WHAT HAPPENED: Indiana junior left-hander Joey DeNato surrendered just four hits in a complete game shutout, throwing 136 pitches in a 2-0 win over Louisville in front of 27,122 at TD Ameritrade Park in Indiana’s first ever game in the College World Series. The Hoosiers advance to play Mississippi State at 8 p.m. on Monday. Louisville goes to the loser’s bracket and has to play Oregon State at 3 p.m. on Monday in an elimination game.
WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: DeNato’s performance — considering the stage — was almost unquestionably the greatest in Indiana history. He gave up just four hits and walked three while striking out eight batters. Just three of Louisville’s seven base runners reached second base. The only one who passed second — Louisville shortstop Sutton Whiting — was thrown out at home by IU right fielder Will Nolden trying to score from second on a single by Louisville right fielder Cole Sturgeon.
He mixed pitches speeds and locations and hit his spots with everything he through He threw breaking balls in fastball counts to keep Louisville off-balancce and the Cardinals simpley couldn’t square up anything he threw. And even though he started to seem tired, he said he didn’t feel the fatigue in the late innings and he breezed through them. He hit 100 pitches in the seventh inning and gave up one walk but retired the other three hitters he faced, striking out the last one. He had already thrown 115 pitches by the eighth, and he hung a breaking ball to Adam Engel with two outs that went for a double, but retired the other three hitters he faced to get out of the inning. In the ninth, he sat Louisville down 1-2-3 on just six pitches. On the biggest stage an Indiana team had ever stood on, DeNato wove together an absolute masterpiece.
Indiana didn’t get much offense, but didn’t need it. Designated hitter Scott Donley drove in a run with a single in the first and shortstop Michael Basil drove in another with a single in the third. Right fielder Wil Nolden scored a run, drew three walks and had a double and also threw a rifle shot to get Whiting at the plate, hitting Kyle Schwarber’s glove without so much as a bounce. Schwarber had a pair of singles and scored a run before striking out on his last three at-bats.
WHY DID IT HAPPEN: Again, because DeNato was phenomenal.
The Hoosiers were also flawless defensively, not committing an error, but they left 11 men on base and seven men in scoring position. Louisville reliever Cody Ege struck out six batters in 4 1/3 scoreless innings and Indiana didn’t score a run after the third.
But DeNato was so good it didn’t matter.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Indiana stepped on college baseball’s biggest stage and announced that it isn’t going anywhere. The Hoosiers heard all week that they are fan favorites but also that they were underdogs, despite the fact that they now have a 49-14 record. They refused to believe that they were here to make a brief cameo and step off the stage. With this win, the Hoosiers assured that they will be in Omaha until at least Wednesday. And now, heading into Monday’s game, the Hoosiers are in a much better pitching situation than Mississippi State, which went through three pitchers in its first game.
Just as much, this is big for DeNato, a long-time underdog. The 5-10 left-hander has been an All-Big Ten pick in all three of his seasons with the Hoosiers, but he wasn’t taken in this year’s Major League Baseball draft as a junior. Aaron Slegers, a redshirt sophomore who hadn’t pitched 10 innings in his first two years on staff but happens to be a foot taller than DeNato, was taken in the fifth round. DeNato gave every scout who passed on him something to remember for next June.
WHO SAID WHAT: From the folks at ASAP. Who rock.
COACH TRACY SMITH
THE MODERATOR: Tracy, an overview.
COACH SMITH: Well, I mean, it’s new territory for us so we’re excited to certainly get that first College World Series win out of the way, albeit not the prettiest game.
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.
So good to get off and stay in the winner’s bracket. That’s a good Louisville team. Our guy was on tonight. Their guys were on tonight. We were just fortunate early in the game to get that lead. But we’re happy with the win.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Joey, what did you have working for you tonight? And where does that rank among your career performances?
JOEY DeNATO: Definitely one of the top performances I’ve ever had. But I think getting ahead in the count and throwing my curveball first strike, first pitch, that’s mostly what I was doing all night and it was working well for me.
Q. How tired were you at the end and how did you manage to push through that basically? Did you think you were ready to come out in the ninth? Just what all went into that?
JOEY DeNATO: In the midst of a game like that, you never think about pitch count or your arm’s getting tired or not. My arm felt just as good in the ninth inning as it did in the first.
Q. Joey, just elaborate on that a little bit. You looked like you just ‑‑ elaborate on that. Looked like you were in some ways getting sharper as the game went on and stuff. Did you feel like you were throwing the ball better in the late going?
JOEY DeNATO: Yeah. In the beginning, I think I had butterflies, nervousness. But as the game went on, I think my pitches did get sharper and I was getting ahead in the count more often.
Q. Joey, were there any conversations between you and Coach, how you were feeling in between innings? And, Coach, you can comment on this as well, just trying to gauge like how far you could go? Looked like you did a little bit of normal stretching, but you never really thought you wanted to have the ball taken away.
JOEY DeNATO: I think we were on the same page. He knew I wanted to go out and I knew I wanted to go out, so yeah.
COACH SMITH: We didn’t say one word to each other the entire ballgame. Truth?
JOEY DeNATO: Yes.
COACH SMITH: Exactly.
Q. Joey, Coach specifically mentioned the talk that was given about your offense. A lot of attention to their starters, to Louisville pitchers. Do you feel like this is kind of an opportunity to show maybe what people around the program have known? And also for Will and Michael, do you guys think maybe this is a chance for people to see what you guys have here?
WILL NOLDEN: Our pitching has been solid all year and same with our bats. But our offense is unbelievable this year. I mean they deserve the credit that they’ve gotten.
MICHAEL BASIL: There was a span in time in the year where the pitchers were really picking up the hitters for the majority a big part of the season, and we’d only be putting up three, four runs a game without no problem because our pitchers were holding the other team down. And we have all the confidence in the world they can do that every single day.
Q. Coach, how big was it to get a complete game tonight? And how does that set up your pitching going for the next game, the next two games, at least?
COACH SMITH: That was huge. Our mindset coming into the game was stay in the winner’s bracket. If we had to use tomorrow’s starter, we were going to do it.
So I think anytime ‑‑ we just talked about that. When you have a tournament format such as this, it’s such a grind, it was huge for us for him to come out. We could save our bullpen and save the guys and be fresh. And I realize we asked a lot of him tonight. His pitch count being 136, but this is the time of year, I think, everybody would agree you ask a little bit more of your guys.
And we had factored in, too, Joey didn’t go an extended outing his last outing, we felt. He’s not a max effort type guy anyway. But I thought it was outstanding. I would agree with the gentleman who asked the question earlier, or made the observation, I actually thought he actually got sharper as the game went on and settled in with all this stuff.
So, yeah, I would say that he’s set us up pretty well with our bullpen coming next few days.
Q. Coach, how much of a momentum saver was it, you think, that played ‑‑ Will made an out in the third inning and, Will, did your eyes light up when you saw him go around third base and when you picked it up in the field?
WILL NOLDEN: Yeah, definitely. Off the bat, I knew there was a chance and kind of could put everything I could behind it and just let Kyle do his job from there.
COACH SMITH: I think that was a key play, because if memory serves me correctly, they had just, they had thrown us out prior to that, right? So a couple of bangers at the plate. I think everybody at the dugout, we’re used to that with him. We love it with the two out base hits to Nolden because we know there’s going to be a play at the plate. And it was funny when I watched the replay, it was like Schwarber was still down in the catching position and threw a perfect strike to the plate. So the guys were excited in the dugout and they fed off of that. It was a huge play, huge play.
Q. Will, big game for you offensively. You got on base four times, three walks, a double, but also had the base running plays. Could you talk about the good and the bad tonight for you?
WILL NOLDEN: As a lead‑off in front of Schwarber and guys like Travis and Donley, I know I’ve got one job to do, and that’s to get on base. So obviously I was happy getting on base four times tonight.
But the mistakes, little mental slipups there, so it won’t happen again, though.
Q. Joey you talked a lot throughout the year about everything you did to sort of strengthen your arm not tire out like you did last year. How much does a night like this come from that? I guess from all that, did it keep your arm in shape?
JOEY DeNATO: Last year at this point during the season, I know my arm definitely wasn’t 100 percent. And this year, I really focused on taking care of my arm and doing rehab and all that stuff every single week. Now my arm feels just as strong as it did day one.
Q. Tracy and Joey, both, you hear great pitchers sometimes talk about pitching to the ballpark. And knowing this was a pitcher’s park, it was really a pitcher’s park today, did you think about, hey, as long as I mix my pitches and throw strikes, I should be in pretty good shape tonight, maybe not do anything fancy?
JOEY DeNATO: Really I stuck to the same game plan I tried all season. But tonight, especially with the wind blowing in and dimensions of the ballpark, if I got behind in the count, I didn’t really have to pinpoint my pitches as much and I had more margin of error, I guess.
Q. The College World Series can be a very nerve‑filled environment. So, Coach, what do you think the role of upper classman leadership played into winning this game tonight?
COACH SMITH: I think it’s been there all season. The guys have been ‑‑ I always start with Mike Basil, because he’s really the glue, the assistant coach out on the field. Probably as aspiring head coach out on the field. He’s so calm. He calms everybody else down. They do a good job feeding off each other.
I said it earlier this week, we went into one of most hostile environments you could ever go into in the Super Regional at Florida State, and I thought it would be good preparation for us. I know you didn’t have access to our dugout before the game, but our dugout before the game was like our dugout before spring break, and before conference season. It’s amazing to me because I was really anxious, to be honest with you. I was anxious to see if these guys would finally get a little nerves going a little bit. And once again they did not. They just went out and played and had fun playing with each other. It’s fun to watch.
Q. Tracy, with the complete game you got, what do you do against Mississippi State on Monday on the mound and what’s your game plan moving forward?
COACH SMITH: We’ll get back and talk about it and kind of see what we want to do. I didn’t have a chance ‑‑ I watched a couple of innings in the game today. I was walking around and getting some hot dogs and stuff. We’re going to come in, do our own thing. So I didn’t watch a lot. My assistant did. We haven’t had a chance to talk.
It’s been a whirlwind here. So we’ll get back, look at it, see what we think is going to be the best matchup.
We feel like we’ve got I would say two, but I can honestly say three capable guys that we could choose from. And I’m not trying to be evasive. I honestly don’t know who our second game until I get back and look at it and we’ll talk about it in detail.
Q. Joey, I’d like to ask you, since Coach mentioned from the outset that this is the school’s first win at the College World Series, what’s it mean to you to go all this way to Bloomington, Indiana and help the Hoosiers get their first College World Series win?
JOEY DeNATO: It’s a dream come true, to have the honor to do that tonight and get the win and come out here and play Indiana, I couldn’t be happier.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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