Chris Webb

Penn State to play West Virginia in PNC Park

PITTSBURGH – Penn State baseball has rescheduled its previously postponed contest against West Virginia with a twist, as the game will now be played at PNC Park on Wednesday, May 10 at 7 p.m., the Pittsburgh Pirates announced Friday morning.

The Pirates are hosting a make-up of the contest originally scheduled for Wednesday, March 22 that was to be played at Penn State’s Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, but was postponed due to weather. However, the Nittany Lions will be yielding little in the way of home field advantage, as Medlar Field shares the same field dimensions as PNC Park.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for the Pirates to showcase these two great collegiate baseball programs at PNC Park, one of the most iconic ballparks in Major League Baseball” said Pirates President Frank Coonelly in the Pirates’ statement. “Our organization has so many alumni from and supporters of both of these outstanding institutions that it is truly an honor to have these two schools showcase their talents at PNC Park before their large fan bases in Pittsburgh.”

It will be Penn State’s first time playing at PNC Park and its first game in a Major League ballpark since May 5, 2012 when it played Minnesota at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins. The three-game series also included two games in the Twins’ former home, the Metrodome.

“We are extremely humbled and excited to have this opportunity to play at PNC Park against such a quality opponent as West Virginia University,” said Penn State Head Coach Rob Cooper. “The Pittsburgh Pirates are always leading the way when it comes to promoting baseball and education in this region of the country. We are excited to take part in what we all hope will be a regular event. Thank you to all within the Pirates organization who have helped to make this possible.”

Tickets to the game are available for $10 for the general public, $7 for Penn State and WVU season ticket holders, partners, donors, alumni and faculty as well as Pirates season ticket members, and $2 for students of either university. Tickets will be general admission and are available at Pirates.com/collegebaseball.

Fans can enter PNC Park through the Peoples Gas Home Plate Gate at the corner of Mazeroski Way and General Robinson starting at 6 p.m. Limited concession stands will be open on the main concourse.

The May 10 matchup at PNC Park will complete the two-game series between the Mountaineers and Nittany Lions. Game one is scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. first pitch on Tuesday, May 9 at Monongalia County Ballpark in Morgantown, W. Va.

April 13-16 Weekend review

It was one of those weekends where several Big Ten teams may look back and call it a turning point. From an impressive sweep that garnered national attention to series in Bloomington and Lincoln tightening the conference table, here’s review of the weekend that was.

Michigan makes country take notice

There are six polls recognized in college baseball. Through last weekend Michigan had been ranked in five, Perfect Game the lone holdout.

Not anymore.

After sweeping a series against Oklahoma, in a battle of top 25 teams, Michigan picked up a marquee non-conference victory, but also showed they are worthy of having their name alongside the best in college baseball, deserving to be in discussion of hosting an NCAA Regional.

“We’re not getting too high,” Michigan head coach Erik Bakich said to Baseball America. “We’re playing well, but it’s about consistency. We played well in the past and didn’t finish strong. That’s something on our minds.”

In playing well, the Wolverines are ranked as high as No. 13 in the country this week, holding steady in D1Baseball.com’s poll, who previously had the Sooners ranked No. 18. Michigan sent Oklahoma out of D1’s poll, with victories of 5-2, 14-4 and 6-2. The Wolverines outperformed the Big XII’s Sooners in every facet.

Where Oklahoma battled control issues, walking 16 batters over the weekend, Michigan averaged less than three free passes per game. Michigan struck out 28 Oklahoma batters with the Wolverines striking out 16 times against the Sooners. Michigan stolen seven bases in nine attempts, while Oklahoma did not record a stolen bases. And Michigan showed more muscle, connecting on three home runs, surrendering just one.

But as well as Michigan is playing, Bakich knows with a month left in the season there is a lot of baseball left.

“We haven’t done anything yet,” Bakich said to Baseball America. “We’re off to a good start. We want to stay strong through middle and finish strong…It’s about consistency and continuing to play well and trusting that the scoreboard has a chance to be in our favor if we do.”

There’s also a chance the NCAA Tournament chance will be in their favor, too.

Hawkeyes, Hoosiers tighten title race

Just when it appeared there was a little separation between the cream and its crop, that the Big Ten would be at most a four-team race between Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska, a pair of weekend results put a pause to that thought and logjam in the conference standings.

Minnesota (21-11) traveled to Bloomington sporting a perfect 6-0 conference mark and victors in 11 in a row. In an 11-0 shutout, junior left-handed pitcher Lucas Gilbreath tossed 7.2 innings of two-hit baseball, while Minnesota racked up 20 hits off Indiana ptichers. Minnesota’s bat stayed hot on Saturday, but IU came out ahead in a high-scoring, 13-12 shootout. The two teams combined for 39 hits and seven home runs, one of which came from Gopher junior right fielder Alex Boxwell who led off the game with a homer for the second consecutive contests. Minnesota’s Jordan Kozicky went 5-for-5 with a home run, three RBI and three runs, but it was a total team effort for IU, as all 11 Hoosiers who stepped to the plate recorded a hit, with 10 batters scoring a run.

The bats were kept at bay on Sunday, en route to Indiana capping the weekend with a 4-0 victory. The long ball still carried the day, with Indiana hitting two long balls in a four-run fourth for all of the day’s scoring. After losing their previous two weekend series, at home against Nebraska and on the road at Purdue, taking down the conference leaders puts Indiana (19-14-2) back in the mix of title contenders.

They weren’t alone in rebounding in a big way.

Iowa (22-12) suffered a forgettable weekend with a road series loss to Northwestern, April 7-9, putting the breaks on a run which saw the Hawkeyes win 10 of 11. Back on the road to face Nebraska (21-13-1), who had one loss in six conference games, a tall task was ahead of the Hawkeyes. In a series of back-and-forth games, Rick Heller’s team returned to Iowa City with two victories in hand, outlasting Nebraska, 7-6 in 10 innings on Friday and winning 5-3 on Saturday. Nebraska grabbed the weekend finale, with a last at-bat, 8-6 victory on Sunday.

Minnesota remains atop of the Big Ten table with a 7-2 record producing a .778 winning percentage, edging second-place Maryland’s winning clip of .750 with a 9-3 mark. But after that, it’s tight.

Michigan 6-3 (.667)

Nebraska 5-3-1 (.611)

Iowa 5-4 (.556)

Michigan State 5-4 (.556)

Indiana 6-5-1 (.542).

The weekend ahead features Indiana going to Michigan, Michigan State traveling to Maryland and Minnesota hosting Nebraska.

Maryland continues home dominance

After a weekend sweep of Penn State, Maryland is 15-1 at home this year. In Friday’s series opener, the Terps needed that last at-bat.

Penn State junior right-handed pitcher Sal Biasi was locked in a pitcher’s duel with Maryland junior right-handed pticher Brian Shaffer. The prospect matchup of the weekend did not fail to live up to the hype.

Shaffer pitched 8.1 innings, holding Penn State to one run off four hits, striking out a career-high 11 batters against one walk. But as the game entered the ninth, Biasi was a tick better, holding Maryland to one hit in eight scoreless innings. Everything changed in two pitches.

After recording the first out of the ninth, Biasi allowed a game-tying home run to Zach Jancarski. Next up was Brandon Gum, who had Maryland’s lone other hit with a single in the first. On the first pitch after Jancarski’s 1-2 home run to left, Gum did the same, giving Maryland the walk-off win on back-to-back home runs.

Penn State (12-23, 1-8) suffered the same feat as Illinois, who lost on back-to-back home runs at Coastal Carolina on March 11, in a game with freshman Ty Weber was equally as superb as Biasi, carrying a no-hitter into the eighth.

The rest of the weekend’s games didn’t match Friday’s drama, Maryland scored four runs in the bottom of the first in Saturday’s game, leading to an 8-3 victory. Maryland scored 15 runs off 19 hits on Sunday to sweep the series and move to 24-11 on the year.

What’s trending

Big turnouts over a big weekend

Seasonally warm weather greeted Big Ten baseball games, with weekend temperatures in the 70s and 80s throughout the Midwest and East Coast. With good weather, good baseball and a boost here and there thanks to spring football games, conference teams experienced great turnouts. With the combined attendance of the Big Ten’s 18 games this weekend at 39,398, here’s who led the way.

Nebraska vs. Iowa- 18,931

Indiana vs. Minnesota- 6,437

Michigan State vs. Ohio State- 4,694

Michigan vs. Oklahoma- 3,308.

The battle for eighth place is full-on

With Rutgers (13-19) defending Bainton Field and taking two games against Purdue (18-17), combined with Illinois (14-19) taking down Northwestern (13-22) twice, to also win a home series, the race for eighth place and the final spot in the Big Ten Tournament is shaping up to be a tight one. Purdue maintains a spot in the tournament field for now, at 6-6 with a .500 conference mark, but a quartet of teams are looking to pounce on any downturn the Boilermakers may experience in the second half.

Indiana 6-5-1

Purdue 6-6

Ohio State 4-8

Illinois 3-6

Northwestern 3-6

Rutgers 2-4

As the Big Ten standings go by winning percentage, Ohio State, Illinois, Northwestern and Rutgers are all in a tie for ninth. Of importance, if all teams play their remaining games, Rutgers will finish with three less conference games than those listed, with the loss of their weekend trip to Minnesota, April 7-9. Tiebreakers may be important, as they were last year in breaking the three-way tie for eighth between Illinois, Iowa and Penn State, each finished 12-12 in the Big Ten, but Iowa made the tournament on the tiebreaker. Purdue holds the head-to-head tiebreaker against Ohio State, as well as against Indiana who is only one half-game ahead in seventh, but the Scarlet Knights hold the edge against the Boilermakers. Illinois has the advantage over their in-state rival, thanks to last weekend’s series win. Ohio State does not play either Illinois, Northwestern nor Rutgers in the back half of their conference schedule.

Spartans relying on depth

The Michigan State career of freshman outfielder Danny Gleaves is off to a strong start in East Lansing, putting together a season that has him batting .319. But a knee injury has limited Gleaves to 16 games. While he has been out, classmate Bryce Kelley has been a boon for Jake Boss, batting .309 in 21 games. Just as Michigan State was set to get Gleaves back, junior outfielder Brandon Hughes went down with a hamstring, the Spartans losing their leading hitter with Hughes’ .336 average. And now, after just one at-bat on Friday, a hamstring, too,  has moved Gleaves back out of the line.

In a game of next man up, MSU (20-12) is relying on contributions up and down the lineup. Winning a weekend series against Ohio State (15-21), sophomore shortstop Royce Ando stepped up in the opener, picking up a pair of doubles to lead MSU in 2-0 victory. Hanging on for a 6-5 victory on Saturday, home runs from Zack McGwuire and Dan Chmielewski account for five of the Spartan runs. In a 13-8 loss to close the weekend, senior second baseman Dan Durkin hit a pair of home runs to drive in five runs.

Of players with at least 40 at-bats, 10 Spartans are batting .285 or better seven have at least three home runs, and eight have picked up at least 10 extra-base hits. While Michigan State awaits the return of Gleaves and Hughes, the team must continue to rely on its depth to make a move up the standings.

Adams continues home run tear

In Iowa’s 7-6 win on Friday, junior first baseman Jake Adams hit a solo home run to left field in the first inning, his 14th of the season. Adams’ home run lead in the Big Ten grew to three, Illinois Pat McInerney remained at 11, while Michigan’s Drew Lugbauer now sits at 11 with two against the Sooners. Nationally, Adams is in a tie for fourth, three off the Division I lead.

 

April 13-16 Weekend Preview

It’ s statement weekend in the Big Ten with big series littered across the conference. From a marquee non-conference showdown in Ann Arbor between two ranked clubs, to the battle of Illinois, a pair of top-50 RPI teams battling it out in Bloomington and a border battle with Big Ten championship implications, many teams have a chance to make a statement this weekend.

Here’s this weekend’s preview.

Huskers and Iowa native Miller provide a challenge for Hawkeyes

When Rick Heller was hired in the spring of 2013 to head the Iowa baseball team, he made a vow that he said would turn the program around. He said it was a simple plan: keep the best players from the state of Iowa in house, in black and gold.

He’s done pretty well with that. Former two-way standout, Tyler Peyton, though a JUCO transfer from Iowa Central Community College, is a Grimes, Iowa native and played a big part in turning the program around the past three years. Ben Norman and Grant Judkins, both true freshmen from central Iowa, have made big contributions this season.

Heller has only been in Iowa City for about three and a half years now, though, which means the final round of top high school players of 2013 that Heller couldn’t get his hands on are now seniors elsewhere.

One of those players is Ben Miller, the 2013 Class 4A Player of the Year in Iowa, playing for West Des Moines Valley High School. The accolades don’t stop there, either. Miller was named first-team All-State by multiple organizations, named a top-50 left-handed pitching prospect, and was the No. 4 recruit from the state of Iowa in his senior year, according to Perfect Game.

Miller left Iowa, and has been an all-conference performer for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, starting almost 200 games in his career. This weekend, Heller has to deal with Miller, the lead man in the final class of “the ones that got away” for the Iowa program.

The Clive, Iowa native has been on a tear lately, to make matters worse for the Hawkeyes. This past weekend, against a ranked Maryland team with arguably the best starting staff in the Big Ten, Miller went 10-for-13. In Tuesday’s game at Kansas State, where he also pitched three innings receiving the midweek start, Miller went 2-for-5 with a pair of doubles. From a .211 average a week ago, he now stands at .283 after multi-hit performances in his past four games, and seven of his last 10.

Miller is a good representation of which direction the Huskers are headed. Nebraska picked up its 20th win of the season on Tuesday against Kansas State, and sits at 4-1-1 in the Big Ten with series against Indiana and Maryland out of the way.

“This was a great challenge to build an identity. It was a pleasure to watch them go about their business today,” Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad said after his team’s Sunday win over Maryland. “I honestly did not have to say hardly anything today. You could hear, the right voices were the loudest, and the guys that we want to be leading the charge did a nice job and it was fun to just sit back and watch them do it. It’s to their credit. It’s a group of players that took it upon themselves to take the challenge and they did it.”

Iowa headed in the other direction last weekend, losing 2-of-3 to Northwestern in Evanston to move to .500 in conference. The Hawkeyes were generous in giving out an extra 90 feet to the Wildcats over the weekend, but cleaned that up a bit in their midweek win over Western Illinois.

“A big reason we got beat on Saturday and Sunday was that we gave up a lot of free bases on the mound,” Heller said. “Tonight we didn’t. If you look at basically every game…when you give up a lot of free bases there’s usually an ‘L’ on the other side of the column, when you don’t, it’s usually a ‘W.’ “

Iowa is good enough to beat anybody in the conference when Nick Gallagher is on the mound, as he will be on Friday. Gallagher has produced a 2.15 ERA and a 4-1 record over 46 innings, only giving up nine free passes all year (eight walks, one hit by pitch.)

Ryan Erickson will likely get the ball for Iowa on Saturday, and Cole McDonald on Sunday. Both of them have double-digit walk numbers this season in less work than Gallagher. McDonald will share the mound with Nebraska’s Jake Meyers on Sunday, who has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the Big Ten this season. Meyers has a 2.25 ERA over 44 innings, highlighted by his 7.1-inning performance against Maryland in which he scattered seven hits and three earned runs to earn the win.

According to junior catcher Austin Guzzo, though, Iowa won’t be looking at Meyers or any other Husker on the mound and worrying. To the Hawkeyes, it’s not Meyers or the Huskers they are competing against.

“It doesn’t really matter who we’re playing,” he said. “…We’re playing the baseball. We’re not playing the other team. We’re trying to beat the baseball, trying to hit the baseball, field the baseball, no matter who’s hitting it or throwing it at us.”

And if they can beat the Huskers by beating, cleanly picking and throwing the baseball, a weekend victory will keep the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten title hunt, an accomplishment that will surely help Heller put a fence around Iowa and keeping the Millers of the world at home.

Blake Dowson

Oklahoma gives a big opportunity for Michigan, Big Ten

Michigan has a 26-7 record, #13 overall ranking by D1Baseball.com and #18 in the NCBWA poll. But a look at this week’s NCAA Tournament projections by Baseball America has the Wolverines traveling for regional play, not worthy of hosting a regional.

The problem is, as much as Michigan passes the eye test, albeit early, the Wolverines aren’t rated highly in the RPI, checking in at #39 by Warren Nolan. Michigan won two of three games in the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic, taking down San Diego and USC, two wins that should feel good, but a closer look has San Diego #44 in the RPI and USC #70.

Similarly, with more to follow in the weekend preview, Minnesota, who sits atop the Big Ten and has a 20-8 record, is one of the last four teams in Baseball America’s field, their strong season thus far doesn’t have them in a comfortable position, according to Baseball America.  The publication’s projected field that does include four conference teams, and has one, Indiana in the first four out, and another, Michigan State, in the next four out. The signs are there that the Big Ten is a quality conference this year. But what’s missing, on both, Michigan’s resume and the overall perception of the Big Ten this year, is a marquee non-conference victory.

Michigan State had a chance to give the conference a boost with a series at South Carolina. The Spartans played the Gamecocks tough, but ultimately fell short. Iowa had a chance to take a road series to open the year at upstart South Florida, but could only take one game. In week two, Maryland was handily swept in their series at LSU. Penn State was no match for TCU, the same for Rutgers at Virginia. The conference’s signature victory, a 6-1 win over #1 Oregon State, is by an Ohio State team just fighting for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament, .500 games under .500. Taking away games from intra-conference victories, the Big Ten

All of that can change this weekend in Ann Arbor.

For their Big Ten bye week, Michigan hosts Oklahoma in a non-conference series garnering national attention. The Sooners are ranked #10 in this week’s NCBWA poll and are rated No. 16 in the RPI. In falling to Maryland on the road, Michigan is still in search of that premier win. This can be it. It can also be what the Big Ten needs to truly show their best can match up with the best of the best around the country, and give the conference the benefit of the doubt when looking forward, trusting the eyes, not the numbers.

Prospect showdown of the week

It isn’t one of the top series of the weekend, but there won’t be a better a head-to-head matchup of pitching prospects than Friday’s pairing of Maryland junior right-handed pitcher Brian Shaffer and Penn State junior right-handed pitcher Sal Biasi.

Viewed as the Big Ten’s top pitching prospect by D1Baseball.com in their Midseason top 100 college prospects, Shaffer is having a season worthy of being the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year. Just one out shy of averaging seven innings per start, in eight starts, Shaffer holds a 1.94 ERA with 56 strikeouts against 13 walks. At 6’5, Shaffer has long arms to create a good downhill plane, using a heavy low-90s fastball to attack hitters at the knees.

Biasi matches Shaffer with 56 strikeouts, but has racked up his total in just 39 innings. However, 22 walks have hurt the Nittany Lion, who sports a 4.15 ERA. Where Shaffer has a fluid delivery with little stress, to have above-average command of his pitches Biasi is a power pitcher, reliant on a fast arm. Biasi checks it at only 6′, but can empty the effort tank and run his fastball up to 96 MPH, and sit 93-95.

Around the conference

Minnesota (20-8, 6-0) at Indiana (17-13-2, 4-4-1)

Minnesota heads to Indiana with the Big Ten’s top conference mark and riding an 11-game winning streak. The reigning Big Ten champions are looking the part of potential back-to-back title holders, but in their pursuit of a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, the Minnesota’s resume is lagging, so say the numbers.

Though the Gophers started Big Ten play with a pair of road sweeps at Ohio State and Michigan State, Minnesota only has one win against a top-50 RPI team, the series opening victory against Missouri State. As a result, Minnesota’s RPI is only 46, though they are the current Big Ten leaders. It is still early to be too concerned with RPI and strength of schedule numbers, there are still seven weekends left in the season, but a golden opportunity is at hand for Minnesota to impress the computers.

Although there overall record is not as impressive as Minnesota, Indiana sits No. 37 in Warren Nolan’s RPI. And though they are just .500 in Big Ten play, Indiana is looking to gather a bit of momentum and put together a winning streak so they can be in position to receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Hoosiers have played five games against the RPI’s top 50, but are 0-4-1. With Minnesota in the last four in, in this week’s field of 64 projection by Baseball America, and Indiana one of the first four at, it’s going to be a big weekend in Bloomington.

Ohio State (14-19, 3-6) at Michigan State (18-11, 3-3)

Two teams with inconsistent offenses will square off in East Lansing with Michigan State hosting Ohio State. Uneven results over the last three weeks are having both teams in search for consistency and build momentum heading into the second half of the season.

Michigan State ended a five-game losing streak with a sweep over Fresno State last weekend. During their slide, MSU scored only 14 runs, an output nearly doubled in the 27 runs the Spartans scored against Fresno State. But the bats were quite again in midweek action, falling to Notre Dame, 2-1, a fourth straight midweek loss by a run.

Ohio State knows all too well the troubles of midweek games, scoring just two runs off nine hits in losses this week to Cincinnati and Eastern Michigan. The offensive outage comes after sweeping a Sunday doubleheader at Penn State where the Buckeyes scored 16 runs.

Michigan State still has a shot at the Big Ten title and an NCAA Tournament berth while the Buckeyes are playing for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament. A weekend win is critical to both in their respective pursuits.

Purdue (17-15, 5-4) at Rutgers (11-18, 0-3)

Rutgers hopes to keep their slugging ways going as they host a series critical to their Big Ten Tournament aspirations. With the team experiencing travel issues last weekend, wiping away their three games at Minnesota, the Scarlet Knights have less of a margin of error in trying to build out of an 0-3 start to Big Ten play.

One of the teams they’re chasing, Purdue, heads to Piscataway this weekend. Rutgers is coming off of a school-record, 28-run performance in their midweek win against Lafayette, and have a key number in mind. Rutgers is 9-0 this year when scoring at least six runs, sitting 38-8 since 2015 when scoring sextet of runs.

For Purdue, as they look to continue their turnaround campaign, the weekend provides an opportunity to firmly take grip of a top-eight spot, current the Boilermakers have a two-game advantage, and a tiebreaker in hand, over Ohio State. The series will feature a pair of the Big Ten’s hottest hitters with Scarlet Knight senior first baseman Mike Carter leading the conference with a .409 average and Purdue sophomore catcher Nick Dalesandro sporting a .362 clip.

Northwestern (12-20, 2-4) at Illinois (12-18, 1-5)

This weekend’s series in Champaign between Illinois and Northwestern comes too early to call this an elimination game in a pursuit for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament. But it’s hard to see the loser picking up enough wins to garner a spot in the eight-field tournament by season’s end. However, the winner can start to make a climb up the standings, keeping eighth place in striking distance and both teams enter the weekend playing their best baseball of late. Illinois did lose two out of three against Michigan, but the Illini are 6-2 in their last eight games. After winning their home series against Iowa last week, Northwestern has won seven of their last 10. Both teams can put up a crooked number, the key this weekend will be minimizing free bases and extra opportunities for the opponent.

Home Run Chase 2017

Iowa Jr. 1B Jake Adams: 13 home runs in 31 team games, 56-game pace of 23. School record: 22 (John Knapp, 1986)

Illinois Sr. 1B Pat McInerney: 11 home runs in 30 team games, 56-game pace of 20. School record: 26 (Josh Klimek, 1996)

Required Reading

College Spotlight: Week 8 -PerfectGame.org

Wildcats pick up fourth straight win, look to add to streak -Joseph Wilkinson, The Daily Northwestern

Hawkeyes back on track after upending Western Illinois -Dargan Southard, Des Moines Register

The heroic feats of Kyle Schwarber -ESPN

Michigan to see first test in No. 18 Oklahoma -Robert Hefter, The Michigan Daily

Do Or Die Time For Buckeyes…? -Sonny Fulks, Press Pros Magazine

Midweek wrap

It was a heavy midweek slate around the Big Ten with every team in action, including 12 games on Tuesday. The Big Ten went 11-5 for the midweek.

Gophers stretch streak to 11

Losing a weekend of action didn’t slow Minnesota’s momentum. With Rutgers unable to fly into Minneapolis due to a cancelled flight on Thursday, nixing the weekend series, there was a week between games for John Anderson’s team. But in taking on North Dakota State on Tuesday night, the Gophers picked up right where they left off.

Improving to 20-8 on the season, junior first baseman Toby Hanson spurred Minnesota to a 6-1 road victory. Hanson went 4-for-5 with a two-run home run and double, driving in three runs and scoring twice out of the cleanup spot. Sophomore catcher Cole McDevitt picked up three hits in four at-bats, anchoring Minnesota’s lineup in the nine-hole.

Due to their inactivity, Minnesota used seven pitchers in the win. Senior right-hander Tim Shannon earned the victory, pitching 1.2 innings of scoreless relief, striking out three batters. Senior right-handed closer Brian Glowicki also struck out three batters in a scoreless ninth inning. Minnesota scored two runs in the first, seventh and ninth, with North Dakota State (14-18)  scoring their lone run in the home-half of the first.

Rutgers sets school record in Tuesday rout

The off weekend didn’t slow Minnesota’s momentum, nor did it cause Rutgers’ offense to go missing.

On Tuesday, in a road game at Lafayette, Rutgers set a school record for most runs in a game, picking up a 28-4 victory. Rutgers (11-18) scored seven runs in the first, six in the second and third, crossed home once in the fifth and two times in the sixth, before another six-run inning in the eight closed the scoring. Lafayette (3-32) scored a run in the bottom of the first and plated three in their sixth inning at-bat.

With 15 players stepping into the batter’s box, 13 picked up hits, led by DH Mike Carter going 5-for-5 with three runs and three RBI, running his Big Ten-leading batting average to .409. Carter and outfielder Mike Martinez each recorded a home run, with right fielder Tom Marcinczyk and catcher Nick Matera both connecting on two home runs. The six home runs were part of RU’s 11 extra base hits, 24 total hits for the afternoon.

Miller does it all in Husker victory

Senior left-handed pitcher Ben Miller provided Nebraska with a one-run, three-inning start Tuesday at Kansas State, then swung a good bat from the left side, going 2-for-5 with two doubles and two RBI to lead the Cornhuskers to a 6-1 victory. The victory gave Nebraska (20-11-1) the season sweep over Kansas State (16-16) as Nebraska picked up an 11-1 home victory on March 28.

The Wildcats plated their lone run in the bottom of the first, putting Nebraska in an early hole. Darin Erstad’s team tied the game with the fourth, on an RBI-single by Luis Alvarado, and grabbed the lead in the fifth, on a sacrifice fly to left by Angelo Altavilla. The Huskers put the game away with a four-run seventh, spurred by a two-run, ground rule double by Miller. After Miller exited the game on the mound, Jake McSteen pitched three scoreless innings of two-hit baseball, earning his third win of the year in three decisions.

Terps split

In Tuesday action against West Virginia (19-12), Maryland overcame a 4-0 deficit after five innings, to rally for a 7-6 victory over the Mountaineers.

Leading the Terrapin charge was senior Madison Nickens, driving in four runs in a 2-for-4 game that included his fourth home run of the year. With the game tied 5-5, Nickens recorded a two-run single in the seventh for the game-winning hit. Sophomore Dan Maynard also picked up a home run, leading off the game-turning seventh inning with his second home run of the season.

Maryland (21-11) was unable to go 2-for-2 in midweek play, falling to George Mason (14-20), 8-5, on Wednesday. Sophomore Marty Costest which based safely in all five plate appearances, picking up a pair of walks alongside three hits, including his team-best eighth home run of the year. Junior Kevin Smith also notched a home run, his seventh, but it wasn’t enough to take down the Patroits who scored seven runs in the first two innings.

Elsewhere

A quartet of Indiana pitchers held Indiana State to six hits in the Hoosiers’ 2-0 victory, Tuesday night. Tim Herrin, Cam Beauchamp, Andrew Saalfrank and Austin Foote each pitched at least two innings in the combined shutout. All of Indiana’s offense came in the fifth inning, when sophomore third baseman Luke Miller scoring on a double by junior right fielder Logan Sowers before Sowers scored on a sacrifice fly by freshman shortstop Jeremy Houston.

Michigan maintained a perfect record against in-state foes with a 13-inning, 2-1 victory over Eastern Michigan on Tuesday. Junior right-handed pitcher Jayce Vancena pitched five innings of three-hit baseball to start the low-scoring affair. Michigan pounded out 11 hits of Eagle pitchers but left 14 runners on base. Finally, in the bottom of the 13th, Jonathan Engelmann doubled in Jake Bivens to run Michigan’s record to 26-7 on the season, 3-0 against teams from Michigan.

Michigan State (18-11) held Notre Dame (14-17) to six hits, but the Spartans couldn’t string together their eight hits to score more than one run, falling to the Irish, 2-1, on Tuesday. Junior center fielder Brandon Hughes went 2-for-2 with a double, driving in MSU’s lone run in the first inning, scoring freshman left fielder Bryce Kelley. Notre Dame scored a run in the bottom of the second and one in the sixth to grab the victory.

The Atlantic Coast Conference wasn’t kind to Big Ten teams on Tuesday, with Purdue joining Michigan State in falling at an ACC school. Against #2 Louisville, Purdue (17-15)  fell into an early hole, trailing 4-0 after one inning and 8-0 after three frames, before the Cardinals (28-4) cruised to a 13-2 victory. Sophomore catcher Nick Dalesandro went 4-for-5 to raise his batting average on the season to .362.

Iowa was outhit by Western Illinois on Tuesday, 10-7, but the Hawkeyes made the most of their opportunities in a 4-1 victory. Iowa’s 6-7-8 batters, Tyler Cropley, Austin Guzzo and Matt Hoeg combined to go 4-for-8 with three runs and three RBI, Cropley and Hoeg each recorded a double. Iowa grabbed the initial 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second and tacked on two runs in the fourth to seize control of the game. Elijah Wood pitched three scoreless innings to start the game for Iowa, and Drake Robinson matched with three scoreless innings of middle relief.

Sophomore pinch-hitter Tyler Engel provided sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th to push Illinois to a 6-5 victory over Illinois State on Tuesday night. Improving to 12-18, sophomore right fielder Jack Yalowitz went 4-for-5 with two doubles and two runs, pacing a 12-hit Illini attack. Matthew James pitched five innings to start the game for Illinois, allowing one run off two hits. After losing a 4-1 lead after six innings, as Illinois State (9-21) scored three in the seventh and one in the eighth, Illinois scored in the top of the ninth to extend the game before Engel’s game-winner.

After Bucknell grabbed the game’s first lead with two runs in the top of the fifth, Penn State responded with a four-spot, en route to a 5-3 victory, Wednesday night. In a 2-for-4 game, sophomore shortstop Conlin Hughes drove in three runs on a triple in the decisive innings. Senior second baseman Christian Helsel added a pair of hits to push Penn State’s record to 12-20 on the season, dropping Bucknell to 13-18.

Northwestern continued its run of good baseball, picking up two victories in midweek play, extending their winning streak to four games, and winning for the seventh time in 10 games. The Wildcats erupted for 11 runs on Tuesday, taking down Western Michigan (12-15), 11-4. Wednesday’s contest with Bradley (9-17) was closer, but Northwestern (12-20) recorded a 6-2 victory.

Ohio State (14-19) dropped a pair of midweek games, falling 7-1 to Cincinnati (16-16), on Tuesday, before Eastern Michigan (13-20) rebounded from their tough loss in Ann Arbor to grab a 3-1 win on Wednesday, in Columbus. The Buckeyes picked up just nine hits over the two games.

 

Maryland’s Shaffer Named to Golden Spikes Midseason Watch List

DURHAM, N.C. – Maryland junior right-handed pitcher Brian Shaffer was named to the 2017 Golden Spikes Award Midseason Watch List, USA Baseball announced Wednesday. Sponsored by Major League Baseball, and presented in partnership with the Rod Dedeaux Foundation, the Golden Spikes Award is presented to the best amateur baseball player in the country.

The Midseason Watch list features 40 of the top amateur players across the country. Shaffer is the lone member of the list from the Big Ten Conference.

The Terps’ ace is in the midst of the best season of his collegiate career. The 6’5, 200-lb, hurler is currently 4-2 with a 1.98 ERA in eight starts. In 55.2 innings-pitched, he’s struck out 56 batters and walked just 13, all while holding opposing hitters to a .202 batting average. His 1.98 ERA and 56 strikeouts are both second-best in the Big Ten this season. He leads the conference in WHIP (0.95).

Shaffer was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week following his start against Princeton on March 17. The junior tossed eight shutout innings, and established a new career-high with ten strikeouts. Shaffer allowed just three total baserunners en route to guiding the Terps to a 4-0 shutout win and an eventual series sweep.

The Pylesville, Md. native is coming off of his first complete game outing of the season, tossing eight innings of three-run ball against conference opponent Nebraska last Friday. Shaffer has completed at least seven innings in each of his last five starts. During that span, the right-hander is 4-1 with a 1.66 ERA and a 36:7 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

USA Baseball will announce the semifinalists for the 2017 Golden Spikes Award on Wednesday, May 31. Starting on May 31, and continuing until June 9, fans across the country will be able to vote for their favorite semifinalist at GoldenSpikesAward.com. On Wednesday, June 14, USA Baseball will announce the finalists for the award. From June 14 until Friday, June 23, fans will be able to vote for their favorite finalists, also at GoldenSpikesAward.com.
The winner of the 2017 Golden Spikes Award will be announced on Thursday, June 29, at a presentation in Los Angeles. The finalists and their families will be honored at the Rod Dedeaux Foundation Award dinner that evening at the Jonathan Club in downtown Los Angeles.

Nebraska’s Miller and Hohensee Earn Big Ten Weekly Honors

Lincoln – Senior Ben Miller and junior Jake Hohensee were each instrumental in Nebraska posting a 4-1 record last week, including a series win over Maryland, the preseason pick to win the Big Ten. Monday afternoon the league office announced that Miller was tabbed as the league’s player of the week and Hohensee earned pitcher-of-the-week accolades.

Miller had a stellar week at the plate, as he hit .600 (12-20) with one home run, five runs, six RBIs and two doubles. On Saturday he became the 25th member of NU’s 200-hit club with his 4-for-4 performance and then produced his second straight four-hit game on Sunday. In his first 170 career starts Miller went without a four-hit game before notching consecutive four-hit performances. Against the Terps, Miller went 10-for-13 (.769) in the series with two doubles, four runs scored and three RBIs. The senior first baseman slugged .923 on the weekend and had an on-base percentage of .786. Miller entered the weekend with a .211 average and raised it 68 points to .279. With one multi-hit game in Nebraska’s first 22 games of the season, Miller now has six multi-hit games over Nebraska’s last nine games.

Miller has now been named Big Ten Player of the Week twice in his career and is also the last Husker to earn the award, achieving it last May.

Hohensee set the tone for the weekend with a dominant effort against the Terps on Friday night. The Lincoln native struck out a career-high eight batters and allowed one run on three hits over a career-high 8.1 innings in Nebraska’s 3-1 series-opening win. Hohensee has now won four straight starts to improve to 4-2 on the year and has gone at least 6.2 innings in each of the four starts. After allowing a two-out single in the top of the first Hohensee didn’t allow another hit until the Terps registered a leadoff single in the top of the ninth. The right hander faced the minimum five times on the night and after hitting Zach Jancarski with one out in the third, Hohensee retired 16 of Maryland’s next 17 batters.

Monday marked the first time Hohensee has been named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week and he’s the second Husker pitcher to earn the award this year, joining Jake Meyers.

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.

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.

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