Chris Webb

10 Innings Extra: Gophers’ approach leads title defense

John Anderson is halfway through his 36th season leading Minnesota’s baseball team. Amassing more than 1,200 wins, Anderson has seen his share of baseball and knows what it takes to win, evident by his 10 Big Ten championships. Though the Gophers lost the Big Ten Player of the Year, their three-year catcher, four-year second baseman and center fielder, Anderson believed the reigning Big Ten champions had more than enough punch to compete for another conference crown.

With two weekend road sweeps in the first two weekends of Big Ten play, Anderson’s preseason belief is turning into a reality.

Minnesota led the Big Ten with a .323 overall batting average in 2016, while leading the conference with a .304 in-conference hitting clip. Behind 50 home runs, yielding a conference best .877 home runs per game, the Gophers slugged their way to the conference championship, the Big Ten leaders in slugging percentage at .467 overall and .440 in Big Ten games.

But the aforementioned losses, respectively Matt Fiedler, Austin Athmann, Connor Schaefbauer and Dan Motl, combined for 303 hits, 54 doubles, five doubles and 27 home runs, collective batting .342 over 885 at-bats, with a .506 slugging percentage. One wouldn’t have been foolish to predict a step backwards for Minnesota with the offensive firepower lost, Big Ten coaches picked five teams to finish higher than the Gophers who finished in a tie for sixth.

So what’s allowed Minnesota to weather such losses to be 6-0 in conference play, batting .314 in the process?

A steady approach, yielding consistency one through nine in the lineup.

In watching Minnesota, the Gophers show an uncanny ability to stay within themselves at the plate, the moment never seems too big, players aren’t overly anxious to produce a big hit. Minnesota will spit on balls outside of the zone, flip away foul balls that aren’t quite good enough, before squaring up on a pitch that can be put in play through a hole or with authority into a gap.

Starting with a 27-hit effort in two games in opening the season against UC-Irvine, Minnesota has had little difficulty replacing the big bats that carried the team to its first conference championship, watching new starters and players emerge.

“I said all along I thought we’d have a good lineup,” said Anderson, whose team picked up a 10th consecutive victory on Tuesday with a 7-1 win over North Dakota State. “The reason we’ve scored some runs, you do that with a lineup, contributions up and down the lineup.”

That has been the case for Minnesota.

There isn’t a the same pop in the lineup as last year, even a year where power is up across the board in the Big Ten, Minnesota only has 13 home runs led by left fielder Jordan Smith’s four. But led by second baseman Luke Pettersen’s Big Ten-leading .376 average, there is constant pressure put on pitchers with nine regulars are batting at least .270. The loss of power is made up with a completeness in putting the ball in play, as a team, Minnesota has only struck out 150 teams, the fewest in the Big Ten, producing a 16.6% strikeout rate. Without an easy out in the lineup, as a team Minnesota is batting .281 overall.

The Gophers did go into a lull, as Anderson calls it, at the beginning of March, scoring only 12 runs over four games between a midweek game against Hawaii and hosting the Dairy Queen Classic. The following week, Missouri State held Minnesota to 10 runs in a three-game set at U.S. Bank Stadium. But as conference play started with a showdown between two 2016 NCAA Tournament clubs, Minnesota returned to form, sweeping Ohio State behind 26 runs and 41 hits.

Following the brooming of the Buckeyes, Anderson noticed his team putting it back together.

“We’ve done a better job of squaring more balls, not chasing and expanding the zone as much as we were and just having better at-bats,” he said.

Minnesota’s approach at the plate was noticed in the opposing dugout, as Ohio State was unable to find the big hit that Minnesota produced time and time again.

“Their approach is solid, they have guys with a feel for hitting,” Ohio State head coach Greg Beals said after Minnesota recorded their first sweep of Ohio State since 1990. “They have a solid two-strike approach where they will scrap and fight you.”

Freshman Jordan Kozicky started all three games against Ohio State, stepping in for Micah Coffey who suffered a sprained ankle two weeks prior. A year after Coffey batted .333 with 23 extra-base hits, Kozicky, who says he’s an aggressive, fastball hitter, easily stepped in and picked up five hits in 12 at-bats. Almost mechanically, one part of the Minnesota machine needed replaced and the replacement part was easily inserted and continued on. That’s finding consistency.

When Coffey returned in Minnesota’s series at Michigan State, the junior picked up a three-run double to send the Gophers to a 3-2 victory, starting the eventual weekend sweep with a big win.

“I think all we need is a little inch, to get a guy on base, get him over, then get him in, Coffey said. “Guys step up in big situations. Guys keep coming to play, but guys keep coming to compete, first and foremost.”

After Minnesota left East Lansing with their perfect conference record in tact, they left another opposing coach singing their praise.

“I think we can learn a lot from what we watched out of the Minnesota dugout,” Michigan State head coach Jake Boss Jr. said after the Spartans became the second consecutive Big Ten team to be swept in a Saturday doubleheader by the Gophers. “They didn’t strike out a whole lot, and I think they really competed at the plate.”

What is allowing the players to have a mentality of being relentless in competing?

“I know it’s cliche, but they know to take it one pitch, one play, one inning at a time,” Anderson said.

The simplicity was echoed by Kozicky after he picked up two RBI to lead Minnesota to a 4-3 in the twinbill nightcap of the Michigan State doubleheader.

“If we just keep what we’re doing I think we can win another conference championship.”

Just like their head coach felt before the season started.

Ohio State’s Jalen Washington – Senior CLASS Award Candidate

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Jalen Washington, a senior captain and infielder on the Ohio State baseball team, is a candidate for the 2017 Senior CLASS Award, the organization announced Monday. To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as a Division I senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence – community, classroom, character and competition.

“It is truly an honor to be nominated for the Senior CLASS award,” Washington said. “I am blessed to have the opportunity to be a student-athlete at Ohio State and extremely humbled to be considered for such a great honor.”

An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, the award program is designed exclusively for college seniors who are utilizing their complete athletic eligibility, remaining committed to their university and pursuing the many rewards a senior season can bring.

Washington is a young man of very high character. He is a two-time captain, voted on by his teammates, and his leadership is invaluable to upholding the high standards at The Ohio State University and in the baseball program. Washington has always been very involved with the program’s community outreach initiatives, but the story that best exemplifies who Washington is took place last year when he was voted team captain after two seasons of being a back-up player.

“Jalen is a very deserving candidate for this award and I am happy he is receiving this recognition,” head coach Greg Beals said. “He is a class act, a captain, a leader, a player and, most importantly, an outstanding person.”

Washington is in his second year as captain for the Buckeyes. The native of Twinsburg, Ohio, Washington had played in 108 career games with 91 career starts and had registered 16 doubles, three triples, six home runs, 65 RBI, 24 stolen bases, 50 runs scored and 81 hits in his career. He is a middle infielder who moved to catcher and made 59 starts from behind the dish during his junior season to lead the Buckeyes to a Big Ten Tournament title and an NCAA Regional appearance.

An OSU Scholar-Athlete in operations management, Washington has worked with many organizations such as Kick It for Cancer: Be the Match Cancer Kickball Outing and Rock City Church Shoe Drive. He has passed out shoes to children in schools in Columbus area and took a mission trip to Bolivia with Soles4Souls. During the trip, he participated in a one-week shoe drive, passing out shoes to schools, orphanages, and underprivileged children and families. Washington also has served dinner at the Van Buren Shelter and participated in the 2nd and 7th reading program.

He was a member of the Big Ten All-Tournament Team in 2016 and was on the Johnny Bench Award Watch List. This season, he was named to the Big Ten Players to Watch List and was named to the Sunshine State Classic All-Tournament Team to begin his senior campaign. Washington knocked 11 doubles, three home runs and 38 RBI in 2016 and caught in 55.0 straight innings pitched during Big Ten tourney run over the course of four days, guiding the staff to a tournament record 44 strikeouts. He helped lead the squad to a 5-0 record vs. Michigan, homering twice during the home Michigan series with four RBI and had the walk-off RBI single vs. Wright State in the opening game of the NCAA Regional in Louisville. Washington led the Big Ten with 17 runners caught stealing, while swiping 14 stolen himself. He returned back to his normal position at shortstop for his senior season. In 2017, Washington is hitting .244 with 12 runs scored, five doubles, three triples, three home runs and 21 RBI in 23 games.

Washington is one of three Big Ten student-athletes named to the list. Pat McInerney (Illinois) and Ben Miller (Nebraska) were also named to the list. He is the third OSU baseball player to be named a Senior CLASS Award candidate (Jacob Bowell, 2007; Cory Kovanda, 2010).

The 30 candidates will be narrowed to 10 finalists midway through the regular season, and those 10 names will be placed on the official ballot. Ballots will be distributed through a nationwide voting system to media, coaches and fans, who will select one candidate who best exemplifies excellence in the four C’s of community, classroom, character and competition. The Senior CLASS Award winner will be announced during the 2017 College World Series® in June.

Illinois’ McInerney Named Senior CLASS Award Candidate

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Pat McInerney has been named one of 30 candidates for the prestigious Senior CLASS Award, it was announced Monday. To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.

Classroom

McInerney has a 3.48 cumulative GPA with a double major in business and business process management and marketing. He is a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection.

Community

McInerney has volunteered at the Crazy K 5K, visited orphanages in Dominican Republic and volunteered at a food shelter in Chicago. He also has helped at the 94.5 Christmas Drive, through which the Illini donated $5,000 to charity, and he has volunteered with the Danny Did Foundation, advancing awareness of epilepsy and sudden unexpected death in epilepsy.

Character

McInerney is a 2015 Richard C. “Itch” Jones Scholarship Award winner, presented to a leader and role model within the baseball program. He is a leader of the team and a great representative of Illinois baseball within the community.

Competition

McInerney leads the Big Ten in slugging percentage (.667) and ranks 11th in the NCAA in home runs (8). He has already surpassed his home run total from last year (7) after hitting three homers in three games against Michigan State last weekend. Last season, McInerney led the team in batting average (.347), home runs (7) and multi-hit games (20). He was a 2015 All-Big Ten third team selection as a sophomore after hitting .301 as the Illini’s designated hitter.

Senior CLASS Award

An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School®, the Senior CLASS Award focuses on the total student-athlete and encourages students to use their platform in athletics to make a positive impact as leaders in their communities.

The 30 candidates will be narrowed to 10 finalists midway through the regular season, and those 10 names will be placed on the official ballot. Ballots will be distributed through a nationwide voting system to media, coaches and fans, who will select one candidate who best exemplifies excellence in the four C’s of community, classroom, character and competition. The Senior CLASS Award winner will be announced during the 2017 College World Series in June.

Rutgers Baseball Vs. Cancer Fundraiser Up to $14,000

Scarlet Knights to shave heads following April 15 game at Bainton Field

PISCATAWAY, N.J.  – Rutgers baseball has raised over $14,000 for the Vs. Cancer Foundation and will cap the fundraiser Saturday, April 15 at Bainton Field. The Scarlet Knights invite fans to come out to the game versus Purdue and watch the team shave their heads to raise awareness and dollars for children’s cancer research afterwards.

LINK: https://team.vs-cancer.org/team/98762

The Rutgers baseball program has raised money since the fall to support children’s cancer research and children receiving cancer treatment at The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital (BMSCH) at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) in New Brunswick. Every dollar raised will go directly to support and to find a cure for this terrible disease. Half of the money will go to the Vs. Cancer Foundation to fund research for better medicines and treatments. The other half will go to BMSCH.

The Vs. Cancer Foundation is a not for profit organization whose sole mission is to raise money for pediatric cancer research. This organization was founded by college athletes and uses college sports, particularly baseball, to help raise money to save kids’ lives.

Michigan’s Lugbauer, Jaskie Receive National Plaudits

ANN ARBOR, MICH. — B1G Player of the Week, Perfect Game/Rawlings National Player of the Week — After hitting .632 in a week that featured five Michigan wins and a Big Ten series sweep of Penn State, junior catcher/third baseman Drew Lugbauer was named the Big Ten Player of the Week. He was also selected as the Perfect Game/Rawlings National Player of the Week. The junior led Michigan with 13 RBI through five contests, as the Wolverines outscored their opponents, 64-13, on the week. Lugbauer slugged at a 1.263 clip with three homers and three doubles, while earning a .720 on-base percentage. The weekly awards are the first of his career.

Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Week— Junior pitcher Oliver Jaskie earned his first national weekly honor with a selection as one of six Collegiate Baseball National Players of the Week. The lefty tossed six complete innings of a 10-6 win over Penn State on Friday (March 31) and struck out a career-high 12 batters while walking just two and scattering six hits

Weber Earns Big Ten Freshman, Pitcher of the Week Honors

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois’ Ty Weber has been named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week and the Big Ten Freshman of the Week, the conference office announced Monday.

Weber threw his first career complete game Saturday against Indiana State, allowing only a game-tying solo homer in the ninth, on his way to his to his second win of the year. Weber allowed only four hits and struck out a career-high seven, while walking just one.

Weber retired 15 in a row before Dan Geisler’s home run tied it 1-1 with two outs in the ninth. He got the win after Pat McInerneny hit a walk-off solo homer in the bottom of the ninth.

Weber is the first Illinois freshman to earn Pitcher of the Week honors since Kevin Duchene did it May 13, 2013.

The Big Ten’s power surge

Whether it’s been in attending a Big Ten game this season, scanning a team’s stats or checking out a game’s box score, an observer of Big Ten baseball has been a a witness to a season dominated by the home run. From the conference seeing more home runs per game as a whole, multiple teams on pace to eclipse 2016 long ball totals and the multitude of players projected to finish the season with double digit home runs, it’s been a power hitters season as 10 Innings digs into the numbers.

Power is up across the board

Last year, Big Ten teams combined to hit 410 home runs in 732 games. Collectively, the conference produced .56 home runs per game. With 50 home runs in 57 games, Minnesota, the Big Ten champions, led the conference in hitting .8771 home runs per game. Right on the heels of the Gophers were the Buckeyes, the Big Ten Tournament champions, with Ohio State swatting 57 home runs over the course of 65 games, generating .8769 home runs per game. Minnesota and Ohio State were the lone Big Ten teams to dial up 50 or more home runs.

At the bottom of the conference’s power output was Penn State, the Nittany Lions collected only 16 homers in 55 games, a rate of .2909 home runs per game. Penn State was one of three teams to finish with less than 20 home runs, joined by Northwestern (18) and Rutgers (19).

In seeing how many home runs conference teams have hit as a whole, already the power surge is clear.

After seven weekends of play, with all numbers through April 3, Big Ten teams have hit 245 home runs in 341 games. With teams just hitting the midpoint of the 15-week regular season, the Big Ten has already accumulated 60% of last year’s home run total. If the 13 Big Ten teams combined to play another 732 games this season, the current season’s .718 home runs per game rate would yield 525 home runs, 115 more than last season.

Where no team managed to hit at least .9 home runs per game last year, three have done just that. Leading the Big Ten with 1.166 home runs per game is Michigan State. The Spartans’ produced an NCAA single-game high of eight home runs in a 17-6 win over Illinois on March 26. That Illini team is also hitting more than one home run per game, producing 27 homers in 25 games, a rate of 1.08 home runs per game. Indiana has also hit more home runs than games played, racking up 28 round-trippers in 27 contests.

Illinois, Indiana and Michigan State are joined by Maryland as a team of pace to hit at least 50 home runs, doubling last year’s total. Another jump comes in teams on pace to hit at least 35 home runs, the aforementioned quartet is joined by Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State and Rutgers, for a total of eight, last year only had five teams.

Even the bottom of the Big Ten is projected to have more home run power, with only two teams on pace to hit for less than 20 home runs.

As a whole, here’s the Big Ten’s home runs per game rate over the last ten years.

2017- .718

2016- .56

2015- .545

2014- .35

2013- .349

2012- .467

2011- .42

2010- .815

2009-. 831

2008- .629

After the 2010 season, the NCAA entered the BBCOR era. BBCOR bats were created to reduce the trampoline effect of balls off bats, have the aluminum bats behave more like wood, which significantly decreased power throughout college baseball. Another change occurred after the 2014 season when the NCAA introduced baseballs with lower seams. This change was to counter the severe decline in power as balls in flight with lower seams have lower resistance and travel further. It’s hard to compared the 2017 season to the 2011-14 period and just as hard to do so pre-2010, but in the current era of bats and balls, the 2017 season decisvely stands out in home run production over the past two years.

 

Who’s leading the charge

If the collective showing of the Big Ten doesn’t paint the picture of the power surge, looking at the team level may. And projection isn’t needed in some instances.

Michigan State’s 28 home runs are already more than last year’s 26, when the Spartans hit .464 home runs per game. The next home run for Illinois will allow the Illini to match the Spartans’ feat. Illinois’ 27 home runs match their 2016 total. Rutgers, too, has matched their 2016 home run output, already touching home 19 times of big flies.

Knocking on the doorstep of eclipsing last year’s output include Michigan, who need five more for 28, Iowa needed four more home runs to match last year’s total and Penn State is just three shy of their total of 16 in 2016.

If every team plays a full 56-game schedule, here’s who will increase their home run total and be how much.

Michigan State +39 (26 in 2016, projected 65 in 2017)

Illinois +33 (27, p. 60)

Indiana +22 (36, p. 58)

Iowa + 21 (26, p. 47)

Rutgers +20 (19, p. 39)

Michigan + 18 (28, p. 46)

Penn State +15 (13, p. 28) 

Maryland +10 (41, p. 51)

 

Individual production up, too

Of course team totals are collections of individuals, and looking at the individual numbers opens more eyes.

Illinois senior first baseman Pat McInerney leads the Big Ten with 11 home runs through 25 games. If McInerney plays 56 games, he is on pace to hit 24 home runs, a 50% increase over last year’s home run champion, 16 hit by Nebraska DH Scott Schreiber.

Even so, McInerney is not running away with the home run lead, Iowa junior first baseman Jake Adams is right on his heels with 10.

Michigan junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer is solidly in third with eight home runs, one more than Rutgers center fielder Jawuan Harris. After those four, four more have six home runs, Indiana’s Craig Dedelow, Maryland’s Marty Costest and Kevin Smith and Michigan State’s Marty Bechina. Michigan catcher Harrison Wenson and Ohio State outfielder Noah McGowan each have five home runs, to give the conference 10 players on pace to hit at least 10 home runs over a 56-game schedule. That would eclipse last year’s total by four.

Focusing on McInerney and Adams, who is on pace for a 56-game total of 21 home runs, the two first baseman would reach rare air if their projections turn to production.

Since 2008, here’s the total of homers by the Big Ten’s leader and the number of players with 10 or more in parenthesis.

2016- 16 (6)

2015- 16 (4)

2014- 14 (2)

2013- 18 (2)

2012- 12 (4)

2011- 12 (1)

2010- 24 (8)

2009- 18 (14)

2008- 23 (7)

Only the 2010, 24-home run year of Indiana DH Alex Dickerson, with 19 from Penn State catcher Ben Heath, is comparable to what McInerney and Adams are set to slug their way to. But again, there’s is a drastic difference in today’s college baseball landscape and that of the pre-BBCOR era.

 

Why the increase?

That a great questions which probably has an answer of a confluence of reasons.

Weather

The weekend Michigan State hit eight in a game against Illinois, they hit 13 total, in warm and gusty conditions. While you never know what you’ll get in the Midwest during the spring months, power numbers usually climb up as the season progresses into warmer temperatures, Maybe Mother Nature has allowed that climb to start earlier.

Better players

As the Big Ten has emerged on the national scene, producing eight different regional teams over the last two years, maybe the team-level success has been spurred by better players and teams with more depth? Where teams in the past maybe had one or two sluggers,three if they were really good,  it’s not surprising to see four, five, even six players with enough pop to drive one out.

Philosophical change

In recent years, there’s been more of an acceptance of strikeouts than prior generations, resulting in a aggressive, feast or famine approach. No longer run production built around slapping the ball around and get on base, players are being instructed to lift the ball. Going back just to 2013, Big Ten at-bats finished in a strikeout 17.6% of the time. So far in 2017? 22.3%.

Randomness

Baseball is a game of random occurrences. Maybe the 2017 season is just one of those years where there’s no particular reason. It’s not weather, the quality of players, an approach, the opposition, it’s just baseball and we should sit back and enjoy the fireworks.

April 3 Power Rankings

 

Let us not forget who is the reigning champion. In defense of their conference crown, Minnesota has started the Big Ten season in a big way, sporting a perfect 6-0 mark. The Gophers were joined by the Illini as teams making a big move up the rankings, after Illinois also picked up a big weekend sweep.

For all of the climbers, and those who stumbled, here’s the first April edition of the 10 Innings Power Rankings.

#1 Minnesota (18-8 overall, 6-0 Big Ten) Last Week: #4

A second consecutive road sweep runs Minnesota’s overall winning streak to nine games, removes any doubts of the Gophers being a regional contender and puts the defending champions on top of this week’s rankings. Until a team supplants them in the conference standings, its only fair to keep the champs at the top.

#2 Michigan (22-6, 4-2) LW: #2

All Michigan did over the last week was go 5-0 and outscore the opposition 64-14. The three-game sweep of Penn State allowed Michigan to stay only two games behind Minnesota in the conference standings, which is critical to the Wolverines title hopes as the two did do meet this year.

#3 Maryland (18-8, 5-1) LW: #3

The Terps went on the road and easily swept Rutgers, winning for the 17th time in 20 games. But Michigan did nothing to drop and Minnesota’s road sweep was against stiffer competition to send them climbing. Maryland did nothing wrong, it’s just Minnesota and Michigan are tough to top, for now.

#4 Nebraska (15-10-1, 2-0-1) LW: #7

Don’t look but the Cornhuskers are starting to get it going in all aspects. Nebraska’s pitching was stellar against Indiana and the Huskers hit three home runs on the weekend, after heading to Bloomington with just four for the season. Showing an ability to pitch, pick and hit, the Huskers are ready to host Maryland in a big weekend.

#5 Iowa (17-9, 2-1) LW: #6

Did you know Iowa has won 17 of 26 games so far? A stout 9-1 home record has help Iowa put together the Big Ten’s quietest strongest season so far. Iowa is seeing Nick Gallagher shine in the ace role, Mason McCoy and Robert Neustrom be hitting machines and the big time power of Jake Adams translate to the Division I level.

#6 Michigan State (15-9, 3-3) LW: #1

A four-game skid sends Michigan State tumbling. The Spartans are still a good team, with three of the losses by one run, but they’re behind 8-ball, now three games back of Minnesota. More importantly for Jake Boss and his team is MSU’s inability to get over the hump against good teams. The Spartans play Minnesota tight, just as they did South Carolina, but that big hit continues to somehow allude a team with gaudy offensive numbers.

#7 Indiana (14-11-2, 3-2-1) LW: #5

Indiana was finding a way to win close games, winning weekends at Hawaii and Northwestern in ways not pretty, but doing enough to secure victories. That stopped this weekend in hosting Nebraska. The games were competitive, but IU was held to five runs, unable to string together offense, a hindrance that popped up too often during a 4-7-1 start.

#8 Purdue (15-12, 3-3) LW: #8

On April Fool’s Day Purdue matched last year’s Big Ten win total. The Boilermakers only needed two to do so, but in picking up a second straight victory on Sunday to win the series at Ohio State. Purdue showed they’re no longer to be considered a laughing stock.

#9 Illinois (9-16, 0-3) LW: #13

The Illini jump out of the cellar in a big way. Illinois grabbed all three games in a home sweep of Indiana State. The Sycamores entered the weekend 12-9 which included an impressive series split against at a ranked Washington team. Illinois pitched at the level expected of an Illini staff, allowing just seven runs, and senior first baseman Pat McInerney continues to swing a potent bat, now leading the Big Ten with 11 home runs.

#10 Ohio State (11-16, 1-5) LW: #9

It looks like the Buckeyes are going to be the latest team to take a big step backwards after a strong season capped with multiple underclassmen draft losses. Ohio State picked up a 13-2 win over Purdue on Friday, but the effort was aided by five Purdue errors, six wild pitches and eight walks. The Buckeyes could only score two runs when Purdue limited the free bases to two walks and two errors over the final two games.

#11 Rutgers (10-17, 0-3) LW: #10

The momentum Rutgers was building after a sweep of USC-Upstate came to an abrupt halt in losing three home games against Maryland in their Big Ten opener. With Mike Carter and Jawuan Harris, RU has two players to build around, but there isn’t enough contributing pieces stepping up, leading to an inconsistent offense.

#12 Northwestern (8-18, 0-3) LW: #12

The Wildcats rebounded from a tough weekend against Indiana, where two games were lost by a run, to win three games last week and pick up a home series win against Air Force. Northwestern is showing more fight of late, but the team has only held the opposition to less than five runs only twice in their last 13 games.

#13 Penn State (10-16, 0-3) LW: #11

It was a rough weekend for the Nittany Lions, the team on the other side of Michigan’s offensive onslaught. Penn State has shown it can be competitive against top teams in spurts, but the depth, severely hampered by injuries, isn’t there.

March 30-April 2 Weekend Review

The champs aren’t giving up their crown easily, but there’s no time for Minnesota to rest on what’s been done, Maryland and Michigan continued their hot runs with weekend sweeps. And speaking of hot, there’s no mightier bat right now than the one Illinois senior first baseman Pat McInerney is swinging.

Here’s the main stories and headlines from the weekend that was in Big Ten baseball.

Gophers stay perfect, sweep Spartans

Inclement weather forced the series opener between Michigan State and Minnesota to be a part of a Saturday doubleheader. At the end of the twinbill, the wait was worth it.

The two teams, undefeated in Big Ten play after collecting conference-opening road sweeps, played under sunny skies and mid-50-degree weather and produced a pair of well-played, competitive baseball games in front of an attendance of 2,034.

The series opener was a pitching duel between two of the Big Ten’s best left-handed pitchers. Minnesota junior Lucas Gilbreath pitched six innings, scattering only three hits with eight strikeouts and three walks. Michigan State redshirt-sophomore Alex Troop countered with 7.2 innings of work, also giving up just three hits, while striking out nine batters against four walks. But in the end, three runs Minnesota struck against Troop, all unearned, in the fourth withstood two Spartan runs in the home-half of the inning, lifting the defending Big Ten champions to a 3-2 win.

An error, fielder’s choice and back-to-back walks loaded the bases in front of Minnesota junior DH Micah Coffey. Returning to the Gopher lineup after a sprained ankle which kept him out of action in the Big Ten opening series at Ohio State, Coffey showed no rust, driving a two-out double to right field to clear the bases. Michigan State cut into the deficit in their at-bat with third baseman Marty Bechina and left fielder Bryce Kelley each recording RBI-singles. But the MSU rally stalled with two runners on, keeping the game 3-2, which carried through the end.

After combining for 10 hits in the opener, both teams reach double-digit hits in the nightcap as another back-and-forth contest played out.

Minnesota again opened the scoring, picking up two runs in the top of the second behind a two-run single to right by freshman Jordan Kozicky, who has filled in defensively at third base for Coffey. But as they did in game one, MSU responded in their trip to the plate. Kelley, a part of a 5-for-8, three-RBI day, plated DH Troop, who walked and advanced to third on a wild pitch, cutting in half Minnesota’s lead. The teams again saw scoring in their respective at-bat of the same inning, trading runs in the fifth, before Zack McGuire led off the sixth and later scored on an infield single by Kelley.

The score held until the ninth. Minnesota catcher Cole McDevitt reached first on a fielder’s choice and moved into scoring position on a single to left field by shortstop Terrin Vavra. On a 3-2 pitch, second baseman Luke Pettersen’s, the Big Ten’s leading hitting sent a liner into center field that plated McDevitt. Holding onto a 4-3 lead, senior right-handed pitcher Brian Glowicki recorded a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth for his second save of the and conference-leading 11th of the year.

“Two tough ballgames. Those were two very good teams out there in my opinion, and they just got the better of us today,” Michigan State head coach Jake Boss Jr., said. “They executed when they needed to and we let a couple of opportunities slip away, and that’s how you get beat by a good ballclub.”

After a pair of one-run games, Minnesota used a trio of crooked inning to take the series finale, 9-4. At 6-0 in Big Ten play, Minnesota recorded consecutive sweeps to start Big Ten play for the first time since 2003.

On Sunday, after Michigan State grabbed a 3-1 lead behind a two-run double from Troop in the bottom of the fourth, Minnesota used a triple from Eddie Estrada, double from Toby Hanson and sacrifice fly from Coffey to score three runs. Minnesota’s lead grew to 6-3 with two runs in the sixth behind a two-run single up the middle by McDevitt. MSU cut into the three-run hole with a run in the home-half of the sixth with second baseman Dan Durkin scoring two batters after he opened the inning with a double down the right field line. But that would be the closet the Spartans could get, Minnesota tacked on two runs in the eighth and one more in the ninth to record their ninth straight victory.

Minnesota’s bullpen pitched 8.1 innings of scoreless relief over the weekend, holding Michigan State, who entered the weekend as the Big Ten’s top hitting team with a .303 average, to five hits. The Spartans were led at the plate by Kelley who went 6-for-12 with four RBI.

Pitching powers Huskers past Hoosiers

A travel curfew resulted in Sunday’s series finale between Indiana and Nebraska to end in a 1-1 tie after 11 innings. The bittersweet finish, where the Huskers didn’t lose, but also didn’t grab a victory in weekend a where other top teams Maryland, Michigan and Minnesota each picked up sweeps, was the only blemish on what was a stout showing on the road for Darin Erstad’s club, led by the Husker pitchers.

Junior right-handed pitcher Jake Hohensee pitched a career-high 7.1 innings, continuing a strong return from Tommy John surgery, after missing all of the 2016 season. Pitching into the eighth, Hohensee held IU to three runs and scattered eight hits. Hohensee received the win thanks to a tie-breaking, four-run eighth inning for Nebraska, where the Huskers scored three runs on a Luis Alvarado home run, and first baseman Ben Miller adding a run-scoring hit, after connecting for a solo home run in the fourth.

Senior right-handed pitcher Derek Burkamper picked up where Hohensee left off, opening Saturday’s game with five innings of one-run baseball, limiting the Hoosiers to three hits. In support of Burkamper, Nebraska staked the righty to a run before he stepped to the mound, using a walk and two IU errors to score in the top of the first. The teams traded runs in the sixth with Miller recording an RBI-single. The scoring closed with NU second baseman Jake Schleppenbach lifting a home run to right, Nebraska’s third home run in two games.

With Indiana dropping a weekend series for just the third time in the four-year history of Bart Kaufman Field, the Hoosiers looked to salvage the weekend. But Jake Meyers and the Husker bullpen had other ideas.

Going toe-to-toe with Indiana sophomore right-handed Pauly Milto, Meyers, a senior southpaw, pitched 5.1 innings, allowing one run off six hits. Milto countered with a 6.1-inning outing, conceding seven hits. Both pitchers struck out five batters. As they did on Saturday, the teams exchanged runs in the sixth, Miller picked up another RBI-single, with Indiana’s Logan Sowers collecting a run-scoring double. From there, neither team relented in a battle of the bullpens, and that was all of the day’s scoring. Robbie Palkert, Jake McSteen and Chad Luensmann combined to pitch 5.2 innings of scoreless relief, giving up only two hits. Indiana saw Austin Foote and Matt Lloyd combined for 4.2 innings of relief action, where they too yielded two combined hits.

Boilermakers bounce back, best Buckeyes

Purdue garnered national headlines in 2012 with their Big Ten-winning, regional-hosting and nationally-ranked team. But the Boilermakers were not a one-year wonder. Doug Schreiber lead Purdue to five consecutive Big Ten Tournaments, back when it was a six-team field, leading to the 2012 tournament title. Unfortunately for those in West Lafayette, Purdue has not returned to the conference’s postseason since ending the season that ended the 103-year conference title drought.

But it’s a new era for Boilermaker baseball, with Mark Wasikowski taking over following the resignation of Schreiber last May, and Purdue is back on track to play in the post season.

Bringing an end to a seven consecutive weekends on the road, Purdue picked up a key series win at Ohio State, beating the Buckeyes 6-1 and 2-1, respectively on Saturday and Sunday, after dropping the opener, 13-2. With the weekend win in Columbus, Purdue (15-12), holding onto eighth place in the conference, leveled its Big Ten record at 3-3, and secured a tiebreaker over the Buckeyes (11-16) who are two games back at 1-5.

In how Purdue picked up the series victory in Columbus speaks to new times for the Black and Gold. Friday’s loss was as ugly as it can get, Purdue committed five errors, tossed six wild pitches and walked eight batters. But the loss didn’t sink the series. In eclipsing last year’s Big Ten win total of two in 24 games, Purdue committed just two errors and issued two walks over the final two games, showing resiliency and an ability to bounce back from a setback, something long missing.

Weekend headlines

Big Mac blasts

Illinois senior first baseman Pat McInerney dialed up a home run in each of Illinois’ three games against Indiana State, including a walk-off solo home run in Saturday’s 2-1 victory, leading the Illini’s to a weekend sweep. With six home runs in his last six games, producing a blistering 1.400 slugging percentage, McInerney leads the Big Ten with a .740 slugging percentage and 11 home runs. McInerney now has 24 career home runs, the Big Ten’s active career leader.

Wolverines run wild

Michigan plated 25 runs in a pair of midweek games, turning back Toledo, 12-0, and Central Michigan, 13-4, and still bettered their average scoring output in a weekend series against Penn State. Running their overall record to a Big Ten-best 22-6, Michigan beat Penn State by scores of 10-6, 15-2 and 14-1. In piling up 39 runs, Michigan recorded 38 hits to bat .380, slug .570 and post a .464 on-base percentage. Sophomore outfielder Jonathan Engelmann went 8-for-12 and recorded his first career home run with junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer picking up a pair of singles, two doubles and two home runs over 10 at-bats to drive in seven runs and cross home eight times. To complete the dominant sweep, Michigan stole nine bases in 11 attempts, committed only one error and pitched to a 2.33 ERA.

Hawkeyes continue to quietly soar

They didn’t have the preseason ranking of Maryland, they haven’t cracked the national polls alongside Michigan and they aren’t the reigning conference champions like Minnesota. There’s been little fanfare regarding the Iowa Hawkeyes this year and as the season progresses on that continues to be a mistake. With a three-game sweep of UNLV, Iowa improved to 17-9 on the year, well on their way to a fourth straight 30-win season. Victors of six straight, Iowa is using a good offense, third in the Big Ten in average, on-base percentage and slugging, and feasting on opponents at home, winning nine of ten at Duane Banks Field.

Weekend walk-off

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

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

Defending champs reign supreme

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The cream is starting to rise

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

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

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

 

Out of conference, in control

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

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

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

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

 

Elsewhere

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

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

 

Top performances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Standings

Minnesota 6-0, 18-8

Maryland 5-1, 18-8

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

Michigan 4-2, 22-6

Iowa 2-1, 17-9

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

Michigan State 3-3, 15-9

Purdue 3-3, 15-12

Ohio State 1-5, 11-16

Penn State 0-13, 10-16

Rutgers 0-3, 10-17

Illinois 0-3, 9-16

Northwestern 0-3 8-18

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