Weekend walk-off

With the calendar turning to April, every Big Ten team has now stepped into conference action. It was another sweep-heavy weekend with five teams picking up three-game sweeps, led by the defending champions showing little regard for relinquishing their crown.

Before Monday’s deeper weekend review, he’s a quick look at the weekend’s action.

Defending champs reign supreme

Michigan State entered the weekend as the Big Ten’s top hitting team, highest scoring team and the team with the conference’s best RPI. With a 3-0 record after a road sweep of Illinois, the Spartans were also at the top of the Big Ten standings.

But so too was Minnesota. The Gophers picked up three Big Ten road victories of their own, sweeping Ohio State in Columbus.

With someone forced to take their first lost of conference play, what can’t be found on paper between stats and standings was the difference between the two undefeateds.

As impressive as MSU’s season to date has been, there’s something about knowing first-hand what it takes to win a conference championship and continually play at a high level. What Michigan State was missing, showcased earlier this season in a tight but winless series at South Carolina, and what Minnesota has, is the ability to find the big hit and have a constant approach throughout the entire batting order, for all nine innings.

Excelling in those two areas allowed Minnesota to pick up a pair of one-run victories in a Saturday doubleheader, 3-2 and 4-3, before capping the sweep with a solid 9-4 victory on Sunday. With the three victories, a part of nine in a row, Minnesota’s Big Ten championship defense is off to a roaring start, picking up sweeps in the first two weekends of Big Ten play for the first time since 2003.

For Michigan State, an 0-4 week, including a 3-2 midweek loss to Western Michigan, has the Spartans looking to regroup after a 15-5 start.

 

The cream is starting to rise

Maryland continued a strong start to conference play with a weekend road sweep of Rutgers. After picking up a series victory in a competitive series against Michigan, the Terrapins, the coaches’ preseason favorite, provided the Scarlet Knights with a rude welcoming to Big Ten play and continued to show its muscle.

With weather postponing the start of the series a day, and forcing a Sunday doubleheader, Maryland picked up a 5-1 victory on Saturday, and grabbed Sunday wins of 6-1 and 9-1 to sweep Rutgers. Maryland’s bullpen pitched 10.1 innings of scoreless relief, as the Terps, who after starting the season 1-5, have won 17 of 20 games.

Michigan was just as hot in March as they broke into the polls. Following a three-game home sweep of Penn State, at 22-6, Michigan has no concern of falling out of the rankings. More important;y for Erik Bakich’s team, the three wins allowed Michigan to not lose ground to Minnesota and Maryland in the conference standings. Michigan’s trio of victories were powered by a slugging offense. In the sweep of the Nittany Lions, the Wolverines scored 39 runs on 38 hits and had five innings of at least four runs over the weekend.

 

Out of conference, in control

For a second weekend in a row, three Big Ten teams enjoyed a conference bye week. And enjoy did that. Illinois, Northwestern and Iowa each welcomed a non-conference foe to town and each captured a weekend victory.

Behind senior first baseman Pat McInerney homering in each game, Illinois picked up three victories over Indiana State, winning 6-4, 2-1 and 5-2. The weekend sweep saw McInerney take sole possession of the Big Ten’s home run lead with 11, one more than Iowa first baseman Jake Adams. In the weekend clincher, freshman right-handed pitcher Ty Weber tossed a four-hitter, a game won on a McInerney walk-off home run.

Iowa, too, enjoyed a sweep. The Hawkeyes turned back UNLV over three games, grabbing victories by scores of 3-0, 6-5 and 7-6. Junior right-handed pitcher Nick Gallagher pitched seven scoreless innings in the opener, combining with junior righty Josh Martsching to three-hit the Rebels. A Saturday doubleheader saw the Hawkeyes grind out a pair of one-run victories, Iowa needing a pair of three-run last-at-bat innings to take the weekend.

Walk-offs were in vogue this weekend and Northwestern made sure they were in on the fun. After splitting a Saturday doubleheader with Air Force, falling 11-3 in the series opener before rebounding with a 7-6 victory, a second one-run win gave Northwestern its first winning home weekend. In the bottom of the 11th in Sunday’s finale, junior DH Connor Lind picked up his first home run of the season with a solo shot to left, leading the ‘Cats to victory.

 

Elsewhere

Only a travel curfew could keep a pitching-dominant Nebraska team from a weekend sweep. The Cornhuskers picked up wins of 7-3 and 3-1 over Indiana, before a series finale ended in a 1-1 draw after 11 innings due to Nebraska’s travel curfew. NU starters pitched 17.2 innings and allowed five runs.

Purdue played as bad as a team can on Friday in a 13-2 loss to Ohio State. The Boilermakers committed five errors, tossed six wild pitches and walked eight batters. Mark Wasikowski’s team apparently got an entire weekend’s worth of bad play out in one game as Purdue bounced back for 6-1 and 2-1 victories to continue a rebound season.

 

Top performances

Illinois Sr. 1B Pat McInerney 4-for-9, 3 BB, 3 HR, 4 RBI, 4 R

Illinois Fr. RHP Ty Weber 9 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 7 SO

Indiana Soph. RHP Pauly Milto 6.1 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 SO

Iowa Jr. RHP Nick Gallagher 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 SO

Iowa Soph. 2B Mitchell Boe 5-for-10, 3 2B, 3B, 4 R, 5 RBI

Michigan Jr. 3B Drew Lugbauer 6-for-10, 2 HR, 2 2B, 7 RBI, 6 R

Ohio State Jr. RHP Yianni Pavlopolous 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 SO

Purdue Soph. LHP Gareth Stroh 7.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO

 

Standings

Minnesota 6-0, 18-8

Maryland 5-1, 18-8

Nebraska 2-0-1, 15-10-1

Michigan 4-2, 22-6

Iowa 2-1, 17-9

Indiana 3-2-1, 14-11-2

Michigan State 3-3, 15-9

Purdue 3-3, 15-12

Ohio State 1-5, 11-16

Penn State 0-13, 10-16

Rutgers 0-3, 10-17

Illinois 0-3, 9-16

Northwestern 0-3 8-18

The 10 Spot: Top freshmen

 

A week after the 10 Spot looked at the top breakout performances thus far, it’s time to put a spotlight on the top freshman around the Big Ten. With six weekends of play under their belt, their freshman season is nearly half-way through. With it, players are starting to emerge who look to be stalwarts in the lineup for years to come or positioning themselves as potential weekend aces.

Maryland  LHP Tyler Blohm

Picking up back-to-back Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors will assure a spot on this list. Maryland leftt-handed pitcher Tyler Blohm has anchored the Terrapin rotation and has shown no signs of his youth, providing consistent outing after consistent outing for head coach John Szefc. Making six starts through six weekends, Blohm has logged 28.1 innings, sporting a 2.86 ERA. Next to a .204 batting average against, Blohm has struck out a batter for every full inning pitched with 28.

Northwestern 2B Alex Erro

Wildcat second baseman Alex Erro did not record a hit in any of Northwestern’s three opening-weekend games against Arizona State. The weekend against the Sun Devils may be the only time in his career he goes 0-for-9. Since Northwestern’s trip to the desert, Erro has recorded a hit in all but one game, having an 18-game hitting streak snapped in the second game of Friday’s doubleheader against Indiana. With 30 hits in 85 at-bats, Erro is pacing the Wildcat attack with a .353 average, collecting three doubles and a pair of triples along the way. Erro has struck out only four times so far.

Michigan State  OF Danny Gleaves

Michigan State is the top offensive team in the Big Ten, and freshman outfielder Danny Gleaves is doing his part in providing the Spartans with a deep lineup. With 15 games under his belt, all starts, Gleaves is carrying a .324 average through his debut season. With five doubles a home run and seven stolen bases, Gleaves is fitting in perfectly with an offense that has a desirable blend of power and speed.

Indiana 1B Matt Gorski

Gorski has provided Indiana with a strong bat at a position the Hoosiers have had sub-par production from since Sam Travis moved to the professional ranks. Through 19 games, Gorski has a Hoosier-best .354 average, adding a bit of pop with a pair of doubles and two home runs. For good measure, the product of Hamilton Southeastern has added four steals in six attempts, looking to be a lineup staple from here out.

Nebraska OF Mojo Hagge

At 5’7, Husker outfielder Mojo Hagge is by all accounts undersized. But through 21 games, there is nothing short or insufficient in his playing abilities. Hagge has hit from the first time Darin Erstad penciled him into the Husker lineup, running up a .338 average over 77 at-bats. While veteran outfielders Scott Schreiber and Jake Meyers needed time to return to their previous levels of production, Hagge’s hitting out of the gate helped the Huskers weather a rocky 3-6 start.

Michigan LHP Tommy Henry

A 3.40 team ERA has powered Michigan to a 17-6 start and spot in national polls. One of the most consistent Michigan men on the mound has been southpaw rookie Tommy Henry. For pitchers with at least 12 innings of work, Henry’s 1.08 ERA is the best, running up 19 strikeouts against five walks in 16.2 innings. Appearing in eight games, Henry provides Michigan with a polished reliever capable of going multiple innings.

Indiana SS Jeremy Houston

A second rookie has broke through and grabbed a starting spot in the IU infield alongside Gorksi. Houston has been a rock at the toughest position in the infield, providing Chris Lemonis with a reliable glove at shortstop, committing only three errors in 85 chances. Houston has also gave the Hoosiers a pretty solid bat. Sixteen games into his career, Houston is batting .306 with three doubles and a pair of triples. What may be most impressive is the eight walks against eight strikeouts.

Purdue RHP Skylar Hunter

A year after batting .246 en route to 10 wins, Purdue holds a .277 team average through 22 games, already besting last year’s win total with 12 victories. Leading Purdue’s improved hitting attack is center fielder Syklar Hunter. With 25 hits in 65 at-bats, Hunter’s .385 average is tops among Boilermakers and ranks fourth in the Big Ten.

Iowa OF Ben Norman

Outfielder Ben Norman started his career in Iowa City with one hit in 12 at-bats, going hitless in four of five games. Since then, Norman has four games of at least three hits to counter. Going 25-for-71 on the year, with seven doubles and a home run, Norman is one of six Hawkeyes with a .300 or better average, hitting .352 on the season, next to a .418 on-base percentage and .493 slugging percentage, forcing his way into become the everyday Hawkeye center fielder.

Purdue RHP Dalton Parker

Established veterans can struggle when taking on the pressure-filled position of closer. So far, as Purdue enjoys a program revival, Boilermaker Dalton Parker has had little difficulty taking on the role at the back of the bullpen, excelling as just a freshman. Appearing in seven games, Parker is 2-1 with a team-best four saves. Over 19.2 innings, the right-handed pitchers holds a 1.83 ERA, on the strength of 18 strikeouts and a .143 opponent’s batting average.

March 28 Power Rankings

We’re back to Big Ten play filling up the weekend schedule. With 10 teams having opened the conference slate over the weekend, the race for the Big Ten championship is under way. But with 13 teams and only a nine-week conference schedule with a bye, each team only faces two-thirds of the conference. That doesn’t lend itself to a producing a standings that reflect the best teams, 1-13.

As a result, each week through the rest of the season, 10 Innings will have a weekly power ranking, taking stock of who is playing the best baseball throughout the Big Ten.

Let’s get started.

Michigan State (15-5 overall, 3-0 Big Ten)

Michigan State leads the Big Ten in: batting average (.306), on-base percentage (.409), slugging percentage (.503), home runs (28), doubles (55), ERA (3.36), K-to-BB ratio (3.05) winning percentage (.750) and are the Big Ten’s top RPI-rated team, checking in at No. 24. After a road sweep at Illinois, where they collected 13 home runs and posted a 3.00 ERA, it’s hard to debate any team better than Michigan State at the moment.

Michigan (17-6, 1-2)

There can be a bit of debate over the second position, though. Although Maryland took two of three from Michigan this past weekend, Michigan’s season to date is a bit better than the Maryland’s through 23 games, and they take this spot, for now. The series was as evenly matched as possible, Maryland won the opener, 7-2, Michigan grabbed the closer, 6-2, with a 5-4 Terrapin win in the middle. Michigan’s 8-3 record in road games, tips the scale in their favor.

Maryland (15-8, 2-1)

Since a 1-5 start, Maryland has won 14 of 17 games. However, until this weekend, the question remained on had Maryland rounded into form or was the better record a result of beating up on inferior competition, the Terrapins were one-hit in a road game at North Carolina to further was pause. Few questions remain as Maryland does now have a quality weekend win. The Terps are starting to click at the plate, led by a breakout week from Kevin Smith.

Minnesota (14-8, 3-0)

The Gophers started their Big Ten title defense with an impressive weekend at Ohio State. Sweeping the Buckeyes for the first time since 1990, Minnesota showed junior left-handed pitcher Lucas Gilbreath is rounding into ace form, the team 1-9 is as tough of an out as any conference team and that Brian Glowicki is the Big Ten’s top closer. Minnesota may be a step behind the best hitting units and the best pitching units, but they’re good enough at both to continue to make a run.

Indiana (13-8-1, 3-0)

Sure, Indiana had to sweat out each game of their sweep against Northwestern, a week after nothing but close games against Hawaii, but the Hoosiers have won nine of their last team. The weather and field played to a big offensive weekend, but there is slight concern in the capabilities Indiana’s weekend rotation. The concern lessens if IU continues to hit as they have of late, especially if Logan Sowers’ two-homer weekend is a sign he’s turned the corner.

Iowa (13-9, 2-1)

Year after year, a player or two from the JUCO lands in Iowa City and has a banner year. This year is no different. Junior first baseman Jake Adams (.345, 8 HR) is putting together quite the season, the same for Ben Norman (.352). Alongside Robert Neustrom (.385) and Mason McCoy (.386), Iowa is potent at the plate with a battered pitching staff doing just enough to keep the boat rowing. Iowa captured a surprisingly key and competitive series against Purdue to solidify a spot in the ranking’s top-half.

Nebraska (12-10, 0-0)

Three wins at Cal Poly over the weekend helps conclude a pre-Big Ten slate that saw the team scuffle against top competition, but take care of the teams they should have. Slowly Nebraska’s offensive attack is coming into form and the 1-2-3 of Hohensee-Burkamper-Meyers has been among the Big Ten’s most consistent over the last three weeks. Though squarely in the middle, Nebraska is trending up after a 3-6 start caused a cloudy outlook.

Purdue (12-10, 1-2)

Purdue’s seven-game winning streak came to an end in Saturday’s 5-1 loss at Iowa and the Boilermakers lost the rubber match with the Hawkeyes, 7-2 on Sunday. Still, already, before the calendar turns to April, Purdue has exceeded their 2016 win total. Through five weeks Purdue has shown they’re no longer to be considered an afterthought and whenever righty Tanner Andrews is on the mound, they’ll be in a position to win every Friday.

Ohio State (9-14, 0-3)

The Buckeyes are the only team in the country to beat No. 1 Oregon State so far. When the Buckeyes play clean defense and throw strikes, they can play with anyone, the offense does just enough. Unfortunately Ohio State has too often aided their opponent’s effort. A three-game home sweep at the hands of Minnesota made for the second consecutive weekend the Buckeyes were swept, providing OSU little margin to error going forward.

Rutgers (9-14, 0-0)

A three-game sweep at South Carolina-Upstate gives Rutgers a bit of momentum upon entering conference play. The series against the Spartans was a third in a row against a team from the Atlantic Sun, following a weekend win at North Florida and sweep at the hands of Florida Gulf Coast. Sophomore center fielder Jawaun Harris is adding power, a three-homer game in the weekend finale at USC-U, to truly make him the Big Ten’s must-see player.

Penn State (9-13, 0-0)

The Nittany Lions are just one of two teams averaging at least a strikeout for every inning thrown. Sal Biasi and Justin Hagenman can rack up the strikeouts, which helps Penn State overcome being the third-worst fielding team. But the pitchers can only do so much, their efforts can’t produce runners for the offense, which has been its downfall. Penn State has a Big Ten-low marks in batting average (.230) and on-base percentage (.318).

Northwestern (5-17, 0-3)

Close doesn’t count in wins and losses, but it does here, giving the Wildcats the edge over their in-state peer. NU’s two one-run losses, after a game they blew a five-run lead, shows the ‘Cats have the potential to hand with a team in the top-half of the conference. But as the losses showed, Northwestern does not have the pitching depth yet to shutdown the opponent when needed. Still, the offensive showing, 23 runs against IU, warrants praise.

Illinois (6-15, 0-3)

It’s been a tough start for the Illini. As consistent of a team as any in the conference over the prior seven years, it’s a rebuilding year in Champaign, with a very young team taking its lumps with brighter days ahead. Illinois does have a capable offense, batting a respectable .266 with a .360 on-base percentage and .414 slugging clip. But after producing the Big Ten’s top pitcher the last two years, an underclass-dominant staff, 88% of innings pitched have been by a freshman or sophomore, has a 7.23 team ERA spurred by 130 walks.

MSU’s Kelley Tabbed B1G Baseball Freshman of the Week

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State baseball’s Bryce Kelley was named the Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Week for his performance last week in MSU’s four wins.

Kelley, a freshman outfielder from Rockford, Michigan (Rockford High School) had a smashing Big Ten Conference debut, hitting .400 (4-for-10) in MSU’s three games at Illinois over the weekend to open B1G action. For the week, Kelley hit .462 (6-for-13) for the week.

This is MSU’s second B1G award this season as senior second baseman Dan Durkin was the B1G Player of the Week on Feb. 20. Kelley is MSU’s first Freshman of the Week accolade recipient since third baseman Marty Bechina earned the honor last season on Feb. 22, 2016.

In Friday’s second game of the doubleheader at Illinois, Kelley was 3-for-4 with two RBI and two runs scored with a two-run double, adding a stolen base in the Spartans’ 12-1 win at Illinois.

He started the week 2-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI in MSU’s 11-2 win over Central Michigan on Tuesday.

Kelley and the Spartans won all four games last week, scoring double-digits in all four, out-scoring the opposition 52-13, an average of 13-4.

Iowa’s Daniels Named B1G Pitcher of the Week

IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa sophomore Zach Daniels has been named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week, it was announced Monday by the league office. The honor is the first of Daniels’ career.

The Robins, Iowa, native earned the distinction after recording victories in two of Iowa’s three wins last week. Daniels was 2-0 with a spotless ERA in two appearances, striking out nine batters in 5 2/3 innings.

Daniels opened the week by tossing two shutout innings in Iowa’s 12-1 victory over Bradley on March 22. Five of the six outs he recorded were via the strikeout and he allowed just one hit. The five strikeouts were a career-high.

The right-hander followed by pitching a career-high 3 2/3 innings in a 5-1, game two win over Purdue. He allowed two hits and fanned four in the contest.

On the year, Daniels is 4-1 with a 4.00 ERA in nine appearances. He has 20 strikeouts in 18 innings.

Daniels is the third Hawkeye — first UI pitcher — to earn Big Ten weekly honors this season. Senior Mason McCoy was the Big Ten Player of the Week on Feb. 27 and junior Jake Adams earned the same honor March 6.

Indiana’s Lloyd Earns National and Big Ten Honors

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana Baseball sophomore utility player Matt Lloyd was named one of Collegiate Baseball’s National Players of the Week on Monday. In addition, Lloyd picked up Big Ten Player of the Week honors for the first time in his career.

Indiana has picked up back-to-back Player of the Week honors from the Big Ten for the first time since March 31 and April 8 of 2014 when Dustin DeMuth and Sam Travis were recognized. The Hoosiers have four weekly conference honors this season (Alex Krupa – Player of the Week on 3/20; Andrew Saalfrank – Freshman of the Week on 3/13; Jake Matheny – Freshman of the Week on 2/20).

Lloyd was effective in Indiana’s 4-0 week as a hitter and a pitcher. He hit .643 on the week with nine hits, four home runs, two doubles, 10 RBI and six runs scored. The Canada-native also made three relief appearances, striking out four while tallying two saves. The sophomore had two, four-hit games in the series sweep at Northwestern and collected three home runs in game one of the series on Friday, marking the first time a Hoosier has accomplished the feat since Josh Phegley in 2009.

Lloyd kicked off the Northwestern series on Friday by going 4-for-5 in that first game with the three home runs, five RBI and three runs scored. He hit his fourth home run of the day in the second game of the Friday doubleheader. Lloyd capped off the series sweep with a 4-for-5 effort on Sunday, hitting two doubles, driving in two runs and scoring twice, while also picking up the save in that contest. He added an additional save in midweek action against Cincinnati on Wednesday.

March 23-26 Weekend review

The number three reigned supreme in the Big Ten this weekend. With conference play beginning, a trio of clubs garnered weekend sweeps in their pursuit of a conference champion. The conference’s power surge continued with three more players hitting three home runs in a game. And outside of Big Ten play, none of the three teams on a bye week had a losing weekend.

Here’s a recap of the weekend’s action.

Terps take down Wolverines

In a battle between the Big Ten preseason favorite and the conference’s lone ranked team, the club the coaches expected to win the conference crown, Maryland (15-8, 2-1), grabbed a pair of home victories over No. 21 Michigan (17-6, 1-2), starting Maryland’s third season in the Big Ten on the right foot.

Hitting a home run for a third consecutive game, sophomore Terrapin Marty Costes started the weekend’s scoring with a solo shot in the bottom of the first in Friday’s opener. Maryland quickly put the game out of reach with a four-run second, highlighted by a three-run home run from junior Justin Morris. Michigan responded with a pair of runs in the top of the third, senior Michael Brdar picked up a two-run double, cutting the Wolverine deficit to 5-2, but U-M could get no closer, Maryland added the two runs back in the eighth, to win 7-2.

Junior right-handed pitcher Brian Shaffer tied a career-high with 10 strikeouts over eight innings, scattering five hits. Michigan third-year left-handed pitcher Oliver Jaskie also struck out 10 batters, but Maryland struck for five runs off five hits in Jaskie’s 6.1 innings of work.

The Wolverines were the ones quick out of the gate in Saturday’s contest, scoring in their first two at-bats. But Maryland scored last and the Terrapins picked up the series win with a 5-4 victory. Brdar went 2-for-5 with two runs and junior Drew Lugbauer picked up three hits in five at-bats as Michigan enjoyed a 3-1 lead after four at-bats, but a big day from Will Watson and small-ball pushed Maryland to the win.  Maryland scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the fourth to reset the game, 3-3. A Wolverine run in the fifth was matched by Watson connecting on a solo home run in the sixth. A pair of singles, the latter by Watson, before a sacrifice fly from Madison Nickens plated Nick Dunn, giving Maryland it’s fifth and final run of the game. Watson went 2-for-3 to lead Maryland, who was outhit by Michigan, 10-6.

Salvaging the weekend, the top of Michigan’s order push the Wolverines to a 6-2 victory. Michigan’s first three batters, Ako Thomas, Johnny Slater and Brdar, went 6-for-13 with four runs and a pair of RBI. In a three-run fourth, Slater and Brdar each scored, Michigan’s effort aided by a four walks, a pair of passed balls and a wild pitch. Junior left-handed pitcher Michael Hendrickson held Maryland to two runs off five hits in five innings before freshman lefty Tommy Henry tossed 2.1 innings of scoreless relief. For the weekend, Michigan relievers pitched

Lloyd carries Hoosiers past Wildcats

 

It was an action-filled weekend in Evanston with Indiana and Northwestern lighting up the scoreboard and each providing big, hold-your-breath moments. Indiana ultimately coming out on top in each of the three games, there was excitement from start to finish in a series that saw the Hoosiers and Wildcats combined for 52 runs, 78 hits and 29 extra-base hits.

Northwestern jumped out to a 3-0 lead after the first inning of Friday’s conference opener, and held a 8-3 lead after three innings. But a Hoosier attack led by DH Matt Lloyd poured on the scoring. Led by Lloyd recording Indiana’s first three-home run game since 2009, IU used a five-run six, a run in the seventh and two each in the eighth and ninth to win 13-9. The game featured five home runs with junior outfielder Logan Sowers and freshman first baseman Matt Gorski each dialing up a home run for the Hoosiers. Unable to hold the five-run lead, Northwestern was unable to capitalize on a 5-for-5, five-RBI day from their DH, Joe Hoscheit.

A storm system moving through the Midwest was forecast to hit Illinois on Saturday created a Friday doubleheader, with the teams taking advantage of seasonable weather on Friday.

In the warm weather, Lloyd continued swinging a hot bat. The sophomore transfer from Iowa Western picked up his fourth homer of the day in a 6-5 Indiana victory. Again, the first inning saw a crooked number placed on the scoreboard, Indiana pushed across four runs with Northwestern responding with three. After IU added a run in the fourth, the game was scoreless until the ninth when Indiana added a run and kept Northwestern’s tying run at second base, holding NU to two runs to win the game.

Northwestern fell one run short again on Saturday, as a five-run ninth ended the NU’s effort just shy in a 10-9 Indiana win. Three Wildcats picked up three hits, a 17-hit outburst led by Alex Erro, Matt Hopfner and Connor Lind. Indiana countered with a pair of four-hit games, Lloyd finished a banner weekend with two doubles and two singles in five at-bats, joined by third baseman Luke Miller going 4-for-5 as part of Indiana’s 16-hit game. For good measure, Lloyd, the Big Ten Player of the Week, bookend the IU sweep with saves in game one and three.

Minnesota brings out the broom to start title defense

Minnesota’s title defense kicked off with a weekend sweep of Ohio State (9-14). Garnering their first sweep of Ohio Satte since 1990, Minnesota (14-8) showed they can pitch their way to a win, turn up the offense in blowout and secure a tight, back-and-forth game.

On Friday, leading Minnesota to a 5-2 win, junior left-handed pitcher Lucas Gilbreath held Ohio State to two runs, one earned, over 6.2 innings, striking out seven batters without issuing a walk. The Gophers offense was led by junior right fielder Alex Boxwell, who, in a three-run game, connected on a solo home run in the fifth and scored the winning run in a three-run sixth inning, breaking a 2-2 tie.

With the forecast showing inclement weather hitting Columbus on Sunday, game three of the weekend was bumped up a day to create a Saturday doubleheader.

In the opener, Minnesota only scored in three innings, but it was enough to rout Ohio State, 15-5. As the Gophers picked up 17 hits in the opener, totaling 30 on the day, the bottom of the order, batters 6-9, Jordan Smith, Jordan Kozicky, Cole McDevitt and Luke Pettersen went 9-for-16 with seven runs and nine are RBI. John Anderson’s team scored five runs in the fourth, three in the fifth and seven in the eighth. Minnesota held OSU to just five hits, though three were home runs, with Jacob Barnwell, Tyler Cowles and Noah West going deep for the Bucks.

The weekend capper was a back-and-forth contest with Minnesota coming out just ahead, 6-5. Ohio State grabbed the initial lead, 1-0, in the bottom of the second, but Minnesota answered with a run in the top of the third. The Gophers plated a pair of runs in the top of the second, before Ohio State halved the deficit with a tally in their fourth inning at-bat. Each team added a run in the fifth, for Minnesota to hold a 4-3 after five innings. Minnesota scored twice in the sixth, with Ohio State responding with a run in the bottom of the inning, to make it a 6-4 game. After a scoreless seventh, there was high drama in the eighth.

A leadoff-single by DH Zach Ratcliff and a double from Brady Cherry put a pair of Buckeyes in scoring position. A four-pitch walk to Cowles loaded the bases, forcing Anderson to turn to closer Brian Glowicki, seeking a six-out save. The senior right-hander surrendered a sacrifice fly to the first batter he faced, but did not let any other Buckeyes cross home. A 1-2-3 ninth closed the door on the Minnesota win, giving Glowicki his eighth save of the season.

Iowa halts Purdue’s winning streak, wins weekend

Both Iowa and Purdue entered the weekend averaging more than six runs per game. In a showdown between a pair of high-powered offenses, scoring was held in check, an average of less than six runs combined per game, but big innings carried the Iowa-winning weekend.

The Hawkeyes and Boilermakers were locked in an 0-0 affair through seven innings in Friday’s opener. After Purdue’s Mike Madej drew a one-out walk, in the top of the eighth, the game was halted for 70 minutes due to a rain delay. When the game resumed, consecutive pitches provided the game’s only scoring. Sophomore catcher Nick Dalesandro drove in Madej on a first-pitch triple to right center, then scored on the very next pitch when classmate Jacson McGowan drove a double to right center, tacking on an insurance run in the 2-0 victory. Purdue starter Tanner Andrews pitched six scoreless innings, with Iowa’s starter Nick Gallagher countering with five scoreless frames.

In game two, it was the eighth inning again that provided the decisive at-bat. Iowa broke a 1-1 tie with four runs, en route to a 5-1 win. Jake Adams and Luke Fraley each picked up an RBI-double in the inning, as Iowa pounded out 15 hits on the afternoon.

In the rubber match, again, the penultimate inning decided the victor. The game tied, 2-2, five runs pushed Iowa to a 7-2 victory, deciding the weekend winner. Fraley drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on a sac bunt. Mason McCoy drew the second walk of the inning before Adams singled to load the bases. A dribbled to the mound plated the go-ahead run, then Iowa used back-to-back two-run singles, by Ben Norman and Justin Judkins to walk away with win.

“Every inning of this series was a battle,” said UI head coach Rick Heller. “To come out today and get the series win was big for us.”

Michigan State mashes way to sweep

Michigan State entered the weekend as the Big Ten’s top hitting team. Following three games at Illinois, the Spartans showed just how potent their offense can be.

Improving to 15-5 on the year, MSU swept the three-game set in Champaign, reaching double digits in all three contests, earning victories of 12-4, 12-1, 17-6. In the high scoring weekend, the Spartans showed they can swing a big stick.

Michigan State bruised Illini pitching for 13 home runs on the weekend, capping the weekend with an eight-home run game, the most in the NCAA by a team in one game this season. Leading Michigan State to its first sweep of Illinois since 1979, junior center fielder Brandon Hughes picked up four home runs, the last three coming in Sunday’s series finale. Michigan State scored at least four runs in an inning five times on the weekend.

Illinois senior first baseman Pat McInerney showed he too has power, hitting three home runs to run his season total to eight, tied for the most in the conference with Iowa’s Adams. But Illinois pitchers were unable to keep Michigan State’s batters in check, the Spartans batted .317 on the weekend with a .726 slugging percentage.

“Anytime you go on the road, the goal is to win the series, and it’s hard to sweep the series on the road, and for our guys to do what they did this weekend, we showed what we’re capable of,” said Michigan State head coach Jake Boss. “I think this weekend we showed offensively, defensively and on the mound what this group is capable of doing.”

Outside of conference

A three-home run game from sophomore center fielder Jawuan Harris powered Rutgers to a 11-3 series finale win, capping a weekend road sweep of USC-Upstate. After sophomore Serafino Brito dazzled in a seven-inning, scoreless start to help Rutgers (9-14)  knock off USC-Upstate (12-14), 5-1, in the series opener, the Scarlet Knights reached double digits in runs during both of Saturday’s doubleheader, clinching the winning weekend with a 10-7 win the twinbill opener. Senior first baseman Mike Carter recorded at least two hits in all three games, starting with a 2-5, four-RBI effort on Friday, where he hit his first career home run. Mike Martinez went 5-for-9 on Saturday, hitting his first homer of the season in game one, before Harris collected Rutgers’ first three-home run game since April 2002.

Penn State was three outs away from wrapping up a weekend victory over Columbia, but the Nittany Lions settled for a series split. In a game where all nine batters recorded a hit, a 13-batter, nine-run fifth inning broke open PSU’s 11-7 victory over the Ivy League program, on Friday. A nine-strikeout game from sophomore right-handed pitcher Justin Hagenman wasn’t enough to turn back CU in the first game of a Saturday doubleheader. In a 4-2 loss, Penn State’s two-run fourth inning was countered by Columbia’s three-run fifth. Penn State rebounded in the nightcap, winning 10-6, scoring all 10 runs between the second and sixth innings. Jordan Bowersox, Ryan Sloniger and Willie Burger each recorded two hits. Senior right-handed pitcher Dakota Forsyth tossed four hitless innings in relief, striking out eight batters. On Sunday, after Penn State (9-13) grabbed a 4-3 lead with two runs in the bottom of the eighth, Columbia (3-13) plated five in the ninth inning, winning 9-4.

Nebraska (12-10) picked up three wins in a four-game set at Cal Poly (8-15) over the weekend, ensuring Big Red enters Big Ten play with a winning record. Behind a strong effort from right-handed pitcher Jake Hohensee (6.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R) Nebraska held off Cal Poly, 3-2 in the series opener. The Mustangs rebounded for a 3-2 win of their own in game two, but were unable to crack junior left-handed pitcher Jake Meyers in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. Meyers, entering the weekend as the Big Ten’s ERA leader, pitched eight innings, allowed three runs off four hits, leading the Huskers to a 6-5 win. In the win, six of Nebraska’s nine hits were for extra-bases. Nebraska again hit six runs, this time on 10 hits, securing a weekend win with a 6-4 triumph in the series finale.

Weekend preview March 23-26

After five weekends of college baseball action, Big Ten play begins this weekend with five series. There isn’t a lull in the opening weekend of conference games, with a stout weekend on deck. The Big Ten year starts in a big way with the preseason favorite, Maryland, hosting the current favorite, Michigan, as well as last year’s two championships, Minnesota and Ohio State, squaring off in Columbus. Fireworks can be expected in Iowa City, while two series in Illinois look to dodge raindrops.

The road to the Big Ten Tournament in Bloomington begins this weekend, here’s a rundown of what’s happening around the conference.

Depth leads Michigan into showdown of contenders

Before the season, one theme prevailed when Michigan head coach Erik Bakich spoke of his team in looking ahead to the 2017 season: depth.

“You’re never going to hear any coach complain about having depth on the mound,” the fifth-year head coach said. ” That’s one area you never want to be thin in. We’re lucky that not only do we have depth, it’s older depth, with juniors and seniors.”

There was disappointment in Michigan’s 2016 end. After winning the Big Ten Tournament and playing in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, expectations were high for Michigan. But the Wolverines lost nine of their last 11 games, finished 36-21 and did not play in a regional. Though outside expectations were temped, they went internally, many familiar faces returned in the locker room, players who knew what was needed to take the next step.

“It’s not often you get an entire infield unit of returning starters back, but that’s what we have with Jake Bivens, Drew Lugbauer, Michael Brdar, Ako Thomas and Harrison Wenson,” Bakich said a week before the season, as Michigan returned eight of nine starters. “I like the experience of the outfield, the experience of the infield. It looks like it’s projected to be one of those (special) lineups with returning players.”

With the experience around the diamond and the Wolverines needing to replace only left fielder Matt Ramsay, Bakich noted there was optimism for the team looking to claim its first Big Ten championship since 2008. But only in the second week of February, Bakich cautioned Michigan had yet to do anything on the field.

Fast forward to the start of Big Ten play and the Wolverines have done quite a bit on the field.

Opening Big Ten play with a showdown on the road against the coaches’ preseason favorite, Maryland, at 16-4, Michigan owns the Big Ten’s best record and is the conference’s lone nationally-ranked team, penciled as the 21st-best team in this week’s NCBWA poll. The Wolverines have garnered quality wins against San Diego, USC and swept a three-game series at Atlantic Sun favorite Lipscomb. Michigan’s success has come thanks to the depth, both in run prevention and finding ways to score, a prognostication that has turned into reality.

On the mound, 18 pitchers have seen action. The multitude of pitchers with innings under their belt isn’t a reflection of Bakich and pitching coach Sean Kenny trying to figure out roles, in search for quality innings, it’s state of having capable guys, left and right. The Wolverines leads the Big Ten with a 3.22 ERA, and Michigan pitchers also top the conference charts in strikeouts (170) and opponent’s batting average (.233).

Helping the cause of U-M pitchers is a defense which isn’t giving the opposition anything to work with. Michigan’s .981 fielding percentage is second in the conference, behind Minnesota’s .983 mark. Opponents have had no luck running on Wenson and Michigan pitchers, successful stealing just seven bases in 15 attempts. Bakich says Michigan’s sure-handedness is a reflect of the experience in the field, players knowing how to track and read balls, what plays they can and can’t make.

But neither the pitching depth or fielding prowess speaks to the versatility Michigan is capable as much as its offensive attack.

Michigan’s .270 team average won’t jump off the page, nor will the 6.4 runs they score per game. Both are solid marks, but respectively rank fifth and fourth in the conference. But how Michigan can score runs sets itself apart. The Wolverines are tied for fourth with 18 home runs, second with 111 walks and first with 47 stolen bases. Holding a 4-2 record in games scoring five runs or less, but also having nine games of scoring at least seven runs, Michigan can win the closer game and walk away with in laugher. In hitting the long ball, moving base to base, being aggressive and taking 90 feet at every opportunity, a blend of speed, power and patience has Bakich liking the offensive makeup of the team.

“Doing it in a variety of ways,” Bakich said following Michigan’s doubleheader sweep of Northern Illinois. “Home runs, a couple of stolen bases, bunts, moving runners, sac flies, first-to-thirds, just different ways to manufacture runs.”

What’s behind Michigan’s ability to score runs in multiple ways? Depth.

“It speaks to the depth. For the first time in awhile we got guys pushing each other. There’s good internal competition making everybody better.  You want to see execution from your depth and we have that now. We like the different weapons and the choices we have, the match-ups we can play.”

And so far, Michigan has shown they can play with anyone.

Potent offenses square off in Iowa

The conference’s No. 2 hitting team takes the road to square off against the No. 3 hitting club thus far. With Purdue heading to Iowa City, there’s the potential for high-scoring games. The Boilermakers’ .281 team average is just above the Hawkeyes .278 clip. Already this week both teams have shown their offensive mite.

On Wednesday, Purdue knocked off Ball State, 16-4, hours before Iowa defeated Bradley, 12-1. For Iowa, it was the second straight game scoring 12 runs, the fifth time this year they have crossed home at least a dozen times in a game. Purdue’s 21 hits against the Cardinals was a season-high as the Boilermakers reached double digits in runs for a sixth time this season.

Purdue freshman Skylar Hunter leads the Big Ten with a .426 average over 54 at-bats. Right behind him is Iowa sophomore Robert Neustrom, second in the Big Ten with a .395 clip. With Iowa first baseman Jake Adams leading the Big Ten with eight home runs and 27 RBI, it shouldn’t be a surprise senior shortstop Mason McCoy is tied for the conference lead with 21 runs scored. McCoy is tied with a Purdue player, Harry Shipley.

For the pitchers who are to be tasked with shutting down the potent offenses, Iowa enters the weekend with a team ERA of 5.02, besting the 5.94 mark of Purdue. Opponents are batting .274 off Hawkeye pitchers, with 14 home runs. Boilermaker hurlers have pitched to the tune of a .276 opponents average, conceding 18 home runs.

Purdue is visiting Iowa City for the first time since 2012, Since then, Duane Banks Field has become one of the toughest places for a visitor to win under. Since the start of the 2015 season, Iowa is 36-10 at home.

Around the conference

Champions clash

The 2016 Big Ten champions and 2016 Big Ten Tournament champions will meet to open the 2017 Big Ten season. Both NCAA Tournament teams a year ago, Minnesota (11-8) heads to Columbus to take on Ohio State (9-11) in defense of their conference crown.

With the Gophers playing in a regional for the first time since 2010, Ohio State’s Louisville Regional appearances the Buckeyes first regional showing since 2009, neither team has yet to show last year’s form, both experiencing heavy turnover.

Minnesota lost the Big Ten Player of the Year in Matt Fiedler to the draft, alongside the graduation of top pitcher Dalton Sawyer and closer Jordan Jess. Ohio State is still looking to replace All-American outfielder Ronnie Dawson, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, as well as three other positional players drafter, Jacob Bosiokovic, Troy Montgomery, Nick Sergakis, and the drafting of their Friday starter Tanner Tully.

The lost of six regulars shows in Ohio State’s .247 team average, and the Buckeyes have yet to pitch at last year’s level, sporting a 5.02 ERA, more than a run and a half higher than 2016’s 3.35 showing. Minnesota sports a solid team average, .275, but it isn’t the lofty mark the team used en route to its championship, .323.

The meeting of the two champions will allow one to get a key weekend win and start to build momentum in pursuit of last year’s success.

Final tune-ups

Three teams will still be in non-conference action this weekend, stepping outside of the Big Ten for their bye weeks.

After falling to Cal State-Bakersfield, 8-6 on Tuesday, Nebraska (9-9) continues a California spring break with a four-game set at Cal Poly (7-12), Thursday through Saturday. On the line is a perfect 6-0 all-time record against the Mustangs as the Huskers look to get back over .500 and build upon their 9-9 record. In addition to a clean record against Cal Poly, also noteworthy is the 21.2-inning scoreless streak junior left-handed pitcher Jake Meyers has dating back to Feb. 25 against #1 Oregon State. Meyers’ 1.54 ERA leads the Big Ten, a part of Nebraska’s 3.67 team ERA, good enough for third in the Big Ten.

Penn State opened its home slate with a 4-3, walk-off win over Bucknell, Tuesday night, and look to continue the winning ways inside Medlar Field at Lubrano Park with four games this weekend against Columbia. At 7-11, the Nittany Lions have a chance to reach .500, while Columbia enters the weekend with just one win in 12 games. Both teams have struggled at the plate, Columbia owns a .227 team average with Penn State batting just .219, but if the Nittany Lions can grab a lead by the sixth inning, they look to be in good shape. PSU is 6-0 when leading after six.

Rutgers (6-14) is on the road for a three-game set in Spartanburg, S.C., against South Carolina-Upstate (12-11). The Scarlet Knights are looking to get back on track, hoping to end a four-game losing streak. The Spartans are the third straight Atlantic Sun weekend opponent for Rutgers, following weekends at North Florida, where RU won the final two games to take the series, and Florida Gulf Coast, who swept Rutgers.

Weather shakes up schedules in Illinois

Due to inclement weather rolling through the Midwest, set to hit Illinois on Saturday, both series in Illinois this weekend will feature Friday doubleheaders.

In Champaign, Michigan State (12-5) and Illinois (6-12) will play at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., CT on Friday, before taking Saturday off and resuming their series at 2 p.m. on Sunday, a game scheduled to be aired on BTN.

Up the road in Evanston, the series between Indiana and Northwestern will begin at noon CT, on Friday, with game two set for 3 p.m. For now, Saturday’s game is still on, providing for two days to get the final game of the series in if needed pushed to Sunday.

Injury notes

Iowa junior right-handed pitcher Nick Gallagher is back atop the Hawkeye rotation after missing last week’s series at Kansas State.

Ohio State junior right-handed pitcher Adam Niemeyer will not pitch this weekend due to an elbow injury.

Per the Indiana Daily Student, Indiana freshman shortstop Jeremy Houston is day-to-day with a hamstring injury and sophomore pitcher Jonathan Stiever will see more action this weekend after rehabbing from an upper body injury.

Required reading

An unlikely Hawkeye becoming Big Ten’s top slugger -Chad Leistikow, The Des Moines Register

Iowa baseball set for Big Ten play -Jordan Hansen, The Gazette

Ohio State hosts reigning outright Big Ten champion Minnesota -Edward Sutelan, The Lantern

U.S. Bank Stadium gets mixed reviews for Minnesota baseball -Luke Hanlon, Minnesota Daily

Surprise! Rutgers 2-sport star Jawuan Harris is practicing in spring football camp -Keith Sargeant, NJ.com

After recovering…it’s old fastball, new job for Husker pitcher Jake Hohensee -Evan Bland, Omaha World-Herald

Midweek wrap

The Big Ten went 9-2 over midweek games as more and more action returns to Big Ten campuses around the conference. From Michigan State and Penn State winning home openers to Purdue continue to show offensive mite at the plate, here’s a recap of the week’s midweek games.

Terps split at UNC-Wilmington behind Smith

Maryland junior shortstop Kevin Smith is starting to swing the bat in a way many expected him to. Entering the season as the Big Ten’s top 2017 MLB Draft prospect on lists from Baseball America and D1Baseball.com, the 2016 Cape Code League all-star has enjoyed a power surge over the last week.

The Terrapins were on the road for a pair of midweek games at UNC-Wilmington. On Tuesday, eight runs over the first three innings by the hosts were too much for Maryland to overcome. Making his first career start, senior right-handed pitcher Mike Rescigno allowed six runs, four earned, off four hits and a pair of walks, only recording four outs.

As Maryland tried to climb out of the early hole, Smith homered in the fifth and sixth innings, two of Maryland’s three home runs, with sophomore right fielder Marty Costes added a home run in the fourth. Though Maryland out-hit UNC-Wilmington 10-9, two Terrapins errors lead to four unearned runs for the Seahawks.

After taking the Tuesday loss, Maryland bounced back on Wednesday, with Costes and Smith again at the charge.

For a second consecutive game, Costes hit a home run, with Smith launching his fourth and fifth home runs of the year in a 10-6 win. With the victory, Maryland improved to 13-7 on the year in advance of Big Ten play and UNC-Wilmington fell to 9-10.

The second game of the two-game midweek set saw the roles reverse with the Terrapins jumping out to an early lead. Following a one-out single, Costes pulled his fourth home run of the year over the left field wall. UNC-Wilmington aided the Maryland effort with a fielding error and balk leading to a third run of the inning for the visitors as Smith picked up an RBI on a grounder. Maryland added four runs in the seventh, powered by a three-run home run from Smith. Smith’s second home run of the game came in the eighth, a solo shot to left field, before the teams traded two runs in the ninth.

UNC-Wilimington’s turn on Tuesday, Maryland won the game despite being outhit, 9-8, with four Seahawk errors providing a helping hand. Costes and Smith each went 2-for-5 with Costes driving in two runs and Smith dialing up a five-RBI day.

Grand slams send Iowa past Bradley

Hawkeye catcher Tyler Cropley and right fielder Robert Neustrom each connected on grand slams as a pair of six-run innings powered Iowa (11-8) past Bradley (6-12) Wednesday evening, 12-1.

In the bottom of the first, with already two runs in and the bases loaded, Cropley sent a ball over Duane Banks’ left field wall for his second home run in three games and Iowa’s second grand slam of the season. It didn’t take long for Rick Heller’s club to pick up its third grand slam of the season.

Responding to a Bradley run in the top of the third, a leadoff single and a pair of two-out walks loaded the bases in front of Neustrom. Entering the game as the Big Ten’s leading hitter with a .408 average, Neustrom’s third home run of the year was an opposite field home run to left, to make Iowa the second Big Ten team with a pair of grand slams this year, following Ohio State’s 15-10 win on Feb. 18 against Delaware. The Hawkeyes added two more runs in the frame to close the game’s scoring.

Seven Iowa pitchers head the Braves to one run off four hits, led by freshman right-hander Grant Judkins pitching three innings, allowing one run on one hit with three strikeouts.

Boilermakers continue streak

Riding their longest winning streak since a 10-game run in April 2012, Purdue (11-8) picked up a sixth consecutive victory with a 16-4 dispatching of Ball State (11-10), Wednesday afternoon in Muncie, Ind.

Mark Wasikowski saw his leadoff batter reach base in seven of Purdue’s first eight at-bats, as the Boilermakers scored in five of the first six innings, each a multi-run inning.

Purdue started the scoring with three runs in the top of the first, an inning highlighted by a steal of home from sophomore left fielder Nick Dalesandro. Dalesandro filled up the box score with a 3-for-4 game, picking up a walk, scoring four times and driving in two runs.

But Dalesandro wasn’t alone in have a propensity to reach base with 11 Boilermakers safely reaching base in a 21-hit attacked. Purdue’s three run first inning was matched by a trio of runs in the third and sixth innings, a five-spot in the fourth and two more runs in the fifth added up to 16 runs for Purdue, playing its first game in its home state.

Freshman right-handed pitcher Jack Dellinger was the beneficiary of Purdue’s offensive onslaught, improving to 1-1 on the year with a five-inning start, allowing three runs, one earned, off four hits and a walk, striking out three batters. Freshman center fielder Skylar Hunter went 3-for-3 with five RBI and classmate Mike Madej added a pair of hits in three at-bats, driving in three runs.

Elsewhere

Rutgers (6-14) fell to Rider (7-10) on Tuesday, 7-2. In the loss, sophomore center fielder Jawuan Harris stole three bases to run his season total to a Big Ten-leading 13 steals. The three swipes moved Harris into RU’s all-time top-10 list, with 50 career stolen bases, equaling the mark of former Scarlet Knight and big leaguer David DeJesus. At the plate, Harris was 2-for-3 with a pair of walks and senior first baseman Mike Carter added two hits in four at-bats, but RU pitching couldn’t slow down a Rider attack that collected 16 hits.

Six Illinois (6-12) pitchers combined to hold Illinois State (5-13) to four hits in a 7-1 victory on Tuesday. Illinois scored two runs in the bottom of the first on two-out RBI-singles from DH Casey Dodge and second baseman Michael Massey. Massey lead Illinois with three hits on the day, joined be first baseman Pat McInerney and center fielder Doran Turchin, both with two, as Illini recording multi-hit games. Freshman right-handed pitcher Cyrillo Watson received the start and pitched three hitless-innings, striking out two batters.

All nine batters recorded at least one hit as Michigan State (12-5) recorded 16 hits in a 11-2 victory over Central Michigan (8-12), on Tuesday, in the Spartans’ home opener. MSU scored three runs in the first, fourth and eighth innings, lead by a dominant top of the order. Michigan’s State’s first four batters combined to go 9-for-17 with eight runs scored, led by sophomore first baseman Alex Troop’s 3-for-4 day. Seven Spartan pitchers saw action in the matinee, combining to strikeout 11 Chippewa batters, conceding one earned one.

Ohio State (9-11) scored in each of its first six trips to the plate, finishing with runs in seven of eight innings, to knock of Youngstown State (2-15) 12-8. The Buckeyes used a big day from freshman second baseman Noah West, who went 2-for-4 with a double and one of OSU’s three triples in the game, scoring four runs. Tre’ Gantt and Noah McGowan each picked up a triple in a two-hit game. Sophomore catcher Jacob Barnwell picked up three RBI, while battery mate lefty Connor Curlis pitched three innings of one-hit baseball in a scoreless-start.

Penn State (7-11) made the most of six hits over 10 innings on Tuesday night, defeating Bucknell (8-9), 4-3 in walk-off fashion. Sophomore second baseman Conlin Hughes recorded half of PSU’s six hits, his final one opened the bottom of the 10th with a single. Moving to second after a hitter batter, Hughes scored on an errant throw down the right field line following a sacrifice bunt attempt by Willie Burger. Nittany Lion freshman right-hander Eric Mock pitched four innings, allowing just one hit without yielding a run, striking out five batters.

A four-run fourth inning spurred Michigan to a 6-4 win over Western Michigan (9-8) to run the Big Ten’s best record to 16-4 on the year. WMU broke through first, scoring three runs on four hits in the top of the second off Wovlerine Jayce Vancena, but it would be the only blemish on the five-inning line of the junior right-hander, holding the Broncos to four hits while striking out four without issuing a walk. In U-M’s big inning, a Harrison Wenson two-run double to left field was the big hit, with Jonathan Engelmann adding a sacrifice fly and Ako Thomas picking up an RBI-single. Michigan added a run in the fifth, before the team’s trading runs in their final at-bats. Thomas, left fielder Miles Lewis and DH Nick Poirier each recorded two of Michigan’s 10 hits.

The fourth inning was also the decisive frame in Indiana’s 3-2 victory over Cincinnati on Wednesday. IU (10-8-1) used a bunt single from freshman first baseman Matt Gorski to open the inning, and quickly two Hoosiers were on base following a single from senior right fielder Craig Dedelow. A double down the left field line from sophomore third baseman Luke Miller scored Gorski, with Dedelow and Miller scoring one batter later on a single by freshman catcher Jake Matheny. Six Indiana pitchers combined to hold Cincinnati (10-10) to a run in the fifth and eighth, with Tim Herrin tossing four innings of one-run baseball.

The 10 Spot: Breakout performances

 

With the start of Big Ten play this weekend, already one-third of the 2017 college baseball is behind us. With five weeks of action to reflect upon, we’re at the point where impressive numbers have weight, a hot streak simply doesn’t last nearly 20 games, that’s consistent performance.

As such, here’s a look at ten players, outside of freshmen and transfers, who have shown early-season success isn’t a fluke, they’re ready to help their team fight for a Big Ten championship.

*Stats through March 21

Nebraska Soph. INF Angelo Altavilla

As Nebraska weathered a 3-6 start, sophomore Angelo Altavilla was doing everything possible to make sure the Husker boat didn’t sink. With head coach Darin Erstad looking for a lineup he could trust, Altavilla played second base, shortstop and third base, providing much needed versatility. While most of the Husker lineup was in an early-season slump, Altavilla was not, showing a hot stick from the start, batting .400 through the first three weekends. Nebraska now sits 9-9 on the season, with its team average up to .262, performing as expected. And Altavilla has continued to swing it. Altavilla leads Nebraska with a .365 average and .464 on-base percentage. A year ago, Altavilla picked up four hits in 19 at-bats. His total hit output has already been trumped solely by his six doubles.

Michigan Sr. SS Michael Brdar

Michigan has been the Big Ten’s most consistent team in 2017. With 15 wins in 19 games, the Wolverines are also the Big Ten’s lone nationally-ranked team. Senior shortstop Michael Brdar has been the most consistent Wolverine, performing at a high-level from his number three-spot in the lineup and in the heart of the diamond for all 19 games. Brdar’s .333 average leads U-M, dialing up a .419 on-base percentage on the strength of 11 walks and just three strikeouts in 75 at-bats. A year after batting .250 with eight doubles, a triple and a home run, Brdar is also seeing an uptick in power numbers, collecting five doubles and three home runs. For good measure, Brdar has only committed two errors while adding nine stolen bases.

Penn State Soph. OF Jordan Bowersox

Penn State is still searching for its collective stroke at the plate, with the Nittany Lions’ .219 batting average is the conference’s worst mark. But Penn State does boast one of the conference’s top hitters thus far in sophomore outfielder Jordan Bowersox. Serving as an occassional leadoff batter for Rob Cooper, a year after batting .244 over 42 games, Bowersox has upped his average by more than .100 points, sporting a .353 hitting clip. Thanks to six doubles and a home run, Bowersox is second on the team with a .485 slugging percentage, and leads PSU with a .413 on-base percentage.

Purdue Soph. C/OF Nick Dalesandro

The season Nick Dalesandro is having may be less a surprise and more that of a player coming into his own. Dalesandro arrived in West Lafayette with much fanfare an attention, a ballyhooed recruit with the expectations of being the leader in reviving a dormant program. Dalesandro had a good freshman year, batting .277 with a .653 OPS, seeing time in all three outfield spots, on the mound and behind the plate. His second season for the Boilermakers has not seen him step on the mound, but he has again played all three outfield spots and behind the plate. This time doing it with a bat that cannot be removed from the lineup. Dalesandro is batting .324 through 18 games, connecting on his first two career home runs, adding five doubles and five stolen bases for a very productive first season.

Ohio State Jr. CF Tre’ Gantt

There were big holes to fill in the Ohio State outfielder with Ronnie Dawson and Troy Montgomery selected by MLB teams following their junior season. Dawson, an All-American, and Montgomery, a preseason All-American heading into the 2016 season, helped lead Ohio State to the Big Ten Tournament title and the program’s first NCAA Tournament since 2009. A lot of production was lost. A lot of production is coming from Gantt’s bat. Just like the two aforementioned Buckeyes, Gantt is a left-handed hitting outfielder with speed and is now showing a bit of power. Gantt paces Ohio State with a .365 average, six doubles, a pair of triples, a .581 slugging percentage and .467 on-base percentage. Gantt’s 10 extra-base hits, which match his output over the last two seasons, are second in the Big Ten, with his 43 total bases ranking third.

Minnesota Sr. RHP Brian Glowicki

Brian Glowick has faced hitters in 38 official at-bats this year. One batter recorded a home run off of the Gopher right-handed pitcher, another reached second a double. Two have players have singled off of the senior. Nobody else has recorded a hit. Appearing in nine games for Minnesota, Glowicki has been as close to a lock-down closer as there is. With only one run on his accord in 11.1 innings, Glowicki holds a .79 ERA with 13 strikeouts and one walk. Leading the Big Ten with six saves next to a 1-0 record, Glowicki has matched his saves total from his prior three seasons in Minneapolis where a 4.52 ERA in 85.2 inning.

Indiana Sr. OF Alex Krupa

With Indiana returning four players who saw playing time in the outfielder, how the Hoosiers lined up in the grass was question and perhaps good problem for Chris Lemonis to have. Senior Alex Krupa has put his best foot forward to make sure he’s in the lineup. A year ago, transferring to Indiana from Iowa Western, Krupa had a good year, batting .281 with a team-best 14 stolen bases. But with only three doubles a triple, Krupa slugged .313, leading to an sub-.700 OPS at .676. This year, Krupa’s ability to record a base hit is coming at a better rate, as is his power. Through Indiana’s 18 games, Krupa leads the Hoosiers with a .356 average. Matching his 2016 extra-base tallies with three doubles and a triple, Krupa also has a pair of home runs to slug .600 through the first third of the season.

Maryland Soph. RHP Andrew Miller

It’s reasonable to claim no player has made as big of a jump from 2016 to 2017 as Maryland sophomore right-handed pitcher Andrew Miller. A year ago, Miller was a highly-touted freshman who turned down offers from the New York Yankees, before scuffling to a 11.57-ERA campaign. The 2017 version of Miller is what many expected from the Stratford, New Jersey native. In his first 10 appearances, Miller did not surrender a run in 10.1 innings. Leading the Terrapins with three saves, Miller used 10 strikeouts to hold opponents to a .097 batting average in 31 at-bats. Miller’s scoreless inning streak snapped on Thursday, surrendering a two-run home run in Maryland’s 10-6 win over North Carolina-Wilimington. But it doesn’t look like Miller will stop having success at the back up the Terp’s pen.

Michigan State Soph. RHP Nathan Witt

Unlike the other sophomores on the list, 2017 hasn’t been breakout year building up past performance for Nathan Witt. The Michigan State right-handed pitcher redshirted in 2015 and wasn’t on the 2016 35-man roster. But it’s hard to keep a player off of a team when they possess a 95-MPH fastball, which is what Witt has showed the Michigan State coaching staff in the offseason and continues to have at his disposal, becoming an integral part in the Spartan bullpen. With nine innings under his belt, Witt has a 0.00 ERA, holding 31 batters to just four singles and a double. In seven appearances, Witt has struck out nine batters and walked one. Any doubt of Witt being a fluke was erased on March 8, when he struck out four in 2.2 innings of scoreless relief against nationally-ranked Clemson.

Illinois Soph. CF Jack Yalowitz

Take a look at the Big Ten individual stat leaders and you’ll see Illinois sophomore Jack Yalowitz among the top hitters. And sluggers. And run producers. With a .389 average, .653 slugging percentage, 18 runs, 28 hits, 22 RBI, a pair of triples, 47 bases and even three sacrifice flies, Yalowitz is among the top three players in the Big Ten in eight different offensive categories. Yalowitz hasn’t only broke through in a big way after a freshman season where he hit .227 and posted a .291 slugging percentage, the center fielder is bursting out, providing the Illinois with one of the most potent 1-2 punches alongside senior first baseman Pat McInerney. At 5-12, Illinois’ every-other-year NCAA Tournament streak looks to be in jeopardy, but Yalowitz is putting together a season to continue the Illini’s odd-season stranglehold on the Big Ten Player of the Year honor.

 

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