Big Ten play kicked off last weekend with five conference series. And because it’s March, there was a series shortened due to weather, as Indiana and Iowa were unable to play on Saturday and Sunday.
While the snowstorm that went through the Midwest will lead to an uneven standings, the action across the board showed the Big Ten race figures to be a heated battled leading to a congested table.
Here’s more on that and what else was observed this weekend.
The conference race will be a slugfest
It may be premature to make such a proclamation after one weekend, especially when three teams have yet to play a conference game, but the results from the weekend suggest every week with be a hold-you-breath affair up and down the conference. Consider the following:
Even though Illinois swept Northwestern, two games were decided in extra innings. The lone game that didn’t reach the 10th inning was still a one-run game.
Minnesota and Nebraska each picked up a decisive victory, Minnesota won 5-1 on Friday and Nebraska grabbed an 8-2 victory on Saturday, before Sunday’s rubber match finished 2-0.
Rutgers topped Penn State, 1-0 on Saturday, to win the weekend, but the Nittany Lions scored 10 weekend runs to the Scarlet Knights’ eight.
Before snow wrecked havoc on Iowa City, The Hawkeyes and Hoosiers split a Friday doubleheader, IU won 4-2 in game one, while UI rebounded for a 5-1 victory in the nightcap.
The most dominant weekend performance belonged to Michigan, but even they trailed 1-0 heading into the ninth against Michigan State on Saturday, a Spartan club which sat 6-16 after Sunday.
As every game was finished, nearly each result showed a close contest. Little separate the weekend’s winners from losers, now it’s time to add Maryland, Ohio State and Purdue to the mix to see who, if anyone, can show they’re a cut above.
Reggie Meyer is excelling under the radar
Minnesota’s strong 16-9 has been propelled by a mix of good hitting (.302 team average) and strong pitching (3.31 ERA). Upperclassmen like Micah Coffey, Toby Hanson, Luke Pettersen and Terrin Vavra have led at the plate, while a handful of freshman have made an immediate impact on the mound, between Patrick Fredrickson, Bubba Horton, and Max Meyer. But want can’t be overlooked is the season junior right-handed pitcher Reggie Meyer is having as the team’s ace.
On Friday, Meyer Nebraska to one run while scattering eight hits, striking out five batters without issuing a walk over eight innings. Leveling his season record to 2-2, Meyer lowered his ERA to 2.89. With 37.1 innings pitched on the season, Meyer is averaging a six-inning start, and holds a 1.46 BB/9, with a 20 strikeouts against six walks. Meyer is pitching as well as the Minnesota staff could have envisioned, taking over the No. 1 role with ease following the departure of All-Big Ten left-handed pitcher Lucas Gilbreath.
Penn State and Rutgers solidify competitive rotations
Penn State has not participated in the Big Ten Tournament since 2012. Rutgers is seeking its first berth. But as the two teams head into April, both programs can look to the postseason with optimism, as Rob Cooper and Joe Litterio had the same reason to leave the weekend’s series between the two feeling well; their weekend rotations.
For Penn State, the weekend trio of Justin Hagenman-Taylor Lehman-Dante Biasi is coming together to give Cooper his most stout rotation in his five years in State College. With a 3.71 ERA, Hagenman is going on his second year of being an asset in PSU’s rotation, but Lehman is enjoying a breakout season. A highly-touted prospect upon heading to Penn State, Lehman three hits and one unearned run over six innings on Saturday. The senior left-hander lowered his ERA to 2.81 for the season. Rounding out Penn State’s rotation is Dante Biasi, a redshirt freshman who missed last season recovering from Tommy John surgery required after his high school career. Using a six-inning, one-run outing to collect the win on Sunday, Biasi has made five starts and sports a 4.79 ERA in his first collegiate season.
In the case of Rutgers, a blend of old and new have led to consistency in the rotation. In his 41st career start, senior right-hander John O’Reilly pitched his first complete game on Friday, allowing only a first-inning unearned run in Rutgers’ 4-1 victory. With the third-most career starts in school history under his belt, O’Reilly knows what it takes to win at this level. That experience is needed as two freshmen southpaws are behind him in the rotation, Harry Rutkowski and Eric Heatter. With respective 3.46 and 4.50 ERA, Heatter and Rutkowsi have been able to give Rutgers a foundation for the future, while being productive pitchers in the now. Until now, a true 1-2-3 rotation has eluded Rutgers as a Big Ten member, giving further proof this may be the year the Scarlet Knights break through.
Wolverine bats shake their slump
Michigan’s home-away-home series against Michigan State was bookend by a pair of offensive outbursts. On Friday, Michigan opened the series by rolling to a 12-3 win. On Sunday, Michigan capped the weekend sweep with an 11-0 victory.
Enjoying an eight-game winning streak, Michigan has put a forgetful first month behind them. As Erik Bakich’s club opened conference play with a perfect weekend, the rise of the Wolverines has coincided with the offense turning around.
It surely helps that eight of Michigan’s last nine games have come at home, and that they aren’t facing the pitching of Stanford. But compare the averages and OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of the team’s top three hitters from their first 11 games to were they are now, and it’s easy to see how Michigan has enjoyed the country’s fifth-longest current winning streak through Tuesday.
Soph. OF Christian Bullock First 11: .270/.665, Current: .300/.726
Jr. OF Jonathan Engelmann- .250/.571, .322/.880
Jr. 2B Ako Thomas- .250/.725, .295/.796
And as a team, Michigan is batting .253, up from .205, with a .701 OPS, a stark improvement from the team’s .582 mark just 12 games ago.
Ryan Feltner has turned the corner
Although their seven-game winning streak fell in Saturday’s 5-1 loss to Georgetown, the start Ryan Feltner gave Ohio State was his second straight strong effort. In 6.2 innings, Feltner allowed three runs, one earned, and four hits. Without issuing a walk, the junior right-handed pitcher struck out four batters. A loss was tacked on Feltner’s record, and Georgetown represents the weakest opponent Ohio State has faced to date, but the quality start is the second in a row for Feltner as the Big Ten’s top pitching prospect is turning promise into production. A week before, against CSUN, Feltner logged another 6.2 innings, allowing three runs, two earned, off against four hits. That outing saw Feltner strike out nine batters to one walk. Together, the last two weekends have seen the right-hander pitch 13.1 innings, concede eight hits, allow two earned runs and strike out 13 batters to one walk. Feltner faced as tough of a run as any pitcher in the three previous weekends, taking on Oregon State, Southern Miss, and Coastal Carolina, the respective No. 1, No. 12 and No. 23 teams in the country. Now, as Ohio State heads into conference play, Feltner is rolling and knows what it takes to beat the best of the best, a welcomed thought for Greg Beals.