Hannahs’ Sycamores in NCAA tournament

Mitch Hannahs was raised in Monroe County and graduated from Skyvue High School in 1985.

Clearly, he knows all about hard work, grinding and what it takes to get to places that not many give you a chance to reach.

Hannahs carried over that mentality, which helped him lead the Hawks to the Class A state championship his senior year, into his college and professional playing careers and then into the coaching fraternity.

It’s paying dividends currently.

In his first season at the helm, Hannahs has his alma mater, Indiana State, in the NCAA Baseball Tournament for the first time since 2012 and ninth time overall. The Sycamores open regional play today just a little more than an hour or so from their campus in Terre Haute at Indiana University against Stanford.

“We played a lot of good baseball all season and did a lot of things well,” Hannahs said during a phone interview earlier this week.

The Sycamores, who finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference, were never really on the bubble despite going two-and-out in their conference tournament last week. Indiana State owns a solid 35-16 record, but has lost three in a row.

Hannahs believes – or at least hopes – that being eliminated in the conference tournament, which they hosted, so quickly refocuses his club now that it has a second chance.

“We felt like we had to win our final regular season series (against Bradley) to be in,” Hannahs said. “So, we felt strongly that we were in, and I think our guys relaxed a little bit after a long season of building that resume.”

Entering the conference tournament, Indiana State’s RPI had climbed to 18. Then came the losses to Bradley (6-2) and Missouri State (9-1).

“We were confident, but we were also a little bit nervous after the second night (of the conference tournament),” Hannahs admitted. “We woke up the next morning and saw that our RPI had held at 23 or so, so we were confident.”

Since the wake-up call, Hannahs thinks the Sycamores may have enjoyed their best practices of the season.

“That tournament left a bad taste in our guys’ mouths,” Hannahs said. “Leading up to the selection show (last Monday), we had two or three of our best practices. I think our guys are tired of practicing and are ready to go play again. We’ve lived and learned.”

The entire season, actually, has been a live and learn type thing. Hannahs was hired last summer for the job and took over a team that finished 26-25.

Hannahs wasn’t exactly sure he was taking over a club with serious NCAA Tournament aspirations.

When you consider the Sycamores’ record and the fact that they and lost basically their entire starting pitching staff from that club, it made for some restless evenings for Hannahs.

“We knew we had some work to do,” Hannahs said. “Basically, when the season started, we had one guy on the staff who had any experience at all, but we returned zero starts from last season, so there was a concern of how our staff would respond.”

It didn’t take long for Sycamores to get it going. After dropping their season opener to Auburn on Valentines Day, Indiana State didn’t lose for a month, reeling off 12 straight wins.

“Our guys came to work every day for the right reasons,” Hannahs said. “Sometimes when you have a team of all pretty good players, no superstars and guys who have the same goals and reasons, you’ll be amazed with what can be accomplished.”

There have been been some tense moments. Hannahs has spent a lot of the season juggling his pitching rotation, but primarily have utilized a four-man rotation. Offensively, the Sycamores are batting .274 as a team.

“We felt like we could mold an offense around the speed we had coming back,” Hannahs said. “We’re really now a power-hitting team. It’s actually been quite a surprise how it’s all mixed together.”

Tied for the lead in hitting is Hannahs’ son, Derek, who originally attended Ohio State before transferring to Indiana State.

Derek Hannahs, the every day second baseman, is batting .305.

“We try to diminish the father-son thing as much as we can when it comes to baseball,” the skipper said. “It’s nice to have a son in the program, but it feels like I have 35 sons on the team, so I am excited about this opportunity for all of our kids.”

The Sycamores spent much of the week putting together scouting reports on the Cardinal, who had a slightly longer trip to the Hoosiers’ campus and come in with a 30-23 record.

“We’ve been digging and trying to get what information we can,” Hannahs said. “Stanford is Stanford. They’re going to pitch it and they’re going to catch it. Their starting pitching is solid and they’re an aggressive club offensively.”

Indiana State split their two meetings with the host Hoosiers, who Hannahs believes is the favorite to get to next week’s Super Regionals. Youngstown State, which won the Horizon League at 16-36, is the fourth team. The Penguins will meet the Big Ten champion Hoosiers at 7 tonight.

Staskey can be reached via email at sstaskey@timesleadeornline or on Twitter (@TLSportsSeth)