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Manchester baseball Hoosier strong

Manchester baseball gets to represent Indiana this week on one of the biggest stages in Division III: the College World Series.

For all of the players traveling with the Spartans to Appleton, Wis., that means something. Each of them is an in-state player.

“It really means a lot with the group of seniors we’ve been playing with, that I’ve been playing with, these last four years,” said Bryce Murphy, a Norwell graduate and Ossian native. “Great group of guys to win with, coaches that I love … it’s just a lot of fun to be a part of.”

Coach Rick Espeset, who has been with the program for 17 years, said the evolution of his program has been great to watch. At first, he had to recruit nationally to bring in players talented enough to win games.

As the Spartans gained recognition, his roster started to fill up with Indiana kids. Now, it only has one out-of-state player.

“I think these guys, the challenge will be not spending the first couple days just trying to feel like you belong,” he said. “I think they’ll be ready. They think they have a shot.”

They might be right.

Manchester took down two-time defending Division III champion Marietta, the most storied baseball program in the division, during regional play. The Spartans also beat 2010 champion Illinois Wesleyan en route to the College World Series.

Now, they will face Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the opening round at 5:30 p.m. Friday in a double-elimination tournament format.

With 10 seniors – all Indiana kids – the squad is ready to represent both the university and their home state.

“When we first came in four years ago to where we are now, it’s pretty amazing what we’ve done as a class,” Brad Murphy, a Carroll graduate, said. “We’ve played each other in high school, played with each other in the summer prior to coming to college. We’re basically a family and being able to represent Indiana is pretty special.”

It’s an opportunity to shed some light on a state not known for baseball, too.

The state has gotten to the national stage in baseball multiple times. Most of them happened recently. University of Indianapolis made the Division II College World Series in 2012. Indiana University earned its first outright Big Ten title since 1932 this season.

And now Manchester will try to earn some more recognition.

“It’s pretty cool,” Murphy said. “Indiana isn’t really known for its baseball prowess, I guess. Being born and raised in this state, going to the College World Series with teams from around the country, just being able to represent Indiana, means a lot to us.”

smorrison@jg.net

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