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Orange Lutheran shortstop Tank Espalin would be lying if he said he had a deep knowledge of Indiana’s program before Thursday.

Just a week ago, he was a Southern Cal recruit. Not only that, but Espalin had been committed to the Trojans since eighth grade. Pac-12 baseball had been the center of his world — until a week ago, when it became evident that a pandemic-induced scholarship squeeze at USC would be changing his circumstances.

Suddenly, he was out of his letter of intent. His phone was blowing up with calls, as coaches around the country aimed to scoop up a 6-foot-1, 180-pound prospect rated a 10 out of 10 by the recruiting site Perfect Game. Simply put, an elite player.

By Thursday, Espalin was on a Zoom call with IU coach Jeff Mercer and his staff, walking through a three-hour virtual tour of the Bloomington campus, the Hoosiers’ athletic facilities, and the data-driven approach they would use to develop him.

“I loved everything they had to say,” Espalin said. “As soon as they made me the offer, I felt like this was the best place for me. They told me everything I needed to feel at home there.”

In less than a week, USC’s loss became IU’s gain. A blue-chip middle infielder is on his way to Bloomington, officially announcing his decision to attend IU on Saturday evening.

“It was tough, this whole COVID thing really put a wrinkle in some things. I don’t think USC wanted to let him go. I think they were forced to,” Orange Lutheran coach Eric Borba said. “All to Indiana’s pleasure. Everything works out for a reason.”

Borba can’t say enough good things about Espalin, one of the most recent stars of a nationally ranked Orange Lutheran program. Espalin is extremely versatile. He usually mans shortstop, but he can also play second base, or the outfield, or even catch.

He has hit anywhere from leadoff to No. 6 in Lutheran’s order. He’s known for being a contact hitter, but Espalin is capable of power swings, too.

“He’s got an electric bat from the left side,” Borba said. “He has some thump. He can drive the ball the other way with some authority, but he can turn and have some pull-side power, too.”

While neither Borba nor Espalin commented specifically about what led to a parting with USC, it’s apparent the Trojans weren’t in a great position in terms of scholarships. A program like USC plans on losing handfuls of players to the MLB draft every year. This year, in the aftermath of COVID-19, the draft was shrunk from 40 rounds to five.

USC had only one player drafted, pitcher Kyle Hurt in the fifth round. More importantly, infielders Jamal O’Guinn, Ben Ramirez, and Clay Owens weren’t selected.

Borba didn’t know whether IU needed a middle infielder or not. He just put in a call to Hoosier assistant Derek Simmons because they are friends in the business. They worked at a USA Baseball event together and were roommates. Simmons also coached Borba’s son.

Borba respected Simmons. He also believed in the good reputation of IU’s program, as word has started to travel as far west as California.

“I got 10 different phone calls from Pac-12 schools and Big West schools. He had a lot of options,” Borba said. “It shows the respect they have when they can land a high-profile guy this late in the process. Says a lot about them and what they are doing there.”

The Midwest wasn’t completely foreign to Espalin, because he has family in Iowa. He knows it’s not as warm as California. And before his Zoom meeting with IU’s staff, Espalin also did some googling to get acquainted with the Big Ten program.

What impressed him most was the coaching staff’s credentials, including the Big Ten’s 2019 coach of the year in Mercer. During the Zoom call, Mercer was giving Espalin feedback on his swing. He noticed how the shortstop’s knee was locked and preloaded at times, stealing power from his followthrough.

“I love how hands-on the coaches are,” Espalin said. “He’s doing one-on-ones with everyone, I’d never seen that type of stuff from other coaches. The technology they have, their weight room. He took me through the virtual tour, and I fell in love.”

Of course, a prospect of Espalin’s ilk has a chance to play early at IU. He was receiving interest from MLB teams before the draft. But once he made it clear he wanted to play in college, those phone calls fell off.

Once he was released from his NLI at USC, the phone was buzzing with opportunity.

At IU, Espalin isn’t quite clear yet on how things will pan out with senior shortstop Jeremy Houston. There remains the possibility that Houston could receive an undrafted free agent offer from a pro team, as was the case with Elijah Dunham and the Yankees.

But if Houston comes back, Espalin has no qualms sharing the infield with him.

“Coach says he doesn’t know if he’s going to sign yet or not. I’d love to be playing up the middle with him. I’ve heard nothing but great things about him,” Espalin said. “I’ll play second base. I’ll play anywhere that gets my bat in the lineup.”

That’s just the team player Borba has gotten to know. He’ll play anywhere, hit anywhere. He answers questions with “yes, sir,” and “no, sir.” His real name is James Jr., but he is nicknamed Tank because his grandfather was in the tank division for Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army in World War II.

He has younger brothers called Gunnar and Sergeant. His older sister is Lauren, a catcher at Cal.

He comes from an athletic family, and they believe in hard work over big talk.

“I want to come in and be a leader right away,” Espalin said. “I want to come in and show everyone, even though I’m a freshman, I’m able to lead by example. I don’t like to do a lot of talking. I feel like talk is cheap. I feel like you have to earn it with your actions, go in and show everyone you are able to compete with them. Compete at the highest level and earn everyone’s respect.”

Doing that at IU isn’t what Espalin imagined a week ago. But now that a whirlwind recruiting week has reached its conclusion, Espalin couldn’t be happier.

“It was definitely happening fast, but I’m excited,” Espalin said. “It feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”