OSU’ Dominic Canzone Named B1G Freshman of the Week

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Dominic Canzone, a freshman outfielder on the Ohio State baseball team, was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week, the conference office announced Monday. Canzone, from Sagamore Hills, Ohio, collects his first career weekly award and becomes the first Buckeye to be named freshman of the week since Brady Cherry in 2016.

Canzone led the Buckeyes to a 3-1 mark last week, including a road series win at Penn State last Sunday. Canzone hit .412 (7-for-17) with two runs scored, double, home run, seven RBI and stolen base over the course of four games. He hit a bases-clearing double to help the Buckeyes rally to beat Kent State, 9-8, in seven innings last Wednesday in Columbus. Canzone batted .462 (6-for-13) with a home run, two runs scored and four RBI in the series in University Park, Pa. He also had a big assist in game one in right field for his team-best fourth outfield assist of 2017. Canzone is currently on a team-high nine-game hit streak, hitting .484 (15-for-31) with a .677 slugging percentage during that span.

The 10 Spot: Pitching performances

It’s been the year of the home run in the Big Ten, but that shouldn’t outshine the stellar pitching performances the conference has seen thus far. This week’s 10 Spot takes a look at the best of the best gems, shutouts and pitching-powered upsets from Big Ten teams to date.

Indiana’s one-run effort against Oregon State to start the season

Indiana’s offense was completely stymied in a 1-0, season-opening loss to Oregon State, but Jonathan Stiever and Pauly Milto were almost equally as nasty for the Hoosiers. Stiever threw 5.2 innings, allowing three hits and one earned run, while Milto threw the final 2.1 innings, allowing only one hit and no earned runs.

Pavlopoulos, Kinker knock off Oregon State

Oregon State is the overwhelming #1 team in the country this season, with only one blemish on its record thus far. That blemish came at the hands of Ohio State and Yianni Pavlopoulos. Pavlopoulos, the Buckeye closer in 2016, threw the first six innings in only his second career start. He allowed only three hits and shut out the Beavers. Seth Kinker threw the final three innings, giving up two hits and one earned run, and the Buckeyes won, 6-1.

Andrews dominant in Cape Girardeau

Purdue’s turnaround campaign has been one of the leading headlines so far the 2017 season. In the season’s third weekend, a serious at Southeast Missouri State gave early notice to Purdue’s changed fortunes. Leading the Boilermakers to a 4-0 win, junior right-handed pitcher Tanner Andrews pitched a four-hit shutout, striking out eight batters without issuing a walk, en route to his second Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honor in just three weeks.

Oliver Jaskie deals in LA

Jaskie, pitching against UCLA and potential first round pick Griffin Canning, during the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic, looked like he belonged in a big league stadium. In his six innings of shutout work, Jaskie only allowed three hits while striking out six Bruins. Tommy Henry relieved Jaskie in the seventh and gave up only one unearned run, but that was ultimately enough for Canning, who went eight innings allowing three hits and zero earned runs while striking out 12 in UCLA’s 1-0 victory. Jaskie proved, however, that the Big Ten elite could compete with the rest of the country.

Wolverines stay hot in SoCal

Michigan continued it’s run of stellar pitching against Pac-12 teams in a contest at USC the next day. Ryan Nutof started the game on the mound for Michigan, and the Wolverines got everything they could have asked out of him. Nutof threw 6.1 innings, allowing only three hits, one earned run, and struck out eight Trojans. The bullpen combined for the final 2.2 innings, allowing only one hit in Michigan’s 4-1 win on the road against the most storied program in the country.

Taylor Bloom leads dominating win over #6 NC State

Maryland has put together a quality season to this point, finding itself in the discussion to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years. Leading the Terrapin’s postseason résumé may be against #6 North Carolina State in early March. Junior right-handed pitcher Taylore Bloom was a big reason for that, throwing seven innings of five-hit ball, allowing the only two runs of the game for the Wolfpack in a 9-2 Terrapin win.

Nebraska blanks Arizona

Jake Meyers has put together a really good season already for the Huskers, but his performance against Arizona may be his best. Meyers went five shutout innings allowing only six hits and striking out four on his way to the win. Chad Luensmann earned the rare four-inning save, allowing only two hits over those four innings. Nebraska scored one run in the first inning, and held on to beat the Wildcats, 1-0. It was Arizona’s first loss of the season.

Alex Troop duels at South Carolina

Michigan State sophomore left-handed Alex Troop matched up against potential first rounder Clarke Schmidt and the No. 10 South Carolina Gamecocks in a top-tier pitching duel much like Jaskie-Canning. Troop went eight innings against the Gamecocks high-powered bats, allowing only three hits and two earned runs. Troop, a two-way player, hit a home run the next day against South Carolina, making what he did both on the mound and at the plate even more impressive.

Ty Weber quiets the defending national champs

Coastal Carolina lost quite a few players to the draft after last season’s national championship run, but there was plenty of meat left on the bone when Weber and the Fighting Illini traveled to Conway, South Carolina to take on the Chanticleers. Weber went 7.2 innings, allowing only 1 hit and 1 earned run, striking out six hitters. If it weren’t for his high pitch count (105 pitches), Weber might have sealed the win. However, Ryan Schmitt gave up two solo home runs in the bottom of the ninth and the Chanticleers walked off with a 3-2 win.

Meyers curtails Catamounts

When a pitcher has a 2.25 ERA over seven starts it’s likely they have had a few quality starts, and that’s certainly the case for Meyers. Building off of his effort against the Wildcats in the Frisco College Baseball Classic, Meyers twirled a five-hit shutout against Western Carolina the following weekend. In striking out five batters while only issuing one walk, Meyers added to a scoreless innings streak which ultimately ended two weeks later at 25.2 innings.

April 12 Power Rankings

The third weekend did not see a sweep, for the first time this season, as tight series from State College to Lincoln were played out. Weather conditions and a cancelled flight left Rutgers in New Jersey, unable to fly to the Twin Cities to take on Minnesota, but even with the conference leaders idle, there were several flip-flops this week’s power rankings.

Previous rankings: March 28 April 3

Records through April 11

#1 Minnesota (20-8 overall, 6-0 Big Ten) Last Week: #1

Minnesota’s Big Ten home opener must wait until next weekend with a big series against Nebraska, after the Gophers were unable to take on Rutgers due to a cancelled flight and no found viable options to get the Scarlet Knights to Minneapolis. The weekend off didn’t hurt Minnesota as the Gophers picked up a 6-1 win at North Dakota State on Tuesday, running their winning streak to 11 games.

#2 Michigan (26-7, 6-3) LW: #2

The Wolverines picked up a pair of victories in their weekend series against Illinois. Michigan’s starting pitching was a bit shakier than it has been thus far, but, as good teams do, they still found a way to defend their home turf. Michigan hasn’t had a bad weekend through eight weeks, showing the consistency expected of one of the country’s top 20 teams.

#3 Nebraska (20-11-1, 4-1-1) LW: #4

Nebraska’s 1-6 start seems like last year. The Cornhuskers are rolling, picking up a big series victory over Maryland. With Jake Hohensee leading the Big Ten’s most consistent rotation, Nebraska is ready to continue a tough slate with back-to-back series against Iowa and Minnesota, in pursuit of a Big Ten championship and second straight NCAA Tournament bid.

#4 Maryland (21-10, 6-3) LW: #3

Just as Michigan’s series loss at Maryland didn’t take from the good Michigan built up throughout March, the weekend loss at Nebraska doesn’t take from Maryland’s strong play of late. Taking one game in Lincoln was crucial, and Maryland did that. Another big weekend has sophomore center fielder Marty Costes quietly putting together a Big Ten Player of the Year season.

#5 Michigan State (18-11, 3-3) LW: #6

The Michigan State put an end to a five-game losing streak with a weekend sweep of Fresno State. The Spartans were able to break through for 27 runs against the Bulldogs, after scoring 14 over their losing streak. The parts are there for Michigan State to make a run, it’s just a matter of Jake Boss’ team having the “it” factor.

#6 Iowa (20-11, 3-3) LW: 5

Iowa’s uneven season away from Duane Banks Field continued with a weekend loss to Northwestern. The Hawkeyes are now 10-10 in games played outside of Iowa City. Jake Adams picked up two more home runs to grab sole lead of the conference’s home run chase with 13, but Northwestern did a good job of making sure his production had as little impact as possible, keeping the supporting cast at bay.

#7 Purdue (17-15, 5-4) LW: 8

The Boilermakers added a bullet to their turnaround season with a weekend win over in-state rival Indiana. Purdue ruined IU’s first trip to West Lafeyette since 2011 by taking the first two games, with Saturday’s contest featuring an Alexander Field record crowd of 2,312. Even in the series finale that Indiana won, 14-9, Purdue battled from a 13-1 deficit showing Purdue’s ever-building mentality no-quit mentality.

#8 Indiana (17-13-2, 4-4-1) LW: 7

Indiana’s offense came alive in the Sunday game against Purdue, but growing concerns of the IU bullpen continued. Indiana lead Friday’s opener 5-2 going into the bottom of the eighth, before four Boilermaker runs carried Purdue to victory. Indiana took down Indiana State, 2-0 on Tuesday night, giving the team a chance to build momentum heading into the weekend’s big series against Minnesota.

#9 Illinois (12-18, 1-5) LW: #9

Illinois saw a four-game winning streak end in the opener against Michigan, a game where they lost a 7-0 lead, but salvaged the weekend with a win in the finale and started a new winning streak with a 6-5 win over Illinois State on Tuesday. Illinois has the offense to win any weekend series, it’s just a matter of how fast can the young pitching staff grow up.

#10 Ohio State (14-18, 3-6) LW: #10

It’s another week where the Buckeyes are responsible for the lone loss on the record of the consensus #1 team in the country, and it was another week where the Buckeyes showed flashes of brilliance but inconsistency. Ohio State battled back to beat a good Kent State team, 9-8, last Wednesday and rebounded from a series-opening loss take take two of three in State College. But on Tuesday, Ohio State was held to four hits in a 7-1 loss to Cincinnati, continuing an up-and-down season.

#11 Northwestern (11-20, 2-4) LW: #12

The Wildcats were able to build off of their weekend win against Air Force with another home series victory in turning back Iowa. Against Indiana, Spencer Allen’s team showed they would be a tough out and now they have the results to show for it. Northwestern has won five of their last seven games, and is

#12 Rutgers (11-18, 0-3) LW: #11

It probably helped Rutgers’ pursuit of a Big Ten Tournament spot to not play the three games this weekend against the conference leader. Regardless, Rutgers made up for any loss of scoring from the weekend, racking up 28 runs in a 28-4 midweek win over Lafayette on Tuesday, snapping a four-game losing streak.

#13 Penn State (11-20, 1-5) LW: #13

Penn State grabbed the first game of their home series against Ohio State, 6-2, for their first conference win. But in a Sunday doubleheader, the Nittany Lions could only manage two runs in each game, while the Buckeyes broke out racked up 16, more than they scored in either of their two previous three-game conference series. Injuries have depleted Penn State’s depth, making winning two of three games a tough task.

 

Weekend preview April 7-9

As college baseball starts the second half of the season, this weekend’s Big Ten action is headline by a rivalry been a recent power and budding rebuilding program, a top-flight home run chase, two hot teams squaring off and conference teams trying to navigate everything Mother Nature throws its way.

Ahead of rivalry weekend, a culture is changing in West Lafayette

There’s no way around it, it was an ugly game.

Purdue’s 13-2 loss to Ohio State on March 31 featured eight walks, six wild pitches and five errors, in addition to several misplayed balls lost, on an evening where the gloomy weather conditions mirror the play of the Boilermakers. On the road for the seventh consecutive season, what changes Purdue enjoyed in winning 13 games over the first six weeks, after winning all of 10 in 2016, wasn’t evident to one watching in the stands. It was the same old Purdue team, the one that went 20-75 in Big Ten play over the prior four seasons.

But in how the Boilermakers responded the rest of the weekend showed times are changing in West Lafayette. Purdue rebounded to walk only two batters and commit just two errors over the final two games, collecting victories of 6-1 and 2-1 over the Buckeyes, giving the Boilermakers three wins in their first six Big Ten games, best their 2-22 conference mark of a year ago.

“I would have liked to have done it in a different way,” joked first-year head coach Mark Wasikowski on signs of a different clubhouse culture in the team’s ability to rebound from such a bad game. “Friday night we quit, we were soft, we were scared, we were timid, we got overwhelmed by bad elements. Anything you can say on a negative side is who we were and that was our identity that day. And that wasn’t the players, it was the coaching staff, the players, it was the bus driver, it was everybody involved. That’s who we were and we had to own it.

“I guess the culture part of it, is that we can all hang out heads and mope around for the rest of the year because we played a bad game or we can shake it off. When we left the dugout that night, the encouragement was can we get passed the day today? And don’t get off this bus, literally, when we got to the hotel, don’t get off this bus until you can get to tomorrow.”

Purdue was able to get to tomorrow, pick up a win, and now they stand 15-31 on the year, set to host in-state rival Indiana (15-11-2) for the first time since 2011.

In 2011, it was Purdue that appeared to be the state of Indiana’s top Big Ten program. The Hoosiers did have the 2009 NCAA Tournament appearance, but Purdue showed more consistency, appearing in four straight Big Ten Tournaments at the season’s end. A year later, the Boilermakers would go on to win the Big Ten for the first time since 1909, win the Big Ten Tournament, defeating Indiana in the tournament championship game, and host the Big Ten’s first regional in four years.

That was the last time Purdue had a winning season.

In the meantime, Indiana has appeared in the NCAA Tournament three times, captured two Big Ten championships and were the Big Ten’s first College World Series participant in 30 years, breaking through in 1983. As Indiana flourish Purdue bottomed out, leaving Wasikowski to pick up the pieces in hope of returning the Boilermakers to past promise.

“On day one, we couldn’t take an infield-outfield (practice), said Wasikowski, who was hired after serving on staffs at Oregon, Arizona, Florida and Southeast Missouri State. “We couldn’t do that. We didn’t have the ability to take an infield-outfield or literally play catch without the ball flying all over the park.”

Needing to completely revamp the Purdue program, Wasikowski started with the absolute basics, and it wasn’t on-field instruction.

“We started with locker room, how are we going to keep our lockers here at Purdue. How are we going to maintain our shoes, make sure that things are clean. Make sure that this is how screens go. We started from the beginning.”

With an emphasis on educating, in an effort to have players in positions for greater chances of success by having an understanding the why behind every actions, both on and off the field, Wasikowski set out in rebounding of the program. There wasn’t any expectation on what Purdue would do on the field, Wasikowski’s sole goal was to make sure his culture was in place by the end of the season.

As they showed at Ohio State, Purdue is working towards that, laying the foundation to once again reign supreme in the Hoosier State. Now, this weekend’s rivalry series against Indiana is another opportunity.

“I think we’re all fighting for the same thing and I think this weekend is going to be another fight in that battle of who is in charge of this state. I know it’s not us yet. But this is an opportunity for us to kind of chip away at getting at that point. That’s what we’re trying to do, start chipping away at whoever is the best team in the state, and eventually that’s going to be us is our mindset.”

Adams and McInerney evoke memories of Sosa and McGwire

It’s been nearly 20 years since Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire captured the nation’s attention with their pursuit, and eventual passing, of the 61-home run, 1961 season of Roger Maris. Resetting Major League Baseball’s record book, the home runs Sosa, of the Chicago Cubs, and McGwire, of the St. Louis Cardinals, racked up during the 1998 season had fans on the edge of their seat, holding their breath with each at-bat and continually checking newspaper box scores to see who was still on pace for the record, who hit the latest home run and had the leg on.

Now, two sluggers who were just learning to swing a bat during that unforgettable summer are locked in a home run chase of their own.

Iowa junior first baseman Jake Adams and Illinois first baseman Pat McInerney each have 11 home runs heading into the weekend’s action. Both are on pace to produce the Big Ten’s first 20-home run season since Indiana DH Alex Dickerson hit 24 in 2011, giving the conference a genuine, headline-grabbing home race.

“I’ve surprised myself a little bit,” said McInerney, who has a .727 slugging percentage on the strength of six home runs in Illinois’ last eight games. “It is a result of getting a good pitch and putting a good swing on it, but I wouldn’t have guessed I would have 11 at this point, especially with the home run totals I’ve had in the past, and through the summers when you’re thinking it’s going really well.”

McInerney, batting .333 with a .427 on-base percentage, contributes his stellar senior season to a few offseason changes to his swing, where, as simple as it sounds, he hoped to hit the ball harder and in the air. The native of Glen Elyn, Ill. is also taking note of current conversation and dialogue throughout baseball on launch angles, and the results of balls hit higher in the air. But even before McInerney steps to the plate for a high, towering hit, the continued exposure over his career of seeing some of college baseball’s best pitchers in practice is paying off in a big way.

“When you have the experience of practicing against the guys we have faced on a daily basis in guys that have pitched at Illinois, between Cody (Sedlock), Tyler (Jay),  (Kevin) Duchene, where our pitching staff has been so good the last couple of years, we got to see that every day at practice. You’re obviously going to get better when you face those guys.”

Adams, who is batting .340 with a .417 on-base percentage and .698 slugging percentage, hasn’t had the same fortune as McInerney when it comes to standing in the batter’s box against a pair of first-round pitchers. A transfer from Des Moines Area Community College, Adams is in his first season with the Hawkeyes, but came with quite the legacy. After hitting 25 home runs in 2016, leaving DMACC as the career home run leader with 41, the Iowa coaching staff knew Adams had power unlike they’ve ever seen, it was just a matter of how much would it translate to the Division I level. So far Adams has had no issues continuing his home run-hitting ways.

“Baseball is baseball,” said Adams, who hit his 11th home run of the season on Tuesday, helping Iowa 4-3 win over South Dakota State running their record to 18-9 on the season. “Going from a JUCO to the DI level, the pitchers have about the same velocity, but at the DI level they have a bit better off-speed pitches. Coming into Iowa I had to train a lot harder in the weight room, get stronger. I knew I could come in at this level and still put up some pretty big numbers.”

Where McInerney has paid attention to launch angles and noticing his home runs, outside of a time early at DMACC where he accepted he can’t hit a home run in every at-bat, Adams hasn’t changed a thing about his approach or plan of attack at the plate.

“I got into the flow of having to step up to the plate and look for the base hit. When the guys leave it over the plate, that’s when I have to hammer it,” said Adams, who has a three-home run game under his belt, doing so March 26 against Kansas State. “There will be occasions where, if there’s someone in scoring positions and I have two strikes, I’ll move up to the plate a little bit because I stand off the plate, and I just have to get the ball in play. But otherwise I don’t change up if I have two strikes.”

Wasting little time to establish himself as one of the Big Ten’s premier power threats, Adams is aware of how teams are trying to pitch to him and know it is on him to adjust. McInerney looks to continue to be as aggressive as possible in hitting the ball as hard as he can. With the two tied at 11 home runs, with no end in sight of their slugging ways, it’s shaping up to be a second half to remember in the Big Ten.

“It’s kind of cool because growing up in Chicago, I would always remember the home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire,” McInerney said.  It’s not like we’re at five or six home runs, we’re putting up one every other game so it’s cool to go back and forth.

“We host Iowa the last weekend of the season and we’ll see if it comes down to that.”

Get ready for another great home run race, Midwest.

Rising teams square off in Lincoln

Maryland and Nebraska have one conference loss in the nine games played between them and both have racked up wins at a feverish pace over the last month. Victors in 18 of their last 21 games, the Terrapins head to Lincoln for a showdown against a Cornhusker team that has gone 15-4-1 in their last 20 games.

Last weekend, Maryland (19-8, 5-1) swept a road series at Rutgers while Nebraska (17-10-1) almost matched the feat in Bloomington, winning the first two games against Indiana before a travel curfew ended the series finale in a 1-1 ties after 11 innings. With the season’s midpoint here, Maryland is a projected NCAA Tournament team by D1Baseball.com and Baseball America, with the Cornhuskers among the first teams left outside of the field of 64. Both seeking their first Big Ten championship, and with Minnesota’s series against Rutgers cancelled, the weekend provides a prime opportunity for both to take a big step toward their goals.

The two teams enter the weekend with almost identical batting averages, Nebraska’s .267 clip just edges Maryland’s .266 average, but the Terrapins who a decisive advantage in power, a 26 home runs to nine, and stolen bases, 58 swipes against 24. On the other side of the ball is where Nebraska hold the advantage. The Cornhuskers have pitched to a 3.18 ERA, second in the Big Ten. Maryland pitchers have a cumulative 3.68 ERA.

Game two of the series will be broadcast live on BTN, providing a national audience for this key series.

Elsewhere around the conference

A series moved, another cancelled

Inclement weather and scrambled Big Ten baseball schedules are expected this time of year. But what occurred this week is beyond the normal unexpectedness.

Heavy rains throughout mid-Michigan caused flooding and made Michigan State’s Kobs Field unplayable this weekend for the Spartans non-conference series against Fresno State. As a result, the two teams will square off in Grand Rapids, an hour-drive west of East Lansing, playing a doubleheader on Saturday before concluding the series with a finale on Sunday.

But at least the two are schedule for three games, that’s not the case for Minnesota at Rutgers.

After starting the Big Ten season with consecutive road sweeps, the Gophers were set to begin the home conference season with a game tonight against Rutgers. But the weather system that left Michigan State’s home field underway, caused flight cancellations throughout the east coast on Thursday night, leaving the Scarlet Knights without a flight into Minneapolis. Friday’s game was cancelled with Rutgers, before the teams announced the entire weekend series has been called off with Rutgers unable to find a viable travel option. Minnesota’s 6-0 conference record, 19-8 overall, will remain intact while the Scarlet Knights must wait another weekend to seek for their first Big Ten victory, remaining 0-3, 10-18 overall.

Nittany Lions host Buckeyes in critical series

Penn State (10-17) is set to host Ohio State (12-16) for the first time since 2012. Ohio State’s first trip to State College to take on a Rob Cooper-led team, Penn State welcomes their border rivals for a big series. As the calendar has not yet hit Tax Day, it’s too early to panic, and the Buckeyes did overcome a 2-5 conference start to have a chance at the title in the last weekend, on their way to an NCAA Tournament appearance. But with Ohio State’s 1-5 conference record and Penn State’s 0-3 Big Ten mark, it’s important for each team to start getting wins soon, and with the two potentially fighting for one of the final tournament spots, the weekend winner getting a tiebreaking advantage can go a long way.

In spacious Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, hits may be at a premium. Ohio State’s .238 team batting average is 12th in the conference, only Penn State’s .230 clip is worse.

Required reading

Terrapins’ aggressive style heightens Huskers’ intensity entering weekend series -Evan Bland, Omaha World-Herald

Penn State baseball to host Ohio State, five games in five days -Kara Duriez, The Daily Collegian

Purdue’s Hunter proving his worth -Sam King, Lafayette Journal & Courier

Lugbauer’s surge powers Michigan’s offense -Jacob Shames, The Michigan Daily

Wildcats seek first conference win in weekend series against Iowa -Joseph Wilkinson, The Daily Northwestern

Friday’s Rutgers at Minnesota game cancelled

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Due to a flight cancellation, Rutgers baseball will be unable to travel to Minneapolis for tomorrow’s game against Minnesota. Air traffic control conditions impacting flight operations forced the scheduled Thursday night from from Newark to be called off. The Scarlet Knights and Golden Gophers were scheduled to open a three-game Big Ten series Friday at 4 p.m. ET.

Rutgers Athletics is working to find alternate travel plans and scheduling information will be released once confirmed.

MSU Alters Weekend Schedule, Moving To Grand Rapids

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State baseball has updated its weekend schedule due to wet field conditions from the recent inclement weather, and will play its weekend series against Fresno State in Grand Rapids.

MSU will play a doubleheader on Saturday, April 8 at 1 p.m., followed by a single game Sunday, April 9 at 2 p.m., with all three games played at Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps.

Fans can follow the weekend’s games through “Live Stats,” “Listen Live” and “Watch Live” links found at MSUSpartans.com. The clash between the Spartans and Bulldogs will be video streamed on BTN2Go, and will also be carried on the Spartan Sports Network live audio stream. The broadcast will be available exclusively at SpartanSportsNetwork.com and on the network’s 24/7 app for mobile devices (available on iTunes and Google Play). Broadcast veteran Scott Moore calls the action alongside Jake Boss Sr. in select games.

Michigan State is 15-10 overall while Fresno State is 16-12.

Fans can stay tuned to www.MSUSpartans.com or follow MSU Baseball on twitter at statebaseball for any schedule updates.

The 10 Spot: First half moments

This week’s 10 Spot is a look back on the top 10 moments of the first half of the season around Big Ten baseball. From the continued run of facility enhancement, pitching duels, home run heroics and honoring the spirit of two courageous men, here’s the best of the first eight weeks.

Fred Hill Training Complex opens

Three weeks before the first pitch of the season was thrown, a milestone moment occurred. On Jan. 31, a ribbon ceremony was held to formally introduce the new, and much-needed, indoor home for Rutgers baseball and softball, the Fred Hill Training Complex. The state-of-the-art facility features a fully turfed indoor diamond, over an indoor space big enough to feature six drop down batting tunnels and pitching mounds. The Fred Hill Training Complex is the first new athletic facility on Rutgers’ campus in a generation and allows the diamond teams to escape the gymnasium’s cramped conditions of the Rutgers Athletic Center.

Glowicki closes the door in Irvine

Torrential rains and once-a-decade flooding in southern California postponed Minnesota’s season opener at UC-Irvine a day. When Minnesota was able to take the field on Feb. 18, in hopes of reaching a second consecutive regional, the Gophers unleashed a weapon. Looking to close out a 9-8 win, senior right-handed pitcher Brian Glowicki was called upon to shut down the heart of the Anteater order which featured DH Keston Hiura, a potential top-10 overall draft pick. Glowicki handled the task with ease. Two strikeouts, including one on a fastball by Hiura, and a pop up closed the victory. It was the first of already 11 saves for Glowicki, who has a .52 ERA in 17.1 innings.

Ohio State beats Oregon State

At 25-1, Oregon State is the consensus #1 team in the country. The Beavers have won 20 in a roll to take a solid perch atop the polls. But the Beavers aren’t invincible, as the Buckeyes of Ohio State know. On the second day of the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge, Ohio State defeated Oregon State, 6-1. Junior right-handed pitcher Yianni Pavlopoulos pitched six innings of shutout baseball with sophomore third baseman Brady Cherry picking up a two-run home run to power the Buckeyes to victory.

Jaskie vs. Canning

On March 3, in Michigan’s first game of the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic, Wolverine junior left-handed pitcher Oliver Jaskie went toe-to-toe against UCLA’s Griffin Canning, a potential first-round draft pick, producing a top notch pitching duel. Over six innings, Jaskie held the Bruins to three hits, allowing no runs, while striking out six batters against four walks. Canning equally stymied Michigan, holding the Wolverines to three hits in eight innings, striking out 12 batters while walking three. UCLA won, 1-0, in the bottom of the ninth on a throwing error.

Nebraska blanks Arizona, jump starts seasons

On March 4, a 15-5 loss to Arkansas dropped Nebraska to 2-6. A year after reaching the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years, the Huskers looked dead in the water with a date against last year’s national runners-up, Arizona, awaiting. Behind junior left-handed pitcher Jake Meyers, Nebraska blanked the Wildcats, 1-0. In the 20 games since the lost to Arkansas, Nebraska is 15-4-1.

Heller wins #800

Iowa’s 15-7 win over Lehigh, on March 12, gave Hawkeye head coach Rick Heller his 800th career win. In his 30th season as a head coach, Heller has guided four programs to the NCAA Tournament: Iowa, Indiana State, Northern Iowa and Upper Iowa. Iowa is 119-76 under Heller, who’s in his fourth season leading the Hawkeyes..

Troop twirls a gem, hits a homer

Michigan State redshirt-sophomore Alex Troop showed why he is one of the country’s best two-way players in two games against South Carolina. On the road, against the top-10 Gamecocks, Troop, a left-handed pitcher, tossed a three-hitter, allowing three runs, two earned, in receiving a tough luck loss, as Michigan State fell 3-2. The next day, as MSU’s DH, Troop hit a home run off USC’s Wil Crowe, a projected first-round pick.

Weber’s near no-no

A day after Troop’s strong outing in Columbia, S.C, Illinois freshman left-hander Ty Weber cooked up a quality starter of his own. In Conway, S.C., against the reigning national champions, Coastal Carolina, Weber carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning, losing it just six outs from history. Unfortunately the Illini lost 3-2, on back-to-back home runs, but in the no decision Weber was special. The southpaw allowed one run off one hit in 7.2 innings, walking four with six punchouts.

Three-homer mania

In an eight-day span, five Big Ten players hit three home runs in a game. Yes, three homer runs. Yes, five different players. Starting with Iowa’s Jake Adams and Ohio State’s Noah McGowan on March 19, respectively at Kansas State and Xavier, the trifecta continued the following weekend, starting on March 24 with Indiana’s Matt Lloyd in game one of a doubleheader against Northwestern, before Rutgers Jawuan Harris matched the feat the next day at USC-Upstate. And one week after Adams and McGowan’s three round-trippers, Michigan State’s Brandon Hughes did it at Illinois.

Zach Farmer Memorial Game

On March 25, in the first game of a doubleheader against Minnesota, Ohio State played the Zach Farmer Memorial Game. In August 2015, Farmer, a would-be junior left-handed pitcher, passed away after a fight with acute myeloid leukemia. It was the same battle fought by longtime Minnesota pitching coach Todd Oakes, who passed away last May. The game was a reminder that nobody fights alone, and continued to bring awareness to Be the Match, the national bone marrow donor program.

Midseason roundtable

Big Ten teams are heading into the eighth weekend of play, reaching the halfway point of the college baseball season. With the race for the conference crown shaping up and teams putting together resumes in hopes of a return to the NCAA Tournament, 10 Innings’ Blake Dowson, Burke Granger and Chris Webb share their thoughts on the first half of the season across the Big Ten.

What’s the top storyline of the first half of the season?

BD:  Minnesota. The Gophers leaned heavily on upperclassmen during last year’s Big Ten championship run. Austin Athmann, Matt Fiedler, Dan Motl, and Connor Schaefbauer are no longer in the Gopher lineup. Those four combined for 303 hits, 149 RBI, and 159 runs last year. Without them, Minnesota is undefeated in the Big Ten and 19-8 overall, with sweeps over Michigan State and Ohio State after being picked to finish sixth in the preseason. The Gophers land in the top half of the conference in team batting average, on-base percentage, team earned run average, opposing batting average, and team fielding percentage.

BG: Maryland’s hot streak. After a 1-5 start through the season’s first two weekends, all they’ve done is go 18-3 since, take two of three against a very good Michigan team, and they’re back in the national rankings.

CW: The little attention the Big Ten is garnering. What Michigan and Minnesota are doing shouldn’t be a surprise with who each team returned. But neither team loaded up on summer league all-stars or filled up prospect lists to enter the season with little fanfare. While Michigan was ranked for most of March, most are just now noticing what Minnesota is doing. Both have legitimate chances of hosting a regional. Add those two with Maryland, the season Iowa is putting together, Nebraska getting it turned around, and while stumbling of late, Michigan State’s pitching and power ability, this is an extremely deep Big Ten season. I guess there hasn’t been a “wow” series the Big Ten can hang its hat on, but something feels off with just how few headlines the conference has made so far. NCAA Tournament projections from Baseball America and D1Baseball do have Maryland, Michigan and Minnesota appearing in an regional, so people are aware there’s good teams, but it doesn’t quite feel like there’s an appreciation for the quality season thus far and the depth of the conference.

 

Which team has most exceeded expectations in your eyes?

BD: Purdue. The Boilermakers’ 15-13, 3-3 record isn’t flashy enough to get people talking about them outside of the conference, but considering where the team came from last year, a record above .500 is no small feat. Purdue has already eclipsed its win total from a year ago (10), as well as conference wins (2). With weekend series against Rutgers, Illinois, and Northwestern left on the schedule, Purdue could be on its way to its best season since it qualified for the NCAA Tournament back in 2012.

BG: Minnesota. Though they took home the Big Ten championship last season, they lost four players to the draft and I thought Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska would all finish above Minnesota in the standings.  They still might, but the Gophers stand at 19-8 overall and 6-0 in the conference so they can’t be ignored.

CW: Iowa. I’ll one day learn to not to doubt a team coached by Rick Heller. I thought going into the season the losses of Joel Booker, Tyler Peyton and Nick Roscetti would be be tough to overcome, and while safely in the Big Ten Tournament mix, a shot at a regional berth would be a year away. Midway through the year the Hawkeyes are in a position to chase down a second NCAA Tournament trip in three years.

 

Which team has not lived up to your preseason expectations?

BD: Ohio State. The Buckeyes weren’t expected to contend for a Big Ten title this season. In the conference’s preseason rankings, Ohio State didn’t land in the top-6. But there is an expectation in Columbus to take care of business against in-state teams like Xavier, who the Buckeyes got swept by in mid-March. Two losses to a mediocre Purdue team and another sweep at the hands of Minnesota has Ohio State in a bad spot and in danger of finishing below .500 for the first time in six years.

BG: Ohio State.  Perhaps I should have seen it coming after losing six players to the MLB Draft, but I thought the Buckeyes, having won the conference tournament last season, would be more competitive.  

CW: Michigan State. The Spartans were not only my preseason Big Ten champion, but for the last 13 months I viewed this year as a regional hosting season for Michigan State. With series still to come against Maryland, Michigan and Nebraska, they certainly can fight their way back and achieve both. But the manner in which Minnesota swept Michigan State, was the same in South Carolina’s two victories over Jake Boss’ team and it’s a cause for concern. MSU is right there, they can go toe-to-toe with anyone, but there’s an inability to get over that hump. MSU now has a five-game skid going into their conference bye week and need to figure out who’s the player that’s going to be their Ronnie Dawson, David Kerian or Sam Travis.

 

Looking back, which weekend result did you not see coming?

BD: Minnesota’s sweep of Michigan State. The Gophers officially announced themselves as a threat in the Big Ten after sweeping the Spartans to get to 6-0 in the conference. Both teams came into the weekend at 3-0 in Big Ten play, but the Spartans left the weekend with their tails between their legs. Minnesota won a pair of one-run contests on Saturday before tagging Michigan State with 9 runs on Sunday, touching all four Spartan pitchers for at least one run.

BG: Michigan taking two of three in the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic.  Their only loss came in a 1-0 duel to UCLA where Oliver Jaskie nearly matched Griffin Canning, a potential day-one MLB Draft selection, blow for blow. This was a statement weekend for Michigan and it’s refreshing to see a cold weather teams play well in an early season invitational.

CW: LSU’s sweep of Maryland. It’s not that LSU isn’t a good team, the Tigers are, but Maryland wasn’t all that competitive in the series. I expected a better showing by the Terps in the Bayou, with Brian Shaffer and Taylor Bloom leading the way to a big weekend victory, putting a bullet on Maryland’s regional résumé.

Of note, strictly on looking back with no consideration of preseason expectations, that a scuffling Ohio State team is the lone loss on #1 Oregon State’s record is noteworthy.

 

Who is your first half Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Pitcher?

BD:  Most Valuable Player: Jake Adams, Iowa. Adams, who was targeted by Iowa out of Des Moines Area Community College to replace Tyler Peyton in the lineup and at first base, has been better than anyone expected. The South Dakota native has hit for power and average. Adams is tied for first in home runs (11), is first in RBI (37) and total bases (74), second in slugging (.698), fifth in hits (36), and tied for tenth in average (.340). You can live with his 24 strikeouts compared to 12 walks with the amount of power he brings to the table.

Most Valuable Pitcher: Brian Shaffer, Maryland. Shaffer has filled the void that Shawaryn left and then some. He holds a 4-1 record with a league-leading 1.70 ERA, while throwing five more innings than anyone else in the Big Ten. His 52 strikeouts are second only to Oliver Jaskie in the conference, and his .187 batting average/against is third among qualified pitchers. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Shaffer is dominating in his junior season — in his sophomore season he finished with 8 wins, 103 innings, and a 2.60 ERA, along with a complete game shutout against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament.

BG:  Most Valuable Player: Pat McInerney, Illinois.  Most Valuable Pitcher: Shaffer.

CW: Most Valuable Player: Adams. Even with Robert Neustrom blossoming into a top flight outfielder and Mason McCoy being the Big Ten’s top all around shortstop, the offense is at a different level due to Adams. He’s been an anchor in the lineup, producing big hits and giving the Hawkeyes a power threat they’ve yet to have in the Heller Era.

Most Valuable Pitcher: Shaffer. As Blake laid out, Shaffer is doing Shaffer things. He’s doing exactly what was expected in the preseason.

*But, if there is only one MVP, it’d be Michigan State’s Alex Troop for what he has done as the Spartans’ ace and providing a big bat in the lineup, becoming the conference’s premier two-way player.

Midweek wrap

Nebraska takes two from in-state rivals

Nebraska picked up two midweek victories to record their eighth victory in 10 games, with a tie included. Darin Erstad’s team now stands at 17-10-1 on the season.

On Tuesday, the Huskers used 19 hits to defeat Creighton, 14-6. Leading Nebraska to season-high totals in hits and runs, four Huskers recorded three-hit games: shortstop Angelo Altavilla (3-for-5), left fielder Luis Alvarado (3-for-3), third baseman Luke Roskam (3-for-4) and catcher Jesse Wilkening (3-for-4). Altavilla, Roskam and Wilkening each drove in two runs with Alvarado crossing home twice.

Much of Nebraska’s offensive output occurred in a 10-run second inning. The eight-hit inning started with Alvarado recording a one-out single, and included a three-run home run by pitcher Ben Miller, who batted for himself. Nebraska sent 14 batters to the plate in the team’s first 10-run inning since April 2014.

Leading 10-1, Nebraska’s second home run of the game came in the sixth when first baseman Scott Schreiber matched Miller with three home runs on the year, a part of a three-run inning. Creighton scored five times in the eighth, before NU countered with a run in their at-bat to conclude Tuesday’s scoring.

Nebraska’s victory over Omaha on Wednesday didn’t quite have the offensive punch, but three runs were good enough for a victory in a game where the Huskers held the Mavericks to one run. Ethan Fraizer and Nate Fisher held Omaha to five hits over 5.2 innings, before Jake McSteen worked a scoreless inning and Chad Luensmann closed the game with a seven-out save.

Nebraska struck first with a Schreiber RBI-single in the top of the first inning. Omaha tied the game with a run in the bottom of the second, and the game remained 1-1 through six innings. With Omaha’s help, Nebraska grabbed the lead, a wild pitch scoring a pinch runner, Alex Henwood, who went 1st-to-3rd on a single by Jake Schleppenbach and Roskam opened the inning with a single. Schleppenbach added another RBI in the ninth, driving in a run on a fielder’s choice, to give the game its final 3-1 score.

Michigan rallies to turn back Notre Dame

In a Tuesday night affair between longtime rivals, Michigan fell behind 3-0 after one Notre Dame at-bat in the top of the first inning. But the Wolverines did not allow the Irish to score any more runs the rest of the game, and clawed back to pick up a 4-3 victory.

Junior right-handed pitcher Alex Rennard settled in after the shaky start, finishing with a 4.1-inning outing, where he scattered seven hits and allowed the three early runs. With Rennard holding Notre Dame at bay, Michigan found it’s mojo at the plate. Michigan scratched out a run in third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings to start, sustain and cap the comeback.

From there, freshman left-handed pitcher Tommy Henry tossed 3.2 innings of two-hit baseball before senior right-handed pitcher Jackson Lamb closed the door with a scoreless ninth, recording his seventh save of the season. DH Nick Porier and right fielder Jonathan Engelmann both went 3-for-3, with Michigan’s respective seven-hole hitter scoring twice in front of the eight-hold batter driving in two runs. With a bases loaded walk and sacrifice fly, senior center fielder Johnny Slater drove in a pair of wins as Michigan improved to 23-9 on the season, dropping Notre Dame to 11-17.

Gophers streak hits 10

Minnesota’s first game at Siebert Field got off to an inauspicious start with North Dakota State scoring a run in the top of the first. But the early deficit was no problem for the Gophers as Minnesota rallied for a 7-1 victory over NDSU (11-15), winning its tenth consecutive game.

Now 19-8 on the season, Minnesota used a three-run third inning to march towards victory. After an RBI on a bases loaded fielder’s choice by Micah Coffey, Toby Anderson sent a two-run single through the left side to put Minnesota out in front. Hanson gave Minnesota its fourth run of the game with an RBI-grounder in the fifth, before Minnesota scored twice in the sixth to put the game away. The scoring closed with a run in the eighth with Coffey lifting a sacrifice fly to right, driving in the seventh Gopher of the game.

Freshman right-handed pitcher Nolan Burchill pitched 5.1 innings, allowing just the one run off four hits. Coffey picked up a pair of hits in his other two at-bats to for 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI, and Eli Wilson and Ben Mezzenga each collected two hits over three at-bats, combining for five runs scored.

Iowa stays hot at home, perfect in midweek

A 17-game midweek-winning streak was in danger with Iowa trailing 3-2 to South Dakota State at the stretch of Tuesday night’s game. But in moving to 10-1 at home, the Hawkeyes found a way to eek out another victory, coming back to win 4-3, winning a seventh straight contest.

South Dakota State (13-11) scored first with a run in the top of the first. Iowa (18-9) got on board, and grabbed the lead, in the third inning, with a two-run home run by first baseman Jake Adams, connecting on his 11 home run of the season, tied for the most in the Big Ten. South Dakota State knotted the game in their next at-bat, before moving in front 3-2 with a run in the fifth.

But the Hawkeyes rebounded after the stretch, using a two-run seventh to continue a midweek unbeaten streak which dates back to 2015. Third baseman Mitchell Boe drew a leadoff walk, before  shortstop Mason McCoy doubled to right field, two batters later, to two in scoring position. Adams hit a soft grounder back to SDSU pitcher to drive in McCoy to tie the game. The next batter, right fielder Robert Neustrom, doubled down the left field led to score McCoy and lift the Hawkeyes to victory.

Ratcliff’s grand slam powers Buckeye rally

Before the skies opened over Central Ohio and forced Ohio State’s Wendesday night contest against Kent State to be called after seven innings, senior DH Zach Ratcliff proved the Buckeyes with some thunder.

Three runs in the first, three more in the second and one in the third allowed the visiting Golden Flashes to quickly jump out of the gate and enjoy a 7-0 lead. The Buckeyes closed the gap with a bases loaded-double by freshman right fielder Dominic Canzone, producing a three-run inning in the bottom of the third. Kent State(17-10) added a run in the top of the fourth, before Ratcliff and the Buckeyes reset the game.

Four walks in the inning, the latter three coming with two outs, plated Ohio State’s fourth run and bring the game back to a four-run margin. With the bases loaded, Ratcliff hit a liner over the left center wall, making his fifth home run of the season his first career grand slam, tying the game 8-8. In Ohio State’s next at-bat, after working a one-out walk and advancing to third on a single by Tre’ Gantt, Bo Coolen crossed home with Gantt in a rundown, the first baseman’s steal of home put the Buckeyes in front 9-8.

The teams played two scoreless innings before lightning and heavy rains came, giving Ohio State the seven-inning victory to improve to 12-16.

Elsewhere

Three runs over the first three innings by Indiana State (13-12) were too much for Purdue (15-13) to overcome Tuesday night, falling 5-2. The Sycamores won their fourth straight game in West Lafayette behind a four-inning, one-hit effort from starter Triston Pompey. Skylar Hunter and Jacson McGowan each picked up two hits as Purdue was held to five for the game.

Four of Michigan State’s last five games have been decided by a run. Unfortunately for the Spartans, each game has resulted in a loss. Traveling to Eastern Michigan (10-18) on Tuesday, Michigan State (15-10)was again close, but not good enough,  falling 4-3. Spartan pitchers held the Eagles to four hits, but five walks and an error aided EMU’s effort.  Sophomore shortstop Royce Ando went 2-for-3 with a triple, a run scored and RBI to lead MSU.

Penn State received back-to-back home runs by Jordan Bowersox and Christian Helsel in the top of the fifth inning, but the solo shots were the lone runs PSU scored on the evening, falling to Pittsburgh, 3-2, Tuesday night. The loss snapped a 15-game winning streak against in-state competition for Penn State, now 10-17 on the year, including a four-game run against Pitt who improved to 14-12 with the victory.

Maryland rallied from a 9-4 deficit, heading into the bottom of the second inning, for 12-11 win over Richmond (11-16). Improving to 11-1 at home, 19-8 overall, Maryland used a three-run home run by Nick Cieri in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game, 11-11, before Zach Jancarski used an RBI-single to left for Tuesday afternoon’s game-winning hit.

Freshman second baseman Michael Massey recorded four RBI in a two-home run game to lead Illinois (10-16) past Missouri (21-8), 5-3, Tuesday night in a neutral site contest in Sauget, Illinois. Sophomore outfielder Jack Yalowitz also dialed up a long ball to give Illinois 30 for the year, leading the Big Ten, and help power the Illini to a fourth straight win. Massey and Yalowitz, Illinois’ 1-2 hitters, each went 3-for-4.

It was a home run that capped Indiana’s 3-2 victory over Ball State on Tuesday night. In the bottom of the 11th, sophomore DH Matt Lloyd lifted his sixth homer of the year over the right field wall to give IU (15-11-2) the walk-off win over Ball State (11-18). Lloyd with 3-for-4 with two RBI, and also pitched 1.2 scoreless innings of relief to power the Hoosiers to victory.

Rutgers was on the wrong side of a 3-2 game, falling on the road to Villanova, Wednesday afternoon. After Villanova (4-16) scored a run in the bottom of the first, RU leveled the score in their next at-bat. But the see-saw affair went the way of the Wildcats, as Villanova scored twice in the sixth after Rutgers grabbed a 2-1 lead in their sixth-inning at-bat. Both teams were held to seven hits, with five for Rutgers (10-18) coming between Mike Carter and Mike Martinez.

The Prospect Junkie: Scouting Minnesota

The University of Minnesota has a storied baseball tradition. They’ve won the Big Ten 23 times, trailing only Michigan (35) and Illinois (30) for historical conference supremacy. They’ve won the College World Series a conference best three times, albeit their last national championship was in 1964. They also have qualified for the NCAA Tournament 31 times, building a sizable lead on Michigan, who has 22 bids respectively.

But, from 2011 to 2015, Minnesota never finished higher than fourth, hitting a low point in 2015 when they finished 21-30 overall, 9-15 in conference, for a ninth-place finish.

Perhaps that’s why it was surprising when the Gopher’s followed up that low point to win the Big Ten in 2016. Conference Player of the Year Matt Fielder slashed .366/.411/.525, leading Minnesota to a 16-7 conference record.

Despite last year’s success, I didn’t see Minnesota named on any preseason Regional Watch lists or as a potential candidate to repeat as champion. Yet as we approach the midway point of the season, they stand at 18-8 overall with a perfect 6-0 conference record. Minnesota is riding a nine game winning streak, off of which have come on the road, that included series sweeps at Ohio State and Michigan State.

I recently had the opportunity to check out Minnesota when they traveled to Columbus to open up conference play against Ohio State. Minnesota left an impression as the Gophers swept the Buckeyes behind some strong performances from some of their 2017 MLB Draft prospects.

Jr. LHP Lucas Gilbreath

After a strong sophomore season in which he posted a 1.36 ERA while allowing a meager .200 batting average against out of the Gopher bullpen, Gilbreath was slow to get things going in a transition to the rotation this season as I wrote about here. He’s been great since that point however, allowing just four earned runs over his past five starts.

In the series opener against the Buckeyes, Gilbreath scattered four hits and one earned over 6.2 innings, while striking out seven and walking none. Gilbreth does his best to leverage his 6’2 frame with a high-three quarter delivery to generate some downward plane. Gilbreth consistently worked all four quadrants of the plate with a fastball that sat 89-91, while showing confidence and some feel for spin in his breaking ball.

Staying hot, Gilbreath went blow for blow with Michigan State’s Alex Troop last weekend, striking out eight Spartans over six innings in route to his third win of the season.

Sr. RHP Brian Glowicki

Glowicki pitched in the Gopher bullpen alongside Gilbreath last season and performed well, finishing second on the team in ERA (3.29) while also finishing second on the team with 20 appearances. Now entrenched as the closer, Glowicki picked up two saves against Ohio State including one of the two inning variety in the series finale on Saturday to complete the sweep, and two more against Michigan State last weekend. Glowecki has been fantastic thus far this season.

With a 1-0 record, 0.52 ERA, and a .125 batting average against, Glowecki has already saved 11 of Minnesota’s 18 wins. Though he’s just 5’11, Glowecki has a quick arm and he stays closed on his delivery offering good deception on a 92-93 mph fastball that gets on hitters in a hurry.

Jr. RF Alex Boxwell

Boxwell started 29 games as a sophomore and produced a slash line of .327/.379/.464 while hitting .392 in conference play, and not making an error all season. Serving as the three-hole hitter for the Gophers this season, the left-handed hitting Boxwell put together an impressive weekend at the plate against Ohio State, hitting two home runs, stealing two bases, and scoring seven runs. Though he cooled off some against the Spartans the following weekend, the toolsy Boxwell, long and lean at 6’3, 195-pound, is hitting .277/.345/.455 with three home runs, four triples, stealing nine bases with an above-average run tool..

Jr. 3B Micah Coffey

Along with Boxwell, Coffey was a key contributor for Minnesota last season, earning Third Team All-Big Ten honors after slashing .333/.408/.524 with seven home runs and tying for the team high in RBIs with 42. At 6’1 and 200 pounds, Coffey backs up his athletic build. A three-sport star out of Batavia (Ill.) H.S., he was an honorable mention all-state quarterback in football and all-conference performer in basketball. Coffey missed the Ohio State series, but here’s what 10 Innings’ Chris Webb said after seeing the Gophers open the season at Irvine.

Coffey stands tall and has a quiet approach at the plate. Quick hands through the zone allows Coffey to get to inside pitches, and he does not lose balance on balls on the outer-half. An ability to manipulate the barrel, with at least 50 raw power, Coffey is a prospect to watch this spring, possessing the tools to potentially to crack into the top six rounds. At the hot corner, Coffey’s arm is enough, there is carry, and he showed good agility and quickness charging a soft roller on Saturday. Coffey looks to be a 55 runner, with enough lateral ability to stick at third.

Jr. 2B Luke Pettersen

While Pettersen may not have the tools of Boxwell or the athleticism of Coffey, he’s a spark plug for this Golden Gopher offense and a major factor in their success. Following a sophomore campaign in which he struck out just six times in 105 plate appearances, Pettersen continues to consistently put the bat on the ball. This season, Petersen has struck out eight times in 99 plate appearances, while also leading the conference with a .389 batting average and playing a reliable second base.

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