The champs aren’t giving up their crown easily, but there’s no time for Minnesota to rest on what’s been done, Maryland and Michigan continued their hot runs with weekend sweeps. And speaking of hot, there’s no mightier bat right now than the one Illinois senior first baseman Pat McInerney is swinging.
Here’s the main stories and headlines from the weekend that was in Big Ten baseball.
Gophers stay perfect, sweep Spartans
Inclement weather forced the series opener between Michigan State and Minnesota to be a part of a Saturday doubleheader. At the end of the twinbill, the wait was worth it.
The two teams, undefeated in Big Ten play after collecting conference-opening road sweeps, played under sunny skies and mid-50-degree weather and produced a pair of well-played, competitive baseball games in front of an attendance of 2,034.
The series opener was a pitching duel between two of the Big Ten’s best left-handed pitchers. Minnesota junior Lucas Gilbreath pitched six innings, scattering only three hits with eight strikeouts and three walks. Michigan State redshirt-sophomore Alex Troop countered with 7.2 innings of work, also giving up just three hits, while striking out nine batters against four walks. But in the end, three runs Minnesota struck against Troop, all unearned, in the fourth withstood two Spartan runs in the home-half of the inning, lifting the defending Big Ten champions to a 3-2 win.
An error, fielder’s choice and back-to-back walks loaded the bases in front of Minnesota junior DH Micah Coffey. Returning to the Gopher lineup after a sprained ankle which kept him out of action in the Big Ten opening series at Ohio State, Coffey showed no rust, driving a two-out double to right field to clear the bases. Michigan State cut into the deficit in their at-bat with third baseman Marty Bechina and left fielder Bryce Kelley each recording RBI-singles. But the MSU rally stalled with two runners on, keeping the game 3-2, which carried through the end.
After combining for 10 hits in the opener, both teams reach double-digit hits in the nightcap as another back-and-forth contest played out.
Minnesota again opened the scoring, picking up two runs in the top of the second behind a two-run single to right by freshman Jordan Kozicky, who has filled in defensively at third base for Coffey. But as they did in game one, MSU responded in their trip to the plate. Kelley, a part of a 5-for-8, three-RBI day, plated DH Troop, who walked and advanced to third on a wild pitch, cutting in half Minnesota’s lead. The teams again saw scoring in their respective at-bat of the same inning, trading runs in the fifth, before Zack McGuire led off the sixth and later scored on an infield single by Kelley.
The score held until the ninth. Minnesota catcher Cole McDevitt reached first on a fielder’s choice and moved into scoring position on a single to left field by shortstop Terrin Vavra. On a 3-2 pitch, second baseman Luke Pettersen’s, the Big Ten’s leading hitting sent a liner into center field that plated McDevitt. Holding onto a 4-3 lead, senior right-handed pitcher Brian Glowicki recorded a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth for his second save of the and conference-leading 11th of the year.
“Two tough ballgames. Those were two very good teams out there in my opinion, and they just got the better of us today,” Michigan State head coach Jake Boss Jr., said. “They executed when they needed to and we let a couple of opportunities slip away, and that’s how you get beat by a good ballclub.”
After a pair of one-run games, Minnesota used a trio of crooked inning to take the series finale, 9-4. At 6-0 in Big Ten play, Minnesota recorded consecutive sweeps to start Big Ten play for the first time since 2003.
On Sunday, after Michigan State grabbed a 3-1 lead behind a two-run double from Troop in the bottom of the fourth, Minnesota used a triple from Eddie Estrada, double from Toby Hanson and sacrifice fly from Coffey to score three runs. Minnesota’s lead grew to 6-3 with two runs in the sixth behind a two-run single up the middle by McDevitt. MSU cut into the three-run hole with a run in the home-half of the sixth with second baseman Dan Durkin scoring two batters after he opened the inning with a double down the right field line. But that would be the closet the Spartans could get, Minnesota tacked on two runs in the eighth and one more in the ninth to record their ninth straight victory.
Minnesota’s bullpen pitched 8.1 innings of scoreless relief over the weekend, holding Michigan State, who entered the weekend as the Big Ten’s top hitting team with a .303 average, to five hits. The Spartans were led at the plate by Kelley who went 6-for-12 with four RBI.
Pitching powers Huskers past Hoosiers
A travel curfew resulted in Sunday’s series finale between Indiana and Nebraska to end in a 1-1 tie after 11 innings. The bittersweet finish, where the Huskers didn’t lose, but also didn’t grab a victory in weekend a where other top teams Maryland, Michigan and Minnesota each picked up sweeps, was the only blemish on what was a stout showing on the road for Darin Erstad’s club, led by the Husker pitchers.
Junior right-handed pitcher Jake Hohensee pitched a career-high 7.1 innings, continuing a strong return from Tommy John surgery, after missing all of the 2016 season. Pitching into the eighth, Hohensee held IU to three runs and scattered eight hits. Hohensee received the win thanks to a tie-breaking, four-run eighth inning for Nebraska, where the Huskers scored three runs on a Luis Alvarado home run, and first baseman Ben Miller adding a run-scoring hit, after connecting for a solo home run in the fourth.
Senior right-handed pitcher Derek Burkamper picked up where Hohensee left off, opening Saturday’s game with five innings of one-run baseball, limiting the Hoosiers to three hits. In support of Burkamper, Nebraska staked the righty to a run before he stepped to the mound, using a walk and two IU errors to score in the top of the first. The teams traded runs in the sixth with Miller recording an RBI-single. The scoring closed with NU second baseman Jake Schleppenbach lifting a home run to right, Nebraska’s third home run in two games.
With Indiana dropping a weekend series for just the third time in the four-year history of Bart Kaufman Field, the Hoosiers looked to salvage the weekend. But Jake Meyers and the Husker bullpen had other ideas.
Going toe-to-toe with Indiana sophomore right-handed Pauly Milto, Meyers, a senior southpaw, pitched 5.1 innings, allowing one run off six hits. Milto countered with a 6.1-inning outing, conceding seven hits. Both pitchers struck out five batters. As they did on Saturday, the teams exchanged runs in the sixth, Miller picked up another RBI-single, with Indiana’s Logan Sowers collecting a run-scoring double. From there, neither team relented in a battle of the bullpens, and that was all of the day’s scoring. Robbie Palkert, Jake McSteen and Chad Luensmann combined to pitch 5.2 innings of scoreless relief, giving up only two hits. Indiana saw Austin Foote and Matt Lloyd combined for 4.2 innings of relief action, where they too yielded two combined hits.
Boilermakers bounce back, best Buckeyes
Purdue garnered national headlines in 2012 with their Big Ten-winning, regional-hosting and nationally-ranked team. But the Boilermakers were not a one-year wonder. Doug Schreiber lead Purdue to five consecutive Big Ten Tournaments, back when it was a six-team field, leading to the 2012 tournament title. Unfortunately for those in West Lafayette, Purdue has not returned to the conference’s postseason since ending the season that ended the 103-year conference title drought.
But it’s a new era for Boilermaker baseball, with Mark Wasikowski taking over following the resignation of Schreiber last May, and Purdue is back on track to play in the post season.
Bringing an end to a seven consecutive weekends on the road, Purdue picked up a key series win at Ohio State, beating the Buckeyes 6-1 and 2-1, respectively on Saturday and Sunday, after dropping the opener, 13-2. With the weekend win in Columbus, Purdue (15-12), holding onto eighth place in the conference, leveled its Big Ten record at 3-3, and secured a tiebreaker over the Buckeyes (11-16) who are two games back at 1-5.
In how Purdue picked up the series victory in Columbus speaks to new times for the Black and Gold. Friday’s loss was as ugly as it can get, Purdue committed five errors, tossed six wild pitches and walked eight batters. But the loss didn’t sink the series. In eclipsing last year’s Big Ten win total of two in 24 games, Purdue committed just two errors and issued two walks over the final two games, showing resiliency and an ability to bounce back from a setback, something long missing.
Big Mac blasts
Illinois senior first baseman Pat McInerney dialed up a home run in each of Illinois’ three games against Indiana State, including a walk-off solo home run in Saturday’s 2-1 victory, leading the Illini’s to a weekend sweep. With six home runs in his last six games, producing a blistering 1.400 slugging percentage, McInerney leads the Big Ten with a .740 slugging percentage and 11 home runs. McInerney now has 24 career home runs, the Big Ten’s active career leader.
Wolverines run wild
Michigan plated 25 runs in a pair of midweek games, turning back Toledo, 12-0, and Central Michigan, 13-4, and still bettered their average scoring output in a weekend series against Penn State. Running their overall record to a Big Ten-best 22-6, Michigan beat Penn State by scores of 10-6, 15-2 and 14-1. In piling up 39 runs, Michigan recorded 38 hits to bat .380, slug .570 and post a .464 on-base percentage. Sophomore outfielder Jonathan Engelmann went 8-for-12 and recorded his first career home run with junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer picking up a pair of singles, two doubles and two home runs over 10 at-bats to drive in seven runs and cross home eight times. To complete the dominant sweep, Michigan stole nine bases in 11 attempts, committed only one error and pitched to a 2.33 ERA.
Hawkeyes continue to quietly soar
They didn’t have the preseason ranking of Maryland, they haven’t cracked the national polls alongside Michigan and they aren’t the reigning conference champions like Minnesota. There’s been little fanfare regarding the Iowa Hawkeyes this year and as the season progresses on that continues to be a mistake. With a three-game sweep of UNLV, Iowa improved to 17-9 on the year, well on their way to a fourth straight 30-win season. Victors of six straight, Iowa is using a good offense, third in the Big Ten in average, on-base percentage and slugging, and feasting on opponents at home, winning nine of ten at Duane Banks Field.