"I think it was a dream and a hope and a prayer, but the reality is, no, I didn't think it would happen," Kelly Sujka said.
But the Hoosiers played the role of, well "movie Hoosiers," over the weekend when they shocked heavily favored Florida State twice in the Tallahassee Super Regional to become the first Big Ten team since Barry Larkin's Michigan squad in 1984 to reach college baseball's biggest stage.
It's also the first trip to the College World Series for Indiana, which has fielded a baseball team for 118 seasons.
"I can definitely see where my mom is coming from, from what Indiana baseball and Big Ten baseball has done in the past," said Chris Sujka, 20, a former baseball and football star at Mount Carmel High School. "We weren't even in the preseason top 25, and to be one of the last eight teams left, I'm pretty sure it's hard for a lot of people to believe."
Sujka, a sophomore right-handed outfielder who's hitting .292 with eight RBIs, has been an occasional starter for the Hoosiers, who are 48-14 and face Louisville Saturday night in their first game of the double-elimination tournament in Omaha, Neb. The Hoosiers already have beaten the Cardinals in two of three meetings this season.
For the most part, Sujka comes off the bench as a defensive specialist or pinch runner. It's a big change from when Sujka was the go-to guy for the Caravan, as a quarterback and top baseball player.
"Even if he doesn't start, he's going to factor in the game's decision at some point," said Caravan coach Brian Hurry, who lives in Beverly and graduated from St. Francis de Sales High School. "He's ready to contribute."
Hurry, a Hegewisch native, said Sujka joins former University of Miami starting pitcher Cesar Carrillo as the only two Mount Carmel graduates to qualify for the College World Series.
The Hurricanes have 23 appearances in the College World Series, which dates back to 1947; the 12 current Big Ten teams have combined for 28 all time appearances.
"Indiana going to the College World Series gives [Big Ten teams] confidence that we're on the level of other great teams," said Sujka's classmate at Mount Carmel, John Kravetz, who's now the No. 2 starting pitcher at the University of Illinois, which has never placed a team in the College World Series. "I'm really happy for Chris and Indiana that they're going to experience this. I can't wait to hear all about it."
In April, after Illinois and Indiana played three games — with the Hoosiers winning two — Kravetz told Sujka he wouldn't be surprised if IU made it to Omaha.
Sujka said that had been his team's goal all season.
He described IU's players as "confident, not cocky", and they've carried that mindset to Big Ten regular season and tournament titles, a crown in the regional (which they hosted) and the two consecutive victories in Tallahassee against the nationally ranked Seminoles, who have reached the College World Series three times since 2008 and 21 times overall.
Florida State had been 35-3 at home before IU beat them two straight at Dick Howser Stadium.
"It was simply overwhelmingly incredible to have our Hoosiers go there and face that program and leave town [with two wins against a team] that, I'm guessing, did not expect IU to play with the talent, determination and heart that they showed," said Sujka's father, Bill, a Brother Rice High School graduate who attended both Super Regional games, posing with his son for a photo after the Hoosiers' 11-6 victory Sunday that sent them to the College World Series.
It won't be Sujka's first College World Series appearance in Omaha. As an 11-year-old, his travel team participated in a tournament in Council Bluffs, Iowa, across the Missouri River from Nebraska's largest city.
The College World Series was taking place at the same time, and Sujka was able to attend a game, in addition to College World Series entrant Arizona staying at Sujka's hotel.
"It was an amazing experience, seeing their players walk by and walking up to them for autographs," Sujka said. "When you're that age, those are your heroes. It's an amazing feeling knowing that little kids are going to be walking up to me in the hotel this time around."