Chris Webb

The Weekend 10

The first weekend of Big Ten play saw two intra-state rivalries, a meeting of two 2017 NCAA Tournament teams, a showdown between the last two conference champions and a border battle. Adding to the intensity of the weekend was Maryland hosting nationally-ranked Stetson during their conference bye week.

With bragging rights across the board on the line, and teams starting to fight for the conference championship, the weekend’s top performances were dominated by pitching, holding the adage true, pitching and defense wins championships.

Here’s who stood out.

Michigan Jr. OF Jonathan Engelmann

Helping the Wolverines to a 3-0 start to Big Ten play, sweep in-state rival Michigan State, and run Michigan’s winning streak to eight games, Engelmann terrorized Spartan pitching. This week’s player of the week, the junior outfielder picked up six hits in 12 at-bats, highlighted by a 4-for-5, two-home run contest on Friday. Englemann added a double and triple in the game, en route to finishing the weekend with seven runs, eight RBI, and added two stolen bases for good measure.

Minnesota Fr. RHP Patrick Fredrickson

In a battle between the last two Big Ten champions, Minnesota freshman Patrick Fredrickson had little trouble with Nebraska, leading the Gophers to a 2-0 victory on Sunday, to claim the series.  Over seven innings, the right-hander held the Huskers to four hits and did not concede a run. Improving to 3-0 on the year, the Gopher struck out six batters while only walking one.

Michigan St. Sr. RHP Ethan Landon

With eight innings of scoreless baseball under his belt, Landon was the victim of spotty Spartan defense, suffering a hard luck loss in Michigan State’s 3-1 defeat on Saturday. Pitching into the ninth, Landon held the Wolverines to four hits and three walks, while striking out nine batters. Two unearned runs were tacked against the senior, as U-M rallied to the last-at-bat victory.

Penn State Sr. LHP Taylor Lehman

A strong performance wouldn’t result in a win, but Lehman held a high-powered Rutgers lineup in check, turning in one of his best performances as a Nittany Lion. Over six innings, Lehman held Rutgers to three hits and one unearned run, striking out two batters and issuing one walk. Providing Rob Cooper with a solid Saturday starter, Lehman’s ERA fell to 2.81 in 25.2 innings on the year.

Illinois Soph. 2B Michael Massey

Massey continues to be one-half of the most dangerous first and second baseman duo in the Big Ten. Hitting in the five-hole, behind Bren Spillan, Massey picked up three singles, a double, and a home run in Illinois’ weekend sweep of Northwestern. Grabbing a walk, and touching 10 bases, Massey posted a .500 on-base percentage and slugged .762 over 14 plate appearances.

Maryland Jr. RHP Hunter Parsons

The season thus far for Maryland has been rocky, uneven, and inconsistent. None of those would describe Parsons on Sunday, as the junior right-handed led the Terps to a series-clinching, 2-0 victory over No. 26 Stetson. Earning 10 Innings’ Pitcher of the Week honors, Parsons twirled a two-hit shutout. Racking up a career-best nine strikeouts, Parsons pitched to only three batters over the minimum, surrendering singles in the fourth and fifth innings, and hitting a batter in the seventh.

Rutgers Fr. LHP Harry Rutkowski

Going toe-to-toe with Lehman, and the reason why Rutgers grabbed the 1-0 victory, was a sterling outing from Rutkowski. The first-year Scarlet Knight did not allow a run, scattering four hits over six innings, punching out seven batters against two walks. Moving to 3-0 on the Rutkowski induced nine groundouts as Rutgers clinched the weekend series.

Iowa Jr. RHP Brady Schanuel

Schanuel’s best performance as a Hawkeye came at an opportune time. With weather disrupting Iowa’s series against Indiana, a Friday doubleheader, and ultimately the weekend, was split, as Schanuel led Iowa to a 5-1 victory after a 4-2 defeat. In seven innings of work, the junior struck out 11 batters to four walks while allowing just one Hoosier hit. The right-hander did not yield a run in his 110-pitch outing.

Nebraska Sr. DH Scott Schreiber

Fredrickson and Minnesota may have grabbed the weekend series in Lincoln, but they did little to contain Schreiber. In 12 at-bats, Schreiber collected seven hits, and had two home runs in Nebraska’s 8-2 victory on Saturday. Schreiber opened and closed the weekend with two-hit games, each included a double, as the senior scored three runs, and plated four teammates.

Illinois Jr. 1B Bren Spillane

Spillane’s offensive outburst showed no signs of slowing down this weekend. Against the Wildcats, Spillane went 6-for-10, with two doubles and a home run, posting a triple-slash of .600/.714/1.100. Helping Illinois to their 15th win in 20 games, Spillane stole three bags on the weekend, running his season total to 10, one more than the number of home runs he has, showing a incredible blend of power and speed.

March 22 Power Rankings

With the exception of Maryland, Purdue, and Ohio State, Big Ten play starts this weekend. With teams tending to non-conference schedules in hopes of positioning themselves for an NCAA Tournament berth, the focus now turns to the conference crown.

From a standout newcomer, to veterans with multi-year track records, this week’s power rankings takes a look at each team’s closer, examining the first five weeks of the season for the pitchers responsible for nailing down the victory as Big Ten teams begin to fight for the title.

Previous power rankings: Week 1Week 2Week 3, Week 4

#1 Indiana (15-4) Last Week: 1

Jr. RHP Matt Lloyd– A preseason All-American at the utility position, the two-way talent has done his job at the back of the IU bullpen. Appearing in four games, Lloyd has pitched six scoreless innings. Saving two contests, Lloyd has surrendered five hits, walked two batters and struck out seven hitters.

#2 Ohio State (14-6) LW: 3

Sr. RHP Seth Kinker– A 3-1 record stands next to four saves for Kinker, as the Buckeye provides Greg Beals with security to keep games close and lock down Ohio State victories. In 17 innings, Kinker has struck out 19 batters against three walks, and holds a 1.06 ERA.

#3 Illinois (12-5) LW: 2

Jr. RHP Joey Gerber– Conceding only four hits in 27 at-bats, Gerber sports an impressive .148 batting average against, With a 3.58 ERA, the Illini has recorded four saves over eight outings, picking up 11 strikeouts and issuing three walks in 7.2 innings.

#4 Minnesota (14-8) LW: 6

Fr. RHP Max Meyer– Trough the first five weeks of the season Meyer has delivered on high expectations. After the graduation of All-Big Ten second-team selection Brian Glowcki, Meyer, has filled in nicely, recording five saves over nine outings. Meyer has picked up 19 strikeouts to four walks in 14.1 innings and holds a 3.14 ERA.

#5 Rutgers (11-7) LW: 5

Jr. RHP Serafino Brito– Brito has transitioned from the rotation to the bullpen in his third season in Piscataway. Making nine relief appearances, Brito has recorded two saves for the upstart Scarlet Knights. Brito has struck out 17 batters in 14.2 innings, sporting a 6.14 ERA.

#6 Michigan (9-11) LW: 11

Soph. RHP Jack Weisenburger– It’s been bullpen by committee for Michigan, but more and more Weisenburger’s number is being called later in tight contests. With all seven appearances coming in relief, Weisenburger has logged 14.2 innings and has a save under his belt. The second-year pitcher has struck out 17 batters, walked 11, and holds a .176 batting average against.

#7 Iowa (12-7) LW: 9

Jr. RHP Zach Daniels– Three Hawkeyes have recorded saves this year, but Daniels has been the most consistent. The converted infielder has a 2.03 ERA over 13.1 innings, with two saves and a 2-1 record. Daniels has recorded 16 strikeouts, tied for third most on the team, responsible for nine hits and five walks.

#8 Nebraska (12-9) LW: 5

Sr. RHP Jake Hohensee– Injuries have depleted Darin Erstad’s pitching staff, but Hohensee has been a rock in a move to the bullpen. Hohensee’s five saves have come over eight outings, as he’s allowed one run over nine innings. Hohensee has stifled the opposition, allowing just four hits in 32 at-bats with one walk, while striking out seven.

#9 Northwestern (7-8) LW: 12

Sr. RHP Tommy Bordignon– Bordignon’s power arm is starting to turn in the production Spencer Allen has believed the senior held. Enjoying his best season in Evanston, Bordginon has recorded three saves in five outings. Logging 11.2 innings of work, Bordginon’s ERA stands at 3.09.

#10 Maryland (10-11) LW: 7

Jr. RHP John Murphy– Murphy has been a strikeout machine out of the Terrapin bullpen, picking up 19 strikeouts in 10.1 innings. Nine walks have contributed to a 2.61 ERA, as Murphy has only allowed four hits in 34 at-bats. The junior has two saves on the season.

#11 Penn State (6-9) LW: 13

Soph. RHP Eric Mock– Coming off of Tommy John surgery, Mock has shown flashes of promise for Rob Cooper. The redshirt sophomore has recorded three saves, as he’s toed the rubber six times this year. Mock’s 5.86 ERA is the result of 10 hits in 11.1 innings, two being home runs, but he has struck out 16 batters to four walks.

#12 Purdue (9-9) LW: 8

Sr. LHP Ross Learnard– A preseason All-American, Learnard has pitched well, although save opportunities have been limited. Appearing in seven games, Learnard has pitched eight innings, and holds a 2.25 ERA. The lefty’s .143 opponent’s batting average continues to be one of the best in the conference.

#13 Michigan State (6-12) LW: 10

Soph. LHP Mitchell Tyranski– The Spartans as a whole may be off to a tough start, but the sophomore southpaw has been a consistent weapon out of the bullpen for Jake Boss. Tyranski’s 1.15 ERA leads Michigan State pitchers who have at least two appearances. In eight games, Tyranski has allowed nine hits, issued eight walks, and struck out 15 batters.

10 Innings Extra: Cultural blueprint fuels Buckeye bounce back

In mid-September, well before the his team compiled a 14-6 record over the first five weeks of the season, even before the first pitch was thrown in the fall-capping Scarlet and Gray World Series, Greg Beals liked what he saw in what would be the 2018 Ohio State baseball team.

But feeling good in the fall rarely holds much water, In fact, it would be noteworthy if a coach didn’t like what he saw in the fall, if optimism wasn’t falling alongside wind-blown leaves.

Players have a hop and skip in their step, returning to campus after a season of summer baseball. Recruits become freshmen, and in today’s recruiting cycle, it can take up to four years for a coaching staff to reap the fruits of their labor in recruiting, between the start of a recruitment and the time a player dons the school uniform for the first time. Coaches are revitalized, having spent the offseason examining what went wrong the prior season and determined to fix it, or to carry on what went right. And there’s the small fact that you can’t lose a game in October that will hurt your chances to reach Omaha in June.

However, now, in mid-March, the sentiment has only strengthen, Beals likes this team.

“[For us] to get to a national-caliber it’s just being a little cleaner, but there’s a lot to like about this ball club,” said Beals, following Ohio State’s 7-3 victory against Cal State Northridge on Sunday. “I like the depth, I like what we’ve done offensively, and the growth we’ve had.”

On paper, it’s easy to see what Beals likes about the current outfit of the Buckeyes.

A year after batting .260, the fourth-lowest mark in the Big Ten, Ohio State’s offense is hitting at a .295 clip, second best in the conference. A .352 on-base percentage has improved to .382, while the team is has a collective .435 slugging percentage, up .40 points. All together, Ohio State is averaging 7.45 runs through their first 20 games, a year-over improvement of 2.07 runs. And on the mound, Ohio State’s team ERA sits at 4.04, down from 2017’s 5.32 rate.

But to truly know what Beals likes about this team, why the program feels last year’s 22-34 campaign was an aberration and that they’re back on track to reach a regional, it’s what doesn’t show up in statstics, but what’s found in blueprints.

Posted through the coaches offices, coaches and players locker room, is the cultural blueprint of the Ohio State baseball program. It’s simplistic, it’s direct, and for Beals it resonates.

Elite preparation.

Competitive toughness.

The brotherhood.

Nothing more, nothing less. Those three mantras define what it means to be a Buckeye. And after a year where Ohio State suffered its worst Big Ten finish, 11th, in program history, the Buckeyes’ bounce back season has been anchored in the cultivation of that blueprint.

“I dig into our cultural blueprint,” Beals said, as Ohio State welcomes Georgetown to Columbus during their conference bye week. “Win, lose, or draw, we have to respond, behave, and do the things we expect each other to do. We’re going to prepare at an elite level, we’re going to compete with toughness—that’s what we’re starting to see now.”

When it comes to elite preparation, its the commitment to preparation which has spurred one of the Big Ten’s breakout players.

A transfer from McCLennan Community College, Noah McGowan arrived in Columbus last year as a junior expected to fill the offensively voids created with the departure of second-round pick Ronnie Dawson. Like Dawson, McGowan sports No. 4 and looks the part of a linebacker for Urban Meyer, less three-hole hitter for Beals. McGowan flashed brilliance a year ago, recording a three-home run game against Xavier on March 19. But McGowan connected for only two other home runs in his 128 other at-bats, and only 25 other hits in total, to bat .214.

This year, through 79 at-bats, McGowan has 31 hits for a team-leading .392 average. With seven doubles and five home runs, McGowan’s .696 slugging percentage is second in the Big Ten, and his 27 RBI leads the conference.

“[It’s just] trusting what I’m doing,” McGowan said on his strong senior season. “Seeing what I’m seeing, seeing spin, or if I see ball up in the zone, offspeed pitch, put a good swing on it.”

That may explain how McGowan approaches each at-bat, but it’s the work done prior to that allows him to step to the plate relaxed, with a clear mind and trusting himself.

“I’ll hit with coaches, but then I usually like to come back later at night and hit by myself” McGowan said. “Just so I can have time to myself and hit, not have outside distractions and focus on what I do in the cage, get my reps off of the machine.

“Last year I didn’t hit off the machine as much, and when I was in JUCO we hit off the machine a lot, and I think that was a part of my success…off the machine, that’s when you find the flaws in your swing.”

With the preparation established, taking on the opposition with competitive toughness is where results come.

Starting with the season-opening 11-7 victory over Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where Ohio State scored nine runs over their final two at-bats, of the team’s 16 victories, four have come with Ohio State trailing after seven innings. The comeback wins include its two marquee victories, a 9-6 win over Southern Miss, and a 7-5 win at Coastal Carolina, both are ranked teams.

“This team has a lot of fight in them,”  Beals said. “You’ve seen that with comeback wins, late-inning breakouts, those type of things. Our guys are willing to play the whole game, go the long haul and that leads back to the competitive spirit we have.”

McGowan leads a charge of seven players batting .286 or better, on a team with “guys in our dugout that’ll be able to score runs and put up just as many runs as anyone else.” To him, Ohio State is never out of a contest, there’s never a moment to relent.

A beneficiary of Ohio State’s powerful offense is freshman Griffan Smith. Appearing in six games, including one start, Smith has logged 11.2 innings for the Buckeyes.

“You just go out there and pitch and do your thing, knowing that your offense has your back, especially with the way we’ve been hitting. There’s not a doubt in my mind when I step on the mound or go back in the inning that they’re going to pick me up, whether I do bad or good.”

And that’s where the final pillar of the Buckeyes foundation comes together: the brotherhood.

Co-captains for Ohio State are Kyle Michalik and Adam Niemeyer. Fifth-year seniors, the pitchers were part of a prolific high school class of 2013 recruiting haulthat Beals landed. Along with Dawson, Travis Lakins, Troy Montgomery, and Tanner Tully, the recruiting class is one of the Big Ten’s best over the last decade.

But tragically, there was only a glimpse of the unparalleled potential of the best prospect, Zach Farmer.

After a courageous two-year battle with acute myeloid leukemia, Farmer passed away in August 2015. Never prepared to suffer such a loss, the Ohio State players found comfort in each other, found a renewed sense of commitment to each other, and formed an unbreakable bond.

Arising from tragedy, taking the fight Farmer valiantly displayed, Ohio State ended a seven-year NCAA Tournament drought, claiming the 2016 Big Ten Tournament title and leading the Big Ten with 44 wins.

A championship will never replace a life. Whenever a player’s career is over, be it at the end of his senior year or when the professional game passes him by, there is still life to take on. The best in athletics is preparing an individual to succeed in life, to take lessons learned from sacrifice, hard work and selflessness to be an asset to society. It would never be appropriate to compare a losing season to the loss of a life. But the brotherhood, the commitment to others that fueled Ohio State in 2016 has returned to Bill Davis Stadium.

Atop Ohio State’s pitching staff is junior left-handed pitcher Connor Curlis. With a 3-0 record, next to a 3.07 ERA in 29.1 innings, Curlis has ran with the role of weekend ace. But the title means less to him, it’s more what he can do to set the tone for the weekend.

“It feels awesome to have the coaches tell you that you’re the Friday starter, but more it’s to go out there and give it your all for the team,” Curlis said. “Every Friday night, that’s what I’m trying to do.”

McGowan, arguably the Big Ten’s top player over the first month deflects individual glory.

“Our focus this year has been more of a team, to come together and enjoying being around each other.” he said.

And when you have elite preparation, competitive toughness, and each player takes on the life of a brotherhood, to Beals that is what has spurred the Buckeyes to win tough games, go into tough environments and fight and enter the last week of non-conference play with all goals in tact.

“They believe they can do it. That belief goes back to everything we’ve talked about, the competitive toughness, the brotherhood, and it’s the elite preparation that they all know they’ve done. Then to be able to go out and do it, like we’ve done a few times this year early in the season, to prove it on the field also, just really builds that belief and feeling our guys have right now.”

Now, even though it was well before a pitch was thrown, a home run hit, or a game was won, it’s clear what Beals liked about this ball club in the fall. It’s in the blueprints.

Week 5 Weekend Observations

The final weekend before in-conference play beings was a good one for the Big Ten. There were seven home series, with Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State all grabbing weekend sweeps, Penn State captured two of three, and Michigan State and Nebraska split their weekend sets. On the road, Minnesota grabbed national attention with their road victory at TCU and Rutgers picked up a pair of solid victories at Florida Gulf Coast. All told, only two of the 13 teams suffered weekend defeats.

What garnered the most attention from the strong weekend? Here’s the top weekend observations.

Spillane jumps to the front of POTY race

A lot of attention, and rightfully so, had been cast upon the law office-sounding duo of Ohio State’s Noah McGowan and Purdue’s Jacson McGowan. Both first baseman put together impressive first months at the plate, where numbers on pace to shatter school records helped lead their respective clubs to strong starts. But there’s been an offensive eruption over the last three weeks by Illinois first baseman Bren Spillane that has him on track to be Illinois’ third conference player of the year in six years. Following an 8-for-16 weekend, where the series opener at Southern Illinois produced three home runs, before a two-double, 4-for-4 effort capped the Saturday doubleheader, Spillane is second in the Big Ten in hitting (.419), first in slugging (.887), first in doubles (nine), second in home runs (six), second in total bases (55), fifth in on-base percentage (.471), fifth in RBI (21) and fifth in stolen bases (five). Putting himself in line to be an All-American over the first month, the next two months will show if Spillane can follow the feats of former Illini who were named Big Ten Player of the Year, Justin Parr (2013) and David Kerian (2015), and lead Illinois to a regional.

Kaletha is Indiana’s catalyst

With Matt Lloyd, Luke Miller, and Logan Sowers returning, Indiana was expected to have a strong offensive club. And through 19 games, Indiana is batting .286 with 42 doubles and 19 home runs, Chris Lemonis does indeed have a potent team at the plate. But it isn’t Lloyd, Miller, nor Sowers who is the driving force behind the high-powered Hoosiers offense, its newcomer Logan Kaletha. A transfer from John A. Logan College, the junior outfielder led Indiana in runs created heading into last weekend. As Indiana swept Northern Illinois, Kalthea went 5-for-13 with a double, home run, two RBI, three runs, a walk, and a stolen base. Atop Indiana’s lineup, Katleha has settled into being a dynamic leadoff batting, offering with hitting ability (.319 average), power (.580 slugging percentage) discipline (12 walks to 15 strikeouts), grit (12 plunkings) speed (five stolen bases). and for good measure sports a perfect fielding percentage.

Ohio State continues regional trajectory

Indiana has done nothing to dissuade any belief they are the Big Ten’s top team. Checking in at No. 15 in this week’s NCBWA poll, the first five weeks for the Hoosiers have justified their preseason top billing by conference coaches. But the Hoosiers aren’t the top rated Big Ten team by RPI, that would be Ohio State. According to Warren Nolan’s RPI formula, Ohio State’s RPI is 25 heading into Wednesday play. With only one-third of a season’s data in place, the RPI is very fluid and drastic fluctuations are common in March. But at 14-6, if the season ended today, the Greg Beals’ team would be in a regional. Riding a six-game winning streak, Ohio State has not suffered a losing weekend yet, the Buckeyes have picked up a pair of wins which figure to stand out on their resume (Coastal Carolina and Southern Miss), and started their home slate with three wins in three games. A solid win total, grabbing marquee victories as they come, and protecting the home field is the path to the postseason, and with their sweep of Cal State Northridge, the Buckeyes stayed on course.

Rookie Gophers grow up on big stage

Speaking of postseason resumes, Minnesota’s weekend victory at then No. 11 TCU will surely help the Gophers’ case to be in the field of 64 for a second time in three years. For those who have watched Big Ten baseball over the past few seasons, the upset may not have been that shocking. Minnesota is a game from being two-time reigning Big Ten champions, the Big Ten has equaled the Big XII’s 13 teams in a regional since 2015, and Minnesota has a very deep and veteran-laded lineup, But what was eye-opening, and may have a lasting effect beyond May, was the performance of Minnesota’s freshmen pitchers. In a weekend where TCU saw more than 4,000 fans turn out for each game, Patrick Fredrickson, Bubba Horton, Max Meyer, and Sam Thoresen combined to pitch 15.2 innings and allow just seven hits, striking out 17 batters. Minnesota will experience heavy roster turnover following this season with the graduations of Alex Boxwell, Micah Coffey, Toby Hanson, and Luke Pettersen, but those four pitchers, along with classmate Joshua Culliver and Ryan Duffy give the Gophers a foundation to continue the program’s ascend on.

Whelan provides a spark

Iowa had lost five straight games before Evansville came to town. The Hawkeyes started this week on a three-game winning streak. While it would be tough to give him all credit for halting the team’s skid and starting a run, the return of Chris Whelan had to be comforting for Rick Heller. With Whelan back in the lineup, Iowa had a true leadoff batter, something that was missing the first four weeks. In addition to someone who can get on base, Whelan can drive the ball and be a run-producing taking a little pressure off Tyler Cropley and Robert Neustrom. While Whelan’s UCL injury will limit him to just DH duties, his first weekend of action saw little rust. The 2017 Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player went 5-for-12, drew two talks and scored four runs.

 

Michigan freshmen find comfort at home

No school in the country produced more MLB Draft picks last year than Michigan did with 11. While a noteworthy accomplishment, having that many players leave a program tends to cause a step back the following season as newcomers and role players are thrust into prominent roles. For the first four weeks of the season, Michigan did scuffle, the Wolverines entered last weekend’s series against Bowling Green at 4-11. But during their first home series, the emergence of a few freshman, part of a recruiting class ranked 10th by Baseball America, spurred a turnaround and should bring optimism to Ann Arbor ahead of conference play. Earning Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, outfielder Jordan Nwogu post a triple-slash of .362/.692/1.097, with a home run, two double and eight RBI. 10 Innings’ Freshman of the Week accolades went to Michigan left-handed pitcher Ben Dragani, after he pitched seven shutout innings on Sunday, striking out six batters without issuing a walk. Another freshman, shortstop Jack Blomgren reached base five times, picked up a double and stole two bases.

Illinois at Illinois State Postponed

Champaign, Ill. — The Illinois baseball team’s game scheduled for Tuesday at Illinois State has been postponed due to forecasted weather. The game will be made up Wednesday, April 4 at 4:30 p.m. CT.

No. 24 Illinois (11-5) resumes its schedule Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. CT against CSUN at Illinois Field.

Ohio State vs. Eastern Michigan Cancelled

Columbus, Ohio — The Ohio State baseball game against Eastern Michigan was cancelled Wednesday due to predicted weather in the Columbus area. No makeup date has been announced. The Buckeyes (14-6), who have won six straight games, will host Georgetown Friday-Sunday in a three-game series at Nick Swisher Field at Bill Davis Stadium.

Due to the cancelation, Ohio State has added a midweek game against Youngstown State. The Buckeyes and Penguins will square off at 6:35 p.m. ET April 18 at Bill Davis Stadium.

The Weekend 10

In the final weekend before conference play begins, it was a big weekend for many teams around the Big Ten. Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State picked up home sweeps, while Minnesota and Rutgers collected big weekend victories on the road.

Who helped power those teams to victory? Here’s a look at the Weekend 10.

Penn State Fr. LHP Dante Biasi

Biasi twirled a gem on Sunday, as Penn State looked to finish a sweep of New Jersey Institute of Technology. The left-hander allowed just one hit and walked a batter, keeping NJIT off the scoreboard while striking out seven batters in six innings of work. NJIT erupted for seven runs over their last three at-bats to avoid the sweep, but not before Biasi made life miserable for the Highlanders

Ohio State Soph. OF Dominic Canzone

Ohio State opened their home slate with a swept Cal State Northridge, running their season-best winning streak to six games. The catalyst for the streaking Buckeyes has been Canzone, their leadoff hitter. The right fielder picked up eight hits over 15 at-bats, with two doubles, to set the table for an OSU lineup that scored 20 runs against the Matadors.

Michigan Fr. LHP Ben Dragani

Grabbing Freshman of the Week honors, Dragani turned in a brilliant, and efficient, performance against Bowling Green to cap a weekend sweep of the Falcons for Michigan. In his first start as a Wolverine, Dragani allowed just one unearned run off five hits, and struck out six batters without issuing a walk, needing only 74 pitches to pitch seven innings.

Michigan State Jr. RHP Riley McCauley

McCauley made sure the Spartans were victorious in their first home game of the season. On Thursday, against Niagara, McCauley pitched seven shutout innings, scattering four hits, to lead Michigan State to a 10-1 victory. McCauley walked three batters and struck out two, in recording his first victory of the season in three decision.

Minnesota middle infielders Luke Pettersen and Terrin Vavra

Minnesota’s middle infield was at the forefront of a headline-grabbing series victory at TCU. Knocking off the nationally-ranked Horned Frogs on the road, Pettersen, a senior second baseman, went 6-for-15 atop the Gopher lineup, while Vavra, a junior shortstop, went 7-for-13 from the three-hole. The two combined for six runs and six RBI.

Iowa Jr. OF Robert Neustrom

Neustrom had a big weekend to help Iowa end a five-game losing streak with a three-game sweep of Evansville. In a Saturday doubleheader against the Purple Aces, Neustrom went 5-for-9 with a pair of home runs, and a double, to score five runs and drive in three. Nuestrom scored his sixth run of the weekend on Sunday, collecting a walk and single in Iowa’s 4-3 win.

Rutgers Fr. LHP Harry Rutkowski

The big weekend for rookie southpaws extends down into Florida, where Rutkowski led Rutgers to a weekend-clinich victory. Helping the Scarlet Knights turn back Florida Gulf Coast, 6-3, Rutkowski struck out seven Osprey batters over six innings, allowing one run off four hits and three walks. Moving to 2-0 on the year, the win ran Rutgers’ winning streak to six games.

Illinois Jr. 1B Bren Spillane

A three-home run game in Illinois’ weekend opener against Southern Illinois was the start of a big weekend for the 10 Innings Player of the Week. Powering the Illini to a 16-6 victory, Spillane’s three home runs were a part of a 4-for-6, six-RBI effort, in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. In the nightcap, Spillane collected four more hits, two were doubles, to collect 19 bases on the weekend in 13 at-bats, for a 1.461 slugging percentage.

Indiana Jr. RHP Jonathan Stiever

Collecting 10 Innings’ Pitcher of the Week honor, Stiever was nearly perfect as Indiana rolled to an 18-0 victory against Northern Illinois. In the series opener against the Huskies, Stiever faced only two batters over the minimum, allowing just two singles in six scoreless innings of work. Moving to 2-1 on the season, Stiever struck out six batters without issuing a walk.

Illinois Jr. RHP Ty Weber

A career outing from Weber helped Illinois grab their road series at Southern Illinois. Over eight innings, Weber allowed two runs, one earned, off three hits and two walks. In the 6-2 victory, eight strikeouts helped Weber moved to 2-1 on the year and lowered his ERA to 3.63.

Friday Penn State Action Postponed to Saturday

University Park, Penn. — Due to forecasted cold temperatures, Penn State’s baseball series opener against NJIT, originally scheduled for Friday evening at 5 p.m. on Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, has been postponed to a Saturday doubleheader starting at noon, Penn State head coach Rob Cooper announced Thursday afternoon.

Fans with tickets for the Friday NJIT game can redeem them at the State College Spikes box office for any other 2018 Penn State baseball game.

The weekend series against NJIT will now feature a doubleheader starting at noon Saturday and one game Sunday, also starting at noon.

Both games will feature 2018 schedule poster giveaways. Saturday will also include a “Luck of the Lions” prize raffle to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. On Sunday, youths ages 12 and under who wear their Little League Jersey able to receive FREE admission and then all kids can run the bases postgame.

Nebraska-Northwestern State Cancelled

Lincoln, Neb. –Today’s baseball game between Nebraska and Northwestern State has been canceled due to weather. The two teams will play one game on Saturday at the regularly scheduled time and one game on Sunday at the regularly scheduled time.

Saturday’s game is set for 2:05 p.m. (CT) and Sunday’s game is set for 11:05 a.m.

March 15-18 Weekend Preview

Rutgers in position to turn the corner

Rutgers is off to a 9-6 start, even though top prospect Jawuan Harris has been limited to 10 games.  (Noah K. Murray/Rutgers University)

Blake Dowson-

Last season, as they had in seven of the previous eight years, Rutgers flew down to Miami to start its season against a very good Hurricane team. The Scarlet Knights dropped the first two games before rolling to a 17-6 victory in the Sunday finale.

But any momentum established from the romp in Coral Gables was short lived, Rutgers went 5-7 in their next 12 games following opening weekend, before finishing the non-conference portion of their schedule at 10-14.

This season, Rutgers again started its season at Miami, and again grabbed the Sunday finale after dropping the first two games of the series. The difference, though, has been the Scarlet Knights’ resiliency this season. Following the Miami series Rutgers has bounced back, going 8-4 since.

“So far, we’re playing okay,” Rutgers head coach Joe Litterio said. “That’s the best way to say it. We’re up and down. Our record’s pretty good. There were a couple games out there that we left out there. So our record should actually be much better. It’s been a process.”

The couple of games Litterio referred to were a Feb. 25, 11-6 loss to Boston College, where the Eagles scored seven runs in the ninth inning, and another last-inning lost, on March 4, when Rutgers couldn't hold a 3-0 lead going into the bottom of the ninth, falling to Old Dominion 4-3.  But, on the heels of a four-game winning streak, those tough defeats are the thing of the past, with Rutgers' biggest weekend to-date on hand.

Rutgers is staring at a series against Florida Gulf Coast, a team that contributed to the Scarlet Knights’ rocky non-conference season a year ago by sweeping their three-game set. The Eagles outscored the Scarlet Knights 26-9 last season.

If Litterio and his squad want to completely flip the script from a season ago, a strong showing against FGCU will go a long way.

The thing about that is, strong showings against the Eagles have been hard to come by this year. They sit at 13-3, having won nine of 10 at home thus far.

“They’re a good ball club. It’ll be a good test for us heading into conference season,” Litterio said. “Going in on a Friday night and playing on someone else’s field is always a tough test. I’m excited to see how we compete.”

Compete is exactly what Rutgers has done this season, according to its head coach. Litterio said a deep lineup has been able to cover up any one struggling spot in the order.

If one or two guys are slumping, four or five other guys have come up with multi-hit games to level out the production. More of that this weekend will lead to success, Litterio said.

“Our lineup is deep,” he said. “I think our guys are firing together and when we do that, it gets real deep. We have some key guys struggling, but other guys are picking them up.”

That deep lineup has seen 13 different guys pick up at least two RBI, including four that have reached double-digit runs batted in, and three more that have contributed seven. Five regulars are hitting above .300, led by Kyle Walker (hitting .515 in 33 at-bats) and Luke Bowerbank (.340 in 53 at-bats).

However, the Rutgers lineup has its work cut out for it this weekend, facing a Florida Gulf Coast staff that boasts three weekend starters who have all logged over 20 innings, and all sport an ERA of 2.74 or better.

All of that can be daunting, considering this is one of Rutgers’ biggest series in years.

Although the team has been in Florida for the last week, on spring break, the wear and tear of the travel a northern team faces over the first month can lead to tired bodies, haphazard and inconsistent play. And in some years, that would most likely be the case, according to Litterio.

“[Getting on so many planes] usually does take a toll, but I think this year it’s going too fast, because we’re playing good baseball,” Litterio said. “Everyone is getting along. There are no grumpy faces on the bench. We finished up practice [on Thursday], and everyone had high energy, they were focused. Usually this time of year, it’s a grind. We feel good with where we’re at right now.”

Win a couple games against FGCU, and Rutgers will feel really good heading into Big Ten play.

 

Webb's Words: Statement weekend round two

I often try to avoid putting too much stock into one weekend. First, baseball is a weird game, more than any sport, anyone can beat anyone. But more importantly, one three-game weekend is barely 5% of a 56-game college baseball season. A football fan wouldn't punt on a season after just one game, so I try to remind others that one weekend doesn't make or break a season.

But it's fair to say some weekends are bigger than others.

The first weekend of March saw high-profiled contests take place throughout the country. Michigan had a four-game series at Stanford, Indiana went to San Diego for another four-game set, Texas welcomed Northwestern and the Dairy Queen Classic saw Arizona, UCLA, and Washington take on Illinois, Michigan State and host Minnesota in a de facto Big Ten/Pac-12 challenge. Across those 21 games, the Big Ten went 10-11, lead by Illinois sweeping the DQ field and Indiana taking three games from San Diego. The weekend allowed Indiana to cement their position as a top team, and cause many to take notice of the Illini.

It's time for another significant weekend for the Big Ten.

In addition to Rutgers' series at Florida Gulf Coast, the conference has two more tough road series, Maryland travels to No. 18 East Carolina, while No. 11 TCU hosts Minnesota.

Both Maryland and Minnesota have appeared in the NCAA Tournament within the last two years, and each team has a roster which should put them in position to contend for a spot in another regional. Expectations were high entering the season, with the Gophers and Terrapins predicted to finished third and second, respectively, by D1Baseball.com.

Unfortunately neither team has really lived up to their billing. Minnesota went 1-2 in the DQ Classic, before suffering another 1-2 weekend last week at home against Creighton, to stand a respectable, but not too mighty, 12-7 on the year. Maryland has as many losses as Minnesota, but three less wins, their 9-7 record the result of a very uneven start to Rob Vaughn's tenure in College Park.

But any unfulfilled promise from the first month can be wiped away this weekend. In fact, this weekend is just the beginning of what could still shape up to be a special March, a month that stands tall come May.

Following Minnesota's trip to Texas, the Gophers open Big Ten play at reigning champion Nebraska, then welcome St. John's a preseason ranked team, to Minneapolis during their bye week. Maryland starts conference play in two weeks, but not before Stetson makes a trip to town, a team that is 13-1 and checks in as the No. 28 team in this week's NCBWA poll.

So this week this is a big week, but it won't make or break the season for Maryland, Minnesota, or Rutgers, but it's a weekend that can go a long way in starting something big, and provide another testament to the growth of Big Ten baseball, that Maryland and Minnesota are perennial regional threats, or that Rutgers is just the latest team to take a step forward.

 

Required reading

Former Illinois Coach Augie Garrido Dies -Matt Daniels, Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette

Punxsutawney natives bring lifelong friendship to Penn State -Matthew Knaub, Daily Collegian

Matt Warren appreciating his extra innings for Huskers -Evan Bland, Omaha World-Herald

What to watch for

Avoiding the letdown

What may be most impressive about Indiana's season so far is the Hoosiers ability to avoid a stretch of bad play. The bats may not have been out in full force last week against Pacific, but the pitching was stingy and powered a series victory. Any slight hiccup that may have occurred with a midweek loss to Cincinnati and dropping the first game to Pacific, 2-1, has been swept to the side by three straight victories.

At 12-4 and with a handful of quality victories, IU looks the part of a potential regional host.

A lot was expected of Indiana this season, the coaches' preseason conference favorite, and a veteran team has kept a steady ship.

Now it's time to see how a couple of teams, who many didn't think much of in the preseason, react with the attention upon them growing.

Illinois cracked this week's Baseball America poll at No. 24, and Ohio State caught the eye of DIBaseball.com after a midweek swept of UNC-Wilmington after splitting two games against Coastal Carolina. At 8-4 and 11-6, respectively, Illinois and Ohio State may be the contenders Indiana must fend off, opposed to Maryland and Nebraska, whom received the bulk of the preseason attention.

After picking up quality wins away from home, both the Buckeyes and Illini are playing baseball in their home state this weekend. As Illinois travels to Southern Illinois and Ohio State hosts Cal State-Northridge, but Big Ten teams are favored to win, and taking care of business against the teams they should, will help both sustain their momentum heading into conference action, with a growing eye on the NCAA Tournament.

Whelan's return

With all of Iowa's star power last year,  Jake Adams, Tyler Cropley, Mason McCoy, and Robert Neustrom, helping the Hawkeyes to the Houston Regional, it may take a peak at the Big Ten record book to remember Chris Whelan was selected as the Most Outstanding Player of the Big Ten Tournament.

After starting out 8-2, Iowa has dropped five consecutive games, in part due to an offense batting just .248, the absences of McCoy, to graduation, and Adams, the nation's home run leader, have certainly been felt. But this weekend Rick Heller and the Hawkeyes hope to get a shot in the arm and turn around their recent ways with the return of Whelan.

Coming off of a campaign where he batted .307 with 11 doubles and seven home runs as a sophomore, the outfielder has missed the first four months of the season after sustaining an UCL injury in his throwing elbow, which required surgery. Whelan has been medically cleared to swing and returns to the Iowa lineup as the team's DH this weekend against Evansville.

With only 21 extra-base hits, the fewest in the Big Ten, a bat like Whelan's returning one week before Iowa hosts Indiana to start Big Ten play is exactly what Iowa needs, as it seeks a fifth consecutive 30-win season.

Michigan, the new Florida?

It may be spring break for many teams around the Big Ten, but the action isn't heavy in Florida this weekend, only Rutgers is playing in the Sunshine State. Instead, no state has more Big Ten teams playing in it this weekend than Michigan.

Michigan and Michigan State have kicked off their home slates this week, continuing action on campus this weekend with the Wolverines hosting Bowling Green and the Spartans welcoming Niagara. An hour north of East Lansing, Central Michigan plays host to Northwestern.

There may be a little shifting of schedules in the three series, as Friday temperatures won't break the mid-30s throughout the state, but Saturday and Sunday will be sunny, climbing into the 40s and 50s. As the temperatures rise, all three teams hope they catch fire, Michigan, Michigan State, and Northwestern have struggled to 4-11, 5-10 and 5-7 starts so far.

 

By the numbers

.156- Already a two-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week, Mason Erla is holding the opposition to a .156 batting average.

.333- Opponents have a 33% success rate in stolen base attempts against Indiana, stealing a Big Ten-low five bases in 15 attempts.

0- The Wolverines are the lone Big Ten yet to record a save this season.

1.32- The combined era over 47.2 innings between Purdue starters Tanner Andrews and Gareth Stroh, who respectively rank first and third in the conference.

51- Ohio State senior first baseman Noah McGowan has touched 51 bases this year, 10 more than any other Big Ten player.

203- Minnesota leads the Big Ten in hits with 203, for the conference's best average (.308), while having the best walk-to-strikeout ratio with just 107 strikeouts to 93 walks.