hit the cutoff man, taking the extra base on a hit or even a groundout, stealing bases, working the count, pitching to contact, etc. — have been his emphasis since he first arrived on the West Side.

From what I’ve heard there are many parallels with the 2010 squad, the most important being this team’s resilience and ability to come back and win after falling behind. Case in point: USI has won 11 one-run games this season.

With so many games, success in baseball depends on momentum. USI certainly has that right now.

Rick Stein on his USI seniors

Thursday night is Senior Night at the PAC as USI’s women’s basketball team plays its final regular-season home game, taking  on Bellarmine. The following are Eagles coach Rick Stein’s thoughts about his senior class:

On guard Stephanie Carpenter – It’s been so fun to just watch her really develop as a player and as a leader. Her game has just continued to grow over the last four years. One of the things she’s done is she’s put the time and effort into it. She has been a three-year starter for us, basically. She could have rested on the skills she had, but she made herself better. She made herself a better basketball player and a better overall player. Her competitive nature drives a lot of that. She wants to win everything. She wants to win every drill, every competition. We’re talking about a player who’s (USI’s) leader in all-time 3-pointers made and who’s closing in on a thousand points. And she’s done that in just three years because she was playing behind two really great players her freshman year in Ellen Young and Amie Newhart.

On forward Nicole Hazemi – For Nicole to finish her career playing her best basketball is just awesome. She’s a young lady that has always come in here ready to go. I can’t remember a year when she came in and I said, “You didn’t do anything this summer.” She was always prepared to go. What we see … is her knowledge of the game just really has grown. Right now, she’s playing like a senior. She’s always been able to find the basket. Some people look at her shot and say, “I don’t know, wow.” But she has always been able to find the basket. She has always been able to make her teammates better with her play. She’s excelling on both ends of the court.

On point guard Ariel Barnes – Sometimes players’ roles change a little bit. With Ariel, we have depth at that point guard spot. One of the things “AB” has shown especially in this last month is she’s always been ready when push comes to shove. We need to really step up our game and I think our senior class has really been at the front of that. Ariel has been right there at the front of it also. She’s doing everything she can possibly do right now … in a lot of different ways behind the scenes, like the work she is doing to get our team ready to play before games and after games. She’s showing that senior leadership we need from her.

On guard/forward/center Jessica Parker – Jess I think  is kind of that X-factor player for us. She can play the better part of four positions. We have played her at the 2, 3, 4 and 5 this year and she has stepped up offensively and defensively. She’s a strong player and a quick player. She’s been able to do some things I’m not sure anybody else can because she can go to other positions. She was slowed by injuries a little. I think she’s had a great year. For us to have success going into the Bellarmine game on Thursday and the conference tournament and beyond, Jessica is gonna be a factor in all of it.

On guard Aubrey Minix – She’s a player that has overcome so many injuries. Since she walked in here she’s been battling something. She just came off hip surgery last spring. She goes through a lot of rehab and a lot of taping before practice and before every game. There are not too many days when she is not in pain. But with the commitment level she has, she wants to help in any way she can. She played seven minutes at St. Joe and had two assists for us. She’s player who, when her name is called, will do anything she can to help the team.

A short break

I’ll be taking some time off for a few days, so no blogging. Yeah, I know, there’s a lot going on in USI sports. But family obligations are calling. Check back on Tuesday or Wednesday. And keep going to our web site at www.courierpress.com/sports/ to find out the latest.

USI’s top student athletes

I’ll just let the news release speak for itself:

In an evening that celebrates the accomplishments of the University of Southern Indiana student athletes during the 2012-13 year, senior Susan Ellsperman (women’s soccer), senior Michael Jordan (men’s cross country and track), senior Ellena Stumpf (women’s tennis), and senior Scott Ernstberger(baseball) were recognized as the top student athletes at the 11th annual USI All-Sports Banquet sponsored by Old National Bank on Tuesday night.

The ONB/USI Female Student Athlete of the Year, Ellsperman earned All-GLVC honors for the third-straight year and All-Region accolades for the fourth-straight season. The biology major, with an emphasis in the pre-medicine program, also became the first two-time first-team Academic All-American in the history of USI women’s athletics. She was the recipient of the Screaming Eagles Pride award last spring.

Ellsperman, who also led her team to the GLVC Tournament four-straight seasons, finished her career ranked among the all-time greats in USI women’s soccer. She concluded her tenure at USI ranked third all-time in points (68); fourth in goals (23); and fourth in assists (22).

Previous winners of the award were Shannon Wells (2003, volleyball), Jenny Farmer (2004; cross country/track), Heather Cooksey (2005; cross country/track), Laura Ellerbusch (2006; volleyball), Allison Shafer (2007; cross country/track), Kristin Eickholt (2008; softball), and Mary Ballinger (2009, 2010; cross country/track), and Danielle LaGrange (2011, 2012; volleyball).

The ONB/USI Male Student Athlete of the Year, Jordan has been nothing short of spectacular throughout his career. This past fall, Jordan helped lead the men’s cross country squad to its eighth-straight GLVC title and won the GLVC individual crown. The nursing major has earned All-GLVC and All-Region honors six times; Academic All-GLVC accolades four times; and is a four-time All-American. He is USI’s all-time record-holder in the 3,000 meters and the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

Previous winners of the award were Duncan Bray (2003, 2004; soccer), Matt Keener (2005; baseball), Chris Thompson (2006; men’s basketball), Melvin Hall (2007; men’s basketball), Paul Jellema (2008; men’s cross country/track), Shaun Larsen (2009; baseball), Jamar Smith (2010; men’s basketball), Trevor Leach (2011; baseball), and Dustin Emerick (2012; men’s cross country & track).

Ernstberger and Stumpf were named the male and female recipients the ONB/USI Screaming Eagles Pride Award. The award winners are selected in a vote by the Athletic Department staff.

Ernstberger has been one of the most dedicated students in the USI Department of Athletics. A manager and student athlete, Ernstberger spent hours helping the baseball program and earned his first at-bat this season.

Stumpf is one of the most visible personalities among all of the USI student athletes. She is the women’s tennis representative to the Student Athletic Advisory Council and is pursuing a degree in economics.

On the court, Stumpf finished her career with her best season in 2012-13. She was 10-7 at number four singles and 9-10 as a part of the number three doubles pairing. Stumpf also is a three-time Academic All-GLVC honoree.

Previous winners of the Pride Award were Ginnie Roberts (softball) 2003; Mike Arnold (men’s basketball) 2004; Brian Kendall (men’s cross country/track) 2005; Angie Davis (softball) 2006; Geoff Van Winkle (men’s basketball) 2007; Kathy Wood (softball) 2008; Austin Inge (men’s track) and Brittany Neuman (women’s basketball) 2009; Jeron Lewis (men’s basketball) and Sara Loete (softball) 2010; Lauren Meneghetti (women’s basketball) and Mohamed Ntumba (men’s basketball) 2011; and Susan Ellsperman (women’s soccer) and Brendan Devine (men’s cross country/track) 2012.

Dr. Darrin Sorrels, an instructor and learning specialist in Academic Skills, was presented the Dr. Jane Davis Brezette Faculty Excellence Award. The award is presented to a USI faculty member, who has contributed to the success of USI Athletics by mentoring student athletes and helping them to achieve their goals in the classroom and beyond. Previous winners of award were Dr. Jane Davis-Brezette, the former chair of Kinesiology and Sport and instructor in the Pott College of Science, Engineering and Education; Tim Mahoney, an instructor in the Romain College of Business; Patti Marcum, an instructor in the Pott College of Science Engineering, and Education; and Dr. Lacie Rogers, an instructor in the Romain College of Business.

The USI Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) recognized women’s cross country and track and field with the Team GPA Award (3.518) and men’s soccer with the Team Spirit Award.

Needed: A Ruth Waller memorial at USI

When Ruth Waller retired last spring, I hoped USI would do something soon to honor the woman who almost single-handedly built women’s sports at the school. Well, now’s the time. Her death last Saturday should hasten the creation of some sort of memorial or even memorials on campus. My suggestion: Name the Physical Activities Center after her, something along the lines of the Ruth Waller Center. Thousands of young women have come through those doors to play basketball, volleyball, soccer, run track and cross country. But don’t just re-name the place. Also put up a prominent plaque detailing what she did for USI women’s sports, a plaque that nobody can miss when they walk in the building. It’s only right and fitting. Ruth never, ever tooted her own horn, but I don’t think she would have minded this gesture.

The advent of universal women’s sports in the United States was truly revolutionary. When I grew up, girls almost never played sports and those who did we thought were just plain weird. Yeah, that was stupid, but if you lived before the revolution almost nobody even thought to question it. Since the revolution we can’t even begin to imagine how anyone would have thought like that. Thank people like Ruth Waller for that 180-degree change.

Get the ball to DeWitt (and Rutledge)

The first portion of that headline comes from USI men’s basketball coach Rodney Watson himself. After his Eagles lost at home to Wisconsin-Parkside on Saturday, that was one of the things he talked about afterward. But he wasn’t just saying he wants his players to lob the ball into the 6-foot-10 Keith DeWitt.

“We’ve got to get the ball reversed and get Keith more touches,” he said. “Right now we are a one-side-of-the-court team and we need to be a both-sides-of-the-court team.”

There’s plenty for the Eagles to figure out heading into their last five games of the regular season, and the competition seems to be in the same situation, something I address in my latest column here. DeWitt has been by far the most consistent player for USI over the last four games. He’s scored 20 points twice and three times has had double-doubles in points and rebounds and just missed a fourth on Saturday (he finished with eight rebounds). The problem is USI still has not found someone to make up for the points and rebounds lost when 6-8 Aaron Nelson (11.9 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game) went down for the season with a knee injury. Taylor Wischmeier scored only eight points in each loss and had two rebounds against Lewis and eight versus Parkside. Austin Davis had seven points and three rebounds against Lewis and zero points and three boards against Parkside. Manny Ogufolu totaled zero points and three rebounds versus Lewis and did not play against Parkside.

When an opponent only has to worry about DeWitt, it probably can afford to give him 20 points knowing that nobody else is going to cause much damage. This is where someone like Orlando Rutledge probably needs to become a consistent 18-to-20-point scorer. His last 20-point outburst was six games ago, at Parkside on Jan. 24. Since then he’s scored no more than 14 and he’s finished in single digits twice. And his 3-point shooting has all but vanished — in fact, he’s 0-for-9 over his last three games and took only one 3-point shot (and missed it) against Parkside.

Remember that Rutledge stands 6-6, making him all but impossible to guard beyond the arc. His regaining his shooting touch — especially from long range — may be the key to the rest of USI’s season.

‘Hoosiers’ was wrong

Remember that scene in the great basketball flick “Hoosiers” where the Hickory team walks into an empty Butler Fieldhouse for the state finals for the first time and Gene Hackman, as the coach, has his players measure the height of the basket? His point is that the dimensions are exactly the same as the dimensions of Hickory’s home court. Well, technically that’s true, but it’s not nearly that simple. Every court’s shooting background is different, not to mention the tension of the rims, the liveliness or deadness of the floor, stuff like that. The point of this is that USI did not practice at McKendree before Saturday’s game. In fact, it did its shootaround back at USI before the team climbed on the bus to leave for Lebanon, Ill. I can completely understand why this was done — the trip was only a little more than two hours, letting your players spend the previous night in their own beds is always a good idea, not spending money when you don’t have to is a good idea (especially in Division II) and, let’s admit it, McKendree wasn’t going to be the most dangerous opponent on the USI schedule. But it took the Eagles an entire half to find their shooting eye, taking 41 shots in the first 20 minutes alone (while hitting only 17). They also had to get used to the nature of the gym. It was tiny, but the crowd was right on top of the game. From the video feed I was watching the place looked more like a middle school gym than even a high school gym. It was just very different from the PAC or anywhere else USI has played (with the exception of Maryville, which has a similar gym). Not that you can simulate a game in there during practice, but still, the facility was extremely unusual.

I don’t know. Saving money is pretty much the entire reason for being in D-II (that’s why teams stay in their own regions in the NCAA Tournament instead of being sent around the country to balance out the talent). But sometimes I think it can screw up a team. If USI had lost this game — and there was a distinct possibility until several minutes into the second half — I’m not sure the Eagles would have recovered.

Inside help needed

USI’s easy men’s basketball victory over Bellarmine on Thursday night masked a continuing problem for the Eagles since the season-ending injury to Aaron Nelson — a lack of scoring and rebounding from the Eagles’ forwards. Keith DeWitt had a monster game, of course, scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds and going 6-for-8 from the field. But USI got little from his teammates in the paint. Taylor Wischmeier did score eight points but pulled down just one rebound. Manny Ogunfolu did not score and had one rebound. Austin Davis, playing more inside than in the past, also did not score and finished with two rebounds. So, in 55 total minutes of playing time, inside players not named DeWitt scored eight points, totaled four rebounds and went 4-for-10 from the field. Orlando Rutledge had six boards, but that’s not really his job. Lawrence Thomas, USI’s 5-9 point guard, had four rebounds. If DeWitt has an off night, it could get ugly.