Chris Webb

March 8 Power Rankings

Several teams across the conference picked up big victories over the weekend. From Illinois going 3-0 in the Dairy Queen Classic, to Indiana taking three out of four games against San Diego, the weekend saw Big Ten teams garner national attention with impressive performances.

With only two weekends left before Big Ten play begins, conference teams are half-way through their non-conference weekends. And for some, keeping the Big Ten bye week in mind, there are still noteworthy out of conference games to come. This week’s power rankings takes a look at each team’s most important non-conference showdowns.

Previous power rankings: Week 1, Week 2

#1 Indiana (9-3) Last Week: 1

IU’s series at San Diego is the highlight of their non-conference slate. Left for the Hoosiers on non-Big Ten weekends are series at home against Pacific, Northern Illinois and Butler. Anything less than a 7-2 showing over those three weekends would be a shock, neither of the three teams should pose much a threat. As Indiana positions itself for a potential regional bid, avoiding bad series defeats will become important. Of the three, a series loss to Northern Illinois would be the worst, making it the most important remaining non-conference schedule for Indiana.

#2 Purdue (8-2) LW: 2

Purdue heads down to Tulane this weekend for three games against the Green Wave. Although their record stands at only 6-7, three losses have been to Ole Miss with another two against Cal State-Fullerton. Tulane’s record should improve as they head into American Athletic Conference play, potentially creating a quality non-conference weekend opponent, which is the only thing missing from Purdue’s strong start.

#3 Illinois (6-3) LW: 7

If Illinois’ five-game winning streak, which included victories over two currently ranked teams, is a sign of what’s to come for the Illinois, Dan Hartleb has a team capable of ending a two-year NCAA Tournament drought. For that to happen, Illinois will need to avoid dropping games against teams that can sink their RPI. During their Big Ten bye week, Illinois hosts Grand Canyon, April 20-22. Grand Canyon has struggled to a 3-8 start in their first season as a Division I program, and could be a late-season dream killer if Illinois overlooks the Antelopes.

#4 Iowa (8-2) LW: 4

Iowa has racked up eight wins over their first 10 games, kicking off Rick Heller’s fifth season in Iowa in good form. But the quality of wins hasn’t quite matched the quantity. That will change soon. A three-game set at 12-2 UNLV kicks off the back-half of Iowa’s non-conference slate, but that still isn’t the series to circle. Between May 4-6, the Hawkeyes take on Oklahoma State during their Big Ten bye week. The Cowboys are the type of strong, non-conference opponent that can add a bullet to a postseason

#5 Minnesota (10-4) LW: 3

The marquee matchup for the Gophers may be the Big Ten series of the year. Minnesota heads down to TCU for three games against the four-time reigning College World Series participant. Minnesota has a team capable of appearing in a second regional in three years, and a series victory over the Horned Frogs will carry a lot of weight come May on whether John Anderson’s team is included in the field of 64.

#6 Maryland (7-4) LW: 8

With a series victory against traditional power North Carolina under its belt, East Carolina figures to be a tough opponent for the Terps. Maryland welcomes ECU to College Park, March 16-18, in a series that can help Maryland regain some of the attention the club garnered in the preseason. An uneven start has seen Maryland follow a four-game losing streak with a current five-game run, if their strong showings continue against the Pirates, finishing in the top half of the Big Ten should keep Maryland in the NCAA Tournament picture.

#7 Ohio State (7-4) LW: 5

To this point, the non-conference portion of Ohio State’s schedule can be considered a push. Ohio State dropped two games against No. 2 Oregon State, allowing a six-run last at-bat to decide the fate of the first, before rebounding to game a victory over a ranked Southern Miss team last weekend. This weekend, Ohio State has two more games against a ranked team, taking on Coastal Carolina. This weekend presents the last golden chance for the Bucks to bolster a regional resume with wins over a top team.

#8 Nebraska (6-5) LW: 6

Nebraska welcomes Nevada to Lincoln, April 26-28, during their conference bye week. The Wolfpack may not be the toughest foe, but the series comes before Nebraska finishes the season hosting Maryland and Indiana in back-to-back weeks, then ending with a series at Illinois. Based on how national pundits view the Terps, Hoosiers and Illini, that may be the toughest in-conference stretch a team faces. One that could push Nebraska to a fourth regional in five years or shut down their title defense hopes. Getting a little momentum and picking up expected wins can set May’s tone.

#9 Michigan (3-8) LW: 11

There isn’t a non-conference opponent remaining on Michigan’s schedule in the quality of Stanford. But after Michigan went 1-3 in Palo Alto, the Wolverines have only three wins in 11 contests this. This weekend’s three-game series at Lipcombs is important for U-M to start to turn the tide, rebound from a 2-7 stretch and gather momentum as they start their home slate and soon after conference schedule.

#10 Michigan State (3-8) LW: 10

Michigan State has faced stiff competition over the first three weeks of the season. With the exception of two games against in-conference peer Illinois this weekend, the non-conference slates winds down with lesser competition dotting the schedule. But that doesn’t make the games against less important. If MSU can go on a run, the team’s strength of schedule may help boost their RPI. If so, it is imperative the Spartans take care of Niagara in a four-game set, March 15-18, to avoid RPI-killing defeats.

#11 Penn State (4-5) LW: 9

The Nittany Lions host Xavier during their Big Ten bye week, May 10-12. The Musketeers have appeared in back-to-back regional championships, making the NCAA Tournament in three of the last four seasons. Stepping outside of the Big Ten in the penultimate weekend, and taking on a solid opponent, may allow Penn State to enter its final series at Iowa with the needed focus to reach the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2012.

#12 Rutgers (5-6) LW: 12

Army, Rutgers upcoming weekend opponent, has given the Big Ten fits; the Black Knights grabbed a game in their season-opening series against Michigan, then took two of three at Maryland. But it’s Florida Gulf Coast, Rutgers’ final weekend opponent before Big Ten play begins, who hosts the Scarlet Knights in a series worth watching. The Osprey are coming off of an NCAA Tournament season, and a hot start has them in position to do the same in 2018. Rutgers’ weekend in Fort Myers will provide a good barometer of the club in Joe Litterio’s fifth season.

#13 Northwestern (3-7) LW: 13

For the Wildcats, they don’t occur over one weekend, but the Wildcats have a road game at Notre Dame on April 11, before hosting the Irish on May 15. If Northwestern’s program continues to build under Spencer Allen, an Irish-Wildcat I-80 rivalry can blossom into one of the region’s best inter-conference matchups.

 

The Weekend 10

Between the Dairy Queen Classic, road series at ranked opponents San Diego, Stanford and Texas, it was a big weekend in the Big Ten. Who came up with the best and biggest performances? Here’s a look.

Michigan State Soph. CF Justin Antoncic

Anchoring the Spartan lineup in the three-hole, Antoncic paced a Michigan State lineup that appears to be turning the corner after their showing in the Dairy Queen Classic. In MSU’s 4-3 win over Arizona, Antoncic went 3-for-4, a part of a .462 weekend which included two doubles and hist first career home run.

Maryland Sr. 1B/RHP Kevin Biondic

Biondic did a bit of everything for Maryland this weekend, earning this week’s nod as the 10 Innings’ Player of the Week. At the plate, Biondic batted .533, collecting two doubles, a triple, and a home run, en route to driving in nine RBI. In the Terps’ 11-4 victory over Ball State, on Sunday, Biondic drove seven runs, a day after earning the save in Maryland’s 7-6 win over Coastal Carolina. On Friday, Biondic pitched a scoreless inning in Maryland’s 11-4 win over Radford.

Purdue Jr. C Nick Dalesandro

Leading a Purdue outfit that scored 29 runs in three games, Dalesandro recorded a base hit in eight of 11 at-bats, recording a pair of doubles, four RBI and scored three runs. Dalesandro also showed his ability from behind the plate, throwing out three runners on the bases in Purdue’s Sunday contest at Stetson.

Indiana Soph. OF Matt Gorski

Gorski powered an Indiana lineup that took three of four games, on the road, against San Diego. A part of a team that batted .329 on the weekend, Gorski led all Hoosiers with nine hits over 17 at-bats, to bat .529. With a double and a triple on the weekend, Gorski drove in five runs.

Rutgers Fr. LHP Eric Heatter

For the second time in three weeks, Eric Heatter is 10 Innings’ Freshman of the Week. Against Old Dominion, the Scarlet Knight rookie pitched seven innings of scoreless baseball, scattered four hits and struck out six batters, while walking two. Old Dominion rallied with four runs in the ninth to win, 4-3, leaving Heatter with a no-decision, after the freshman lowered his ERA to 1.59 over 17 innings to start his career.

Michigan Soph. LHP Tommy Henry

Henry did not receive a decision in Michigan’s 3-2 loss against Stanford, in the first game of their Saturday doubleheader, but the southpaw’s performance earned him this week’s top pitcher honor. At No. 5 Stanford, Henry held the Cardinal to five hits over a career-high, seven scoreless innings, striking out five batters while only walking one.

Michigan Soph. RHP Karl Kauffmann

Michigan did win the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader, due in large part to another strong start, this time by Henry’s classmate, Kauffmann. In 6.2 innings, Kauffmann struck out 10 batters, keeping the Cardinal off the scoreboard while scattering three hits and issuing five walks. Kauffmann’s strong start lead to the first loss for Stanford this season, in Michigan’s 5-0 victory.

Purdue Jr. 1B Jacson McGowan

McGowan saw an 11-game hit streak end on Sunday, but the Boilermaker put together a weekend that has him the conference’s player of the year front-runner. McGowan picked up two of McGowan’s five hits over nine at-bats were home runs, the slugger drew four walks, drove in six runs and crossed home six times. For the season, McGowan has a triple-slash of .447/.533/1.000.

Illinois Soph. 2B Michael Massey

The Dairy Queen Classic MVP, Massey tortured Pac-12 pitching to lead Illinois to a 3-0 weekend and the tournament title. Massey collected two hits in every game, finishing the weekend 6-for-12, with half of his knocks being two-baggers, to slug .750 in Minneapolis.

Illinois Soph. RHP Ryan Thompson

Joining Massey on the All-Tournament Team, Thompson was received the victory in Illinois’ first two games. Against UCLA, Massey came into a bases loaded, one-out situation. Against Arizona, the reliever stepped on the mound with a runner at first, no outs and the game tied, 3-3. Thompson did not allow a base runner over his four innings of work.

March 2-4 Weekend Preview

Webb's Words: Sit back and enjoy a very big weekend

I planned on being in Palo Alto this weekend for Michigan's series at Stanford. It was after a long debate, I also wanted to be in Minneapolis for the Dairy Queen Classic, and I also wanted to be in San Diego for Indiana's series against USD. Unfortunately I can't be at three places at once, and last month I booked a flight to San Francisco. Wanting to visit northern California for the first time, wanting to walk around Stanford's campus, ideally enjoy good weather, and see a competitive four-game series, tilted the scales in the favor of Michigan-Stanford.

Unfortunately matters at home have kept me from traveling anywhere this weekend. But as I sit back and scan the weekend ahead for the Big Ten, that isn't a bad thing. In fact, it's probably the best possible outcome, this is a weekend to sit back and enjoy what is set to take place in the Big Ten.

From Florida, to the Twin Cities, down to Texas and out to California, there are big games and big series up and down the conference. The Dairy Queen Classic has No. 11 UCLA, a traditional power in Arizona, and Washington taking on Illinois, Michigan State, and Minnesota. Down in Texas, Spencer Allen takes Northwestern to Austin, where the Wildcats can take in an incredible environment and see what it's like to be a college baseball blueblood in No. 21 Texas, as they look to continue building up the program in Evanston. Ohio State has a contest against No. 17 Southern Mississippi in Pensacola, Fla. In California, No. 5 Stanford and No. 30 San Diego respectively await the Wolverines and Hoosiers. Even Nebraska's series at Wichita State, and Iowa heading to UAB, represent quality series.

I cannot remember a weekend where this many big games littered one weekend for Big Ten programs. And as the conference seeks to build off of placing five teams in regionals for the second time in three years, this is a weekend that can go a long way in ensuring another handful of teams are in the field of 64.

Further wetting the appetite for this weekend's games, Northwestern's games against Texas will be on the Longhorn Channel, Saturday's Ohio State-Southern Mississippi will be shown on Cox Sports and Sunday's Michigan-Stanford finale will be on the Pac-12 Network.

It would have been great to see the Golden Gate bridge, hop around Silicone Valley, ride a trolley, and rack up more Delta SkyMiles. But I'll be just fine to sit back, open the laptop, grab the iPad, have too many tabs of Gametracker open, find a television at the appropriate time and enjoy an incredible weekend of Big Ten action.

Wildcats look to sustain momentum, stand against blueblood Longhorns

(Photo courtesy Northwestern Athletics)

Blake Dowson-

Things haven’t gone quite as planned for the Northwestern baseball team so far this season, but an early 2-4 record isn’t anything to panic over.

The Wildcats found themselves in the Big Ten Tournament title game last year, just one win away from the NCAA Tournament. Now the task is for the Wildcats to show they can consistently find themselves in that position, and ultimately end an NCAA Tournament drought that dates back to 1957.

“We have to prove we can be a consistent club,” Northwestern head coach Spencer Allen said. “We want to be one of the top eight teams in the Big Ten every year. It’s a dog fight. There are good baseball teams left out of the Big Ten tournament every year. We want consistency, and to prove that last year wasn’t just a flash in the pan.”

One way to see how you stack up with the top dogs in the Big Ten? Schedule an early-season trip to Austin, Texas to take on the Texas Longhorns. One way to prove you belong at the top of the conference? Come away with a couple wins against the perennial power Longhorns.

Scheduling teams like Texas is important to Allen; he says he’s not into the false confidence a team gets by beating up on a bunch of second-rate programs.

“One, we want to figure out what we’re about,” he said. “I’m not into the false confidence of a great preseason record when you’re not playing anyone. Rutgers is playing miami, Michigan State is going out west. Nebraska always schedules tough. So the conference feels the same way. Two, I want our guys to be excited to go play. They’ll remember this trip. The opportunity to go play at Texas in front of a couple thousand fans is special.”

Allen and the Wildcats will have to try to keep pace with a Longhorn order that produced 20 runs in a three-game series against LSU in Baton Rouge. On the offensive side, it starts and ends with junior Willie Bourbon.

Bourbon, a junior this year for the Wildcats, is off to a great start, hitting .375 with an absurd 1.385 OPS. Bourbon has hit two doubles, two triples, three home runs, and has driven in 10 runs, while no other Northwestern hitter has driven in over three.

“Willie has been a three-year starter now,” Allen said. “As a freshman, I think he struck out 73 times. I’m happy for him because he stayed with it. He kept working.”

Bourbon will need his pitching staff to keep Texas somewhat in check, however, and that’s something the Wildcats have struggled with this year.

Northwestern has given up 51 runs in six games this season, adding up to a team ERA of 7.96 and opponents’ batting average of .333. Those numbers won’t win many games, especially when Northwestern runs into good pitching, like it did against Kansas and again this weekend against Texas and the entire Big Ten season.

This weekend poses a critical opportunity to get the pitching staff back on track against a really good team.

“Number one, we need to get a little bit more quality starts,” Allen said of his staff. “Getting guys into the sixth inning, starting the seventh. We need more consistency out of the bullpen. I think those are a couple things. We just need a little bit more [out of everyone].”

A 2-4 record or not, Allen said he’s happy with where his team is at. He said there is no sense of urgency this weekend to win games, just an urgency to get consistent.

If his team does that, he said they are on the right track.

“It’s everything to do with how we’re playing...Kansas this [past] weekend, they threw two or three second round draft picks. They were really good. I’m looking at how we’re playing. We need to tighten things up on the pitching staff. We’ve been facing some good arms, and I’m happy with where we’re at.”

What to watch for

Pacific Coast series

Three big series will take place in California this weekend, each with a varying degree of importance.

In San Diego, Indiana looks to lend further credence to their stature as one of the country's top teams and potential regional host. The 17th-ranked Hoosiers have a four-game set at No. 30 San Diego, providing Chris Lemonis' club with an opportunity to capture a resume-highlighting series. After dropping their season opener to Oklahoma, the Hoosiers have reeled off six consecutive victories. Wins over Coastal Carolina and South Alabama should hold up nicely as the season progresses, but the weekend set at San Diego was thought to be the non-conference highlight of IU's schedule, and, with USD opening the season 7-2, sweeping through last weekend's Tony Gwynn Legacy with victories over Arizona, Arkansas and Michigan, it is indeed the defining series of Indiana's pre-Big Ten slate. Indiana's powerful offense will be tested by a Torero staff which is holding the opposition to a .221 average.

Up the Pacific Coast Highway, driving through Orange, Los Angeles, and Ventura counties, Penn State has a Saturday through Monday series at UC Santa Barbara. The Nittany Lions head to the Golden State at 3-3, after going 0-3 last weekend in Cary, N.C., falling twice by one run. Looking to turn the tide themselves, Santa Barbara enters the weekend at 2-6 on the young season. The Guachos have allowed at least six runs in eight of their contests and could be the opponent Penn State needs, as the Nittany Lions are batting just .204 on the season. The series may not hold the significance of the clash in San Diego, but it's important Penn State shows an ability to bounce back from a tough weekend if the team is to reach the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2012.

Further north, in the Bay Area, Michigan has a four-game series at Stanford. The Wolverines have dropped four games in a row, sitting at 2-5 on the season, while the fifth-ranked Cardinal have yet to lose a game, looking to build on an 0-8 start. In the offseason, Michigan head coach Erik Bakich turned down an offer to become Stanford's head coach. Any thoughts surrounding a homecoming for the northern California native is secondary to Bakich, as he looks to get his team back on track, while squaring off against on the country's best teams. Stanford holds a 2.12 team ERA, a stinginess that will be tough on Michigan, who enters the weekend with a .219 team average. If Michigan can come away with a pair of victories, they will still have 12 weekends to show this is a reload season, a weekend split at Stanford may be as good of a showing as any conference team. If the Cardinal keep the Wolverines out of the win column and drop the Maize and Blue to 2-9, it's hard to see the 2018 season as anything but a rebuilding season.

Dairy Queen Classic

The stakes are obviously high for Big Ten teams in this week's Dairy Queen Classic which is doubling as second round of Big Ten/Pac-12 challenges.

With U.S. Bank Stadium, Minnesota's second home to Siebert Field, welcoming conference brethren Illinois and Michigan State, and Arizona, UCLA and Washington from the Pac-12, three days of three inter-sectional showdowns will take place. For each Big Ten team, the first weekend of March has the chance to set the tone for the rest of the season.

The Illini are 3-3 on the season, after winning their final two games of last weekend, knocking off Coastal Carolina and VCU. It's been an up-and-down season for Illinois, the offense has been there for a few games, then disappeared. Liekwise, stout pitching will arise for a game then be hard to find the rest of the weekend. Three good-to-very good teams will test Illinois' ability to get all gears going at the same time. Illinois has missed the last two Big Ten Tournaments, on the heels of appearing in two regionals in three years. To get back to their 2011-2015 run, Illinois will need to pitch, field and hit, and all there areas will be tested this weekend.

For the Spartans, an 0-5 start to the season has quickly faded with Michigan State's two wins to cap their weekend at Pepperdine. Now, can Michigan State's momentum continue? Michigan State's weekend rotation of Riley McCauley, Ethan Landon and Mason Erla have been the conference's best rotation out of the gate. The trio have combined to pitch 32 innings, have struck out 41 batters while only walking five hitters. The anchor that has held Michigan State back is a .208 team average, Jake Boss' team has yet to score more than five runs in a game, three contests saw them score just one run, with three others having the production top out at four runs. By comparison, MSU's 20 runs on the season is just one more than how many runs Ohio State's Noah McGowan has driven in. Is this the weekend the Green and White bats get going? It'll be a tall task. UCLA enters the weekend with a 1.88 ERA, Arizona is second in the Pac-12 at 2.01 and Washington checks in at an impressive 2.43.

The host Gophers may be the team best able to take on the Pac-12 trio, and also the one with the most to gain this weekend.

Minnesota's roster is littered with three and four-year starters. Alex Boxwell, Micah Coffey, Toby Hanson, Luke Pettersen, and Terrin Vavra were all key contributors in Minnesota's 2016 Big Ten championship team. With eight of nine starters back, and a schedule that'll give Minnesota many opportunities to capture impressive victories, this was viewed as a season where the elements could line up for the Gophers to reach their first super regional. That quest starts in earnest this weekend. Ranked 11th, UCLA is one of three ranked opponents Minnesota will face in March. In two weeks Minnesota travels to No. 7 TCU. The following weekend the Gophers host reigning Big Ten champion Nebraska to kick off conference play, the following week it's No. 23 St. John's turn to travel to the Twin Cities. Compiling a 7-2 weekend in February, Minnesota is off to a strong start, avoiding troubling losses that can stymie regional hopes before aspirations can take flight. Now, behind an offense batting .327, the Gophers can add quality wins to a stout record, and kick off a daunting month in grand style. Arizona's .221 average and Washington's .257, may provide the kind of opponent, good but not overly powerful, that will help a young Minnesota pitching staff encounter confidence-building success that will pay dividends throughout the month and, ideally for John Anderson, a long postseason.

Feltner back in the spotlight

For a second consecutive weekend, Ohio State junior right-handed pitcher Ryan Feltner will toe the rubber against one of the country's best teams. Joining Ohio State in the Cox Diamond Invitational are Eastern Michigan, Nicholls State and No. 17 Southern Mississippi. A Last week, Feltner pitched six innings against No. 2 Oregon State, allowing four runs off six hits, striking out six batter while issuing two walks. Feltner received a no-decision as Oregon State rallied to a 10-8 victory with six runs in the bottom of the eighth. At 5-3, the Buckeyes have started the season solidly, there isn't a marquee victory, but two of the three losses are likely to a national seed in Oregon State. The game against Southern Mississippi gives the team another opportunity to secure a strong non-conference victory as look to return to the NCAA Tournament, and will have their top prospect on the mound as they do so.

Burke Granger-

After turning heads in the Michigan State bullpen over the past two seasons, McCauley is making the transition to the rotation as a junior. Serving as the Spartan closer last year, McCauley posted a 17.18 strikesouts per nine innings pitched, to go with a 2.10 ERA and nine saves. Carrying that momentum into the Cape Cod League, McCauley earned All-Star honors by continuing to miss bats with a 15.51 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and 1.92 ERA for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox.

Undersized, but athletically built, at 5’11” and 205 pounds, McCauley’s frame offers little by way of future projection. In short bursts, McCauley’s fastball is an above average-to-plus pitch at 92-94 MPH, though an AL scout disclosed that the right-hander has trouble maintaining that velocity as a starter.

McCauley’s best pitch is a late-breaking low-80s slider with two-plane break and 10-to-4 movement. Though he’s able to generate swings and misses with both pitches, control has been a challenge throughout his collegiate career, evidenced by a 4.07 walks per nine innings pitched rate. These factors combined with the lack of a third offering were reasons the scout cited for projecting McCauley’s future home in a bullpen as a professional.

A member of our a preseason 10 Innings first-team selection, McCauley’s move to the rotation has provided mixed results thus far. He was brilliant on opening weekend against Fresno State, allowing one run off two hits with 12 strikeouts and two walks, but he was hit hard last weekend against Pepperdine, being struck for five runs off 11 hits in 4.2 innings, striking out six batters and walking two.

As Michigan State looks to build off of their weekend win at Pepperdine, McCauley will take the ball to start the Dairy Queen Classic in Minneapolis this weekend against Washington.

10 Innings' Scouting Grades

Fastball- 55/60

Slider- 60/65

Control- 40/50

After spending three seasons as Iowa's director of baseball operations, Desi Druschel stepped into the role of pitching coach, following the transition of assistant Scott Brickman to a role within the university's Iowa Foundation. At the forefront of the Hawkeyes embracing of technology, which has aided the program's revival, Druschel now leads a pitching unit head coach Rick Heller called the deepest he has had in his time in Iowa City. Here's Druschel in this week's Coachspeak.

In your time on the staff with Coach Brickman, what did you learn from him that you absolutely were going to continue implementing and carry on?

Specific to baseball, Scott was really good with the running game and had some great strategies to contain that critical part of the game. He was also a master at pitch-calling and use of off-speed pitches.

I’m always trying to figure out what makes people successful – what are the traits they possess that are major players in their success. Scott’s biggest trait is he is the ultimate listener. Couple that with his calm demeanor and those are the two things that made him as successful as he was. While we certainly continue with many of his baseball specific attributes it is these more holistic traits that I’ve benefited from the most. Scott is also still in town, knows the staff and is a great resource.

The Hawkeye program has gained national attention for its acceptance and use of technology. How have you personally embraced the continued development of technology, knowing it is an ever-changing, ever-improving field?

Whether it be professional, college, high school or youth baseball, technology is playing a heavy hand in it all. Some form of tech has become affordable for nearly everyone.

At our level and the professional level more expensive technology is now become more common. Through donors and Coach Heller’s willingness to invest, we have had the opportunity to be at the forefront of technological advances with Trackman, Pitchgrader, HitTrax, Senaptec, Rapsodo, BATS!, Synergy and other forms. As director of operations. I spent a great deal of time with the implementation of all of these different pieces of equipment. I got my hands dirty and have learned so much. It’s exciting to be able to implement technology in my current position.

A big thing now is that technology has become so popular that having the knowledge and background to implement effectively is the latest skill sought for programs and organizations. Having an understanding of what the data says and the ability to bring it to the field without sacrificing best skill acquisition practices is where the real challenge lies.

The technology is so good that I’ve come to the point where I’m reliant on it. And there is more coming. Every Power 5 conference team, probably nearly every Division I team will have Synergy next season. I’ve got my eye on a couple things for the offseason too.

I’ve always been interested in this kind of stuff so needless to say I’m enjoying seeing it become a major component of college and professional baseball

Iowa has appeared in two regionals in three years, success not seen in a generation. What steps do you take to not be content with what's already occurred and fight back complacency?

Our entire staff is from Iowa, we understand what the Tigerhawk means in our state. We have all followed the Hawks our entire lives. Personally I feel a great responsibility to all of those Hawk fans out there.

While Coach Heller has resurrected Iowa baseball and breathed life and enthusiasm into the program, I don’t think anybody is satisfied with where were are at. We are certainly proud of what the program has done but have so much more to accomplish. Complacency is a real thing; there is no doubt we have to deal with it on a regular basis. But I don’t think it’s what Coach Heller or the program is about. All of our staff could be described as scrappers and complacency is just not the way we live our lives.

Personally I’ve got a couple people to serve as checks as I don’t ever want to be described as an entitled person or coach. With all of the resources and recent program success it is easy to envision complacency or entitlement.

When you have a weekend rotation that needs entirely replaced, is there excitement in seeing who steps up and fills role or is that overwhelmed by the anxiety of the uncertainty?

All of the above! While there is some anxiety and certainly uncertainty there is also a great deal of excitement. We have probably the deepest pitching staff since Coach Heller took over the program. There have been guys working really hard, more or less waiting in the weeds for a shot. We’ve also had several guys come into the program with serious arm injuries sustained after commitment but before enrollment. Coach Heller stuck with those guys and they have been training diligently, just waiting for an opportunity. Long story short, we have capable guys on staff, 1-15. The early part of the season will determine how the roles are filled for league play.

Your one-sentence, elevator pitch to who you are as a coach:

I think one of the reasons why Coach Heller gave me this opportunity is that we are similar in a lot of ways, player development is what I’m about and what the program is about.

 

March 1 Power Rankings

The calendar has turned to March, which means the college baseball season is in full swing. With teams from Minneapolis to College Park hosting midweek games, soon teams will be spending spring break playing four, five, and upwards to six games a week, with conference play to commence shortly thereafter.

But before the first games of March are played, this week’s power rankings highlights each teams MVP for the games played in February. From freshman emerging on the scene, seniors having breakout seasons and veterans pitching to their tried and true form, he’s a look at who led the way in February.

Previous power rankings: Week 1

#1 Indiana (6-1) Last Week: 1

Pauly Milto. The junior right-handed pitcher has opened the 2018 season with a 15-inning scoreless inning streak, giving Indiana a much needed stabilizer in a weekend rotation that has been inconsistent around him. Holding the opposition to a .104 average, Milton has struck out 13 batters and walked only two.

#2 Purdue (6-1) LW: 2

Nick Dalensandro. Dalesandro doesn’t lead Purdue in average, home runs or RBI, but the junior catcher has a team-leading .484 on-base percentage to headline a stout all-around effort. Dalesandro is batting .360, has stolen three bases and thrown out four baserunners in nine attempts.

#3 Minnesota (7-2) LW: 9

Jeff Fasching. Tossing 7.1 innings over three February outings, Fasching has yet to allow a run in leading a revamped Gopher bullpen. Minnesota’s Big Ten-leading .327 average will have them in the title chase, but strong pitching will be vital to a lengthy postseason run. Fasching is settling into the role of key relief with an 8:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

#4 Iowa (6-1) LW: 7

Nick Allgeyer. The Hawkeye coaching staff was eager to see what a healthy Allgeyer would bring to a completely new weekend rotation. It’s easy to see why. In 12 innings over two starts, Allgeyer has allowed only one run, for a .75 ERA, eight hits and has struck out 15 batters against three weeks. Allgeyer has nicely stepped into Iowa’s ace role.

#5 Ohio State (5-3) LW: 6

Noah McGowan. Matching his 2017 production, McGowan’s 19 RBI through two weeks leads the Big Ten and is second in the country. With a .429 average, four doubles and three home runs, the senior first baseman has become the ideal cleanup batter for Ohio State.

#6 Nebraska (5-3) LW: 5

Luis Alvarado. Stepping into the Friday role for the Huskers in only his second season pitcher, Alvarado has been the ace Darin Erstad needs, especially as Nebraska’s pitching depth continues to be ravaged by injuries. Alvarado holds a 2.53 ERA over 10.2 innings, striking out 14 batters and walking three.

#7 Illinois (3-3) LW: 10

Bren Spillane. While preseason All-10 Innings picks Jack Yalowitz, Michael Massey and Zac Taylor have had slow starts, Spillane is enjoying a breakout season in helping Illinois stay afloat in February. Boasting a .391 average, the junior first baseman has showed some speed, with three steals, and some pop, with three doubles.

#8 Maryland (4-4) LW: 3

Taylor Bloom. A four-game losing streak saw Maryland tumble in this week’s power rankings. But with Bloom pitching the way he has, prolonged losing streaks should be few and far between. Bloom has been steady, pitching seven innings in both of his two Friday starts, allowing four runs for a 2.57 ERA.

#9 Penn State (3-3) LW: 4

Justin Hagenman. First-year Penn State pitching coach Josh Newman has to be delighted with the results of his new ace. Hagenman has allowed only one run over two starts, striking out 12 batters in 11 innings. The junior right-hander has issued only two walks and scattered nine hits.

#10 Michigan State (2-5) LW: 13

Ethan Landon. It’s been a bounce-back season for the right-hander who was removed from the Spartan rotation last season. Starting a third straight year as Jake Boss’ Saturday starter, Landon is off to a strong start, allowing three runs over 11.1 innings. Pitching to a 2.38 ERA, Landon has struck out 15 batters while yet to issue a walk.

#11 Michigan (2-5) LW: 8

Alec Rennard. The right-handed pitcher has done his part to ensure his senior season in Ann Arbor isn’t a rebuilding year. Michigan’s Friday starter, Rennard has allowed two runs over 11 innings, conceded nine hits, issued one walk and struck out seven batters. Rennard’s first two starts are the outings Michigan needs as a green team finds its form.

#12 Rutgers (3-4) LW: 11

Eric Heatter. College baseball hasn’t been too difficult for the freshman left-hander so far. After earning Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for a four-inning scoreless outing against Miami, Heatter allowed three runs over six innings against Boston College in his first career start. With 10 strikeouts and one walk, Heatter gives RU a strong starting option.

#13 Northwestern (2-4) LW: 12

Willie Bourbon. Bourbon has 24 at-bats through the Northwestern’s six games. Bourbon’s nine hits, for a .375 average, break down as: two singles, two doubles, two triples, three home runs. That adds up 24 bases. That equals a 1.000 slugging percentage.

Week 2 Weekend Observations

What grabbed 10 Innings’ attention the most the second weekend of the season? Here’s a look.

Purdue continues to prove times have changed

Purdue’s five-run ninth inning against Notre Dame on Sunday helped the Boilermakers capture the Alamo Irish Classic. It also was the latest sign things have changed in West Lafayette. After Purdue lost 4-2 in extra innings to the Irish on Saturday, halting their perfect start to the season at 5-0, the Boilermakers appeared in over their heads against their in-state rival on Sunday. But, down to their final three outs and trailing by four, Purdue showed the character of the culture Mark Wasikowski continues to mold is one of resiliency. With a 6-1 record heading into March, Purdue is receiving votes in the NCBWA poll for the second straight week, and showed they can go toe-to-toe with a team that previously took a weekend series at LSU. Purdue is far from untalented, no team in the conference had more than Purdue’s five preseason All-10 Innings selections, but more evidence continues to mount that Purdue is back among the top of the conference.

Michigan’s growing pains

With the turnover Michigan experienced, 11 draft picks tends to remove a few talented players from a program, it was expected the start of the season for the Wolverines may be a bit tough as newcomers take on Division I college baseball for the first time, and previous role players take on bigger burdens. But the degree to which Michigan has scuffled has been surprising. The competition was stout, but an 0-3 showing in the Tony Gwynn Legacy, combined with a Monday night defeat against San Diego State has Michigan sitting at 2-5, ahead of its four-game set at #5 Stanford. Michigan is pitching at a serviceable level, holding a 4.50 ERA, but the team is batting just .219 and has the Big Ten’s worst fielding percentage at  .950, yet to play an error-free game. Before needing to replace six starts, last year, Michigan finished second in the country with a .983 fielding percentage.

Don’t count Michigan State out just yet

Michigan State wasn’t playing bad over it’s first five games, the Spartans suffered three defeats of one run, but an 0-5 start is an 0-5 start, and Spartan faithful couldn’t be blamed if they were to have concern. But it is worth remembering five games is less than 10% of a 56-game season, and that all teams will scuffle throughout the season, some at the start, some in the middle, some at the end. For the Spartans, their skid ended on Saturday, before starting a new streak, this time on the winning side, in capturing the final two games of their series at Pepperdine. Through their first seven games, Michigan State has shown it will have the pitching necessary to compete for a conference title. Senior right-hander Ethan Landon is pitching to his 2016 self, Riley McCauley has stepped nicely into the Friday role, and the team may have a star in Sunday starter Mason Erla. As a team MSU has a 3.86 ERA, with 68 strikeouts against 17 walks. The offense is still morbid, the team is batting at a .208 clip, two wins and a strong pitching unit should give the Green and White optimism heading into this weekend’s loaded Dairy Queen Classic.

Ohio State’s sustains its offensive mite

Ohio State scored 36 runs in four games during the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge, showing its opening weekend outburst of 34 runs wasn’t a fluke. It was worth watching if this would hold true, as Oregon State and Utah figured to offer better pitching than Canicius and Milwaukee, whom the Bucks played the weekend before. A year after batting .260, the fourth-worst mark in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes boast a healthy .311 average after eight games. Oregon State did not throw their ace Luke Heimlich on Friday, he faced Nebraska on Thursday, but Ohio State striking the Beavers for eight runs, five off of a pair of Connor Pohl home runs, should offer a level of confidence that will provide benefits throughout the season. A mighty offense will also help the 5-3 Buckeyes stay afloat if its defense continues to flounder, Ohio State committed nine errors over the weekend, as their .953 fielding percentage beats only Michigan.

Nebraska’s pitching staff may face another hit

Before the season began, Nebraska lost junior right-handed pitcher Chad Luensmann and redshirt freshman lefty Connor Curry to Tommy John surgery. After the first weekend of the season, junior right-hander Robbie Palkert was lost for the season, also needing Tommy John. Now the Huskers are potentially without left-hander Jake McSteen after the junior left his Saturday start against Oregon State with an elbow concern. Nebraska is expecting Reece Eddins back from his own Tommy John surgery at some point this season, but for now, Nebraska’s pitching depth has taken quite the blow, only juniors Nate Fisher and Mitch Steinhoff represent healthy left-handed pitchers. The continued arm injuries may alter Darin Erstad’s plans to use Luis Alvarado as a two-way player. Alvarado, Nebraska’s Friday starter, made his first appearance in the field on Sunday, starting at first base, and promptly went 2-for-5, helping the club to a 7-4 victory over Utah. With a team average of .216 and only 10 extra-base hits, Nebraska can use Alvarado’s bat, but the rash of injuries may take the coaching staff to take an extremely cautious approach to his dual use.

Northwestern’s prowess on the bases

Coaches can be overly optimistic in the offseason, impressive feats can be exaggerated as there is no perspective to how performances would fare with another team on the mound, in the field, and at the plate. But Northwestern head coach Spencer Allen was confident his team would run more in 2018, and rely on speed to make up for some of the loss in power the Wildcats saw graduate, mainly in the form of All-Big Ten selection Joe Hoscheit. So far Allen’s belief has held true.  Highlighted by six steals in Saturday’s 18-12 victory over Kansas, through six games, Northwestern leads the Big Ten with 17 stolen bases in 19 attempts. Northwestern’s 17 stolen bases represents the fifth-most swipes in the country. A trio of player are leading the charge on the bases, with Alex Erro (6-6), Jack Dunn (5-5), and Ben Dickey (4-5) ranked first, second, and third in the Big Ten. The aggressiveness on the bases have helped Northwestern average 6.5 runs per contents, even through the team is batting .238.

The Weekend 10

The second weekend of the season saw Indiana, Minnesota and Rutgers converge in Port Charlotte, Fla. In games where Big Ten teams didn’t play each other, Indiana and Rutgers tangled on Friday, the conference went 6-1, outscoring the competition 76-28. Helping their teams to 3-0 weekends, Hoosier Pauly Milto was named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, while Gopher Terrin Vavra was named the top player of the week.

Across the Gulf of Mexico in the Lone Star State, Purdue continued it’s strong start, going 3-1 to claim the Alamo Irish Classic. Here are the players that powered the Boilermakers to the title and who else shined in the Big Ten over the final weekend of February.

Northwestern Jr. 1B Willie Bourbon

Borboun dialed up quite a weekend as Northwestern had a three-game series at Kansas. Going 6-14, the Wildcat drove in eight runs, scored six, and connected on two home runs.

Purdue Jr. C Nick Dalesandro

Dalesandro capped a big weekend in the Alamo Irish Classic with the game-tying RBI and scored the go-ahead run in Purdue’s thrilling 8-7 victory over Notre Dame on Sunday, to claim the title. Dalesandro batted a team-best .467 over Purdue’s four games in San Antonio, hitting a double and a home run, adding three stolen bases.

Michigan State Fr. RHP Mason Erla

The 10 Innings Freshman of the Week, Erla helped Michigan State clinch its weekend series at Pepperdine with his first collegiate win. Against the Waves, Erla pitched five scoreless innings, surrended just two hits and struck out four batters without issuing a walk.

Nebraska Fr. 3B/OF Jaxon Hallmark

Hallmark went 6-for-15 with two walks and drove in five runs as Nebraska went 2-2 in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge. Hallmark drove in three of Nebraska’s four runs scored against Oregon State, the No. 2 team in the country.

Purdue Fr. RHP Bo Hofstra

En route to being tabbed the Big Ten Freshman of the Week, Hofstra appeared in two games in the Alamo Irish Classic. The right-hander totaled 4.2 innings over the weekend, allowing one run off two hits and a walk, and recorded a save.

Ohio State Sr. 1B/OF Noah McGowan

After leading the country with 12 RBI over opening weekend, McGowan helped Ohio State score 36 runs in four games in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge, driving in seven runs. Needing just two weekend to match his 2017 RBI total, McGowan, the 10 Innings Player of the Week, batted .450 with three doubles and a home run in Surprise.

Indiana Jr. RHP Pauly Milto

On Saturday, Milto recorded his first career complete game, tossing a four-hit shutout in Indiana’s 4-0 win over Boston College. The right-hander struck out eight batters without issuing a walk, running his scoreless innings streak to 15 innings to start the season.

Ohio State Soph. 3B Connor Pohl

Behind the cleanup-hitting McGowan in Ohio State’s batting order, Pohl put together a strong weekend in his own right. Going 7-for-19 in Arizona, Pohl drove in six runs, cross home twice and hit a pair of home runs against Oregon State, in Ohio State’s 10-8 loss on Saturday.

Illinois Jr. 1B Bren Spillane

The graduation of Pat McInerney left a sizable hole in the heart of the Illini batting. Through two weeks junior Bren Spillan has nicely fill the vacancy. Spillane went 7-for-16 over the weekend, using two doubles, a triple and a home run to drive in seven runs.

Minnesota Jr. SS Terrin Vavra

The Big Ten Player of the Week, Vavra powered a Minnesota that twice scored at least 14 runs in Florida. Vavra recorded three hits in every going, going 9-for-15, with two triples, and scored eight runs. Vavra’s .433 is second in the Big Ten.

Feb. 22-25 Weekend Preview

Vaughn's Ready For His Moment

(Photo courtesy Maryland Athletics)

Blake Dowson-

When John Szefc left Maryland to take the head coaching position at Virginia Tech, he handed the ball to Rob Vaughn, to put it in terms we all understand here on this site.

Vaughn isn’t coming into a six-run lead in the ninth inning, and he’s not in line for a save with his new Terrapin club. But he’s in a good spot, let’s say something like a one-run lead, coming into a clean sixth inning. He credits the transition from Coach Szefc to himself for that.

“Big picture, my goal was to be a head coach by the time I was 35. I didn’t know it would happen at 29,” Vaughn said. "The transition to Coach Szefc leaving, to being in the athletic director's office talking about the job, to getting the job, it happened really quickly and really smoothly."

The lead Vaughn has comes from what Szefc left for the 30-year-old first-time head coach: a roster that includes both the 10 Innings Preseason Pitcher and Player of the Year, Taylor Bloom and Marty Costes, and depth behind them both on the mound and in the field.

"I’ve recruited a lot of these position players, and we're working on more depth at those positions. But when you can roll a No. 1 and No. 2 like Taylor Bloom and Tyler Blohm out there, that’s comforting. We have two very reliable guys to throw out there…guys that have a lot of experience. It’s rare in college baseball to have good, experienced seniors…we have lots of those guys."

Vaughn could blow through the final few innings for a win, if a check in the win column was what he is after. It could be a Big Ten title. His team certainly has the talent. It could be making or hosting a super regional.

But to hear it from him, wins and losses and tournament berths aren’t exactly how he is going to measure success. He wants those things to be a byproduct of something much bigger.

“We have a vision for where we’re going…we have our steps along the way,” Vaughn said. “My goal has nothing to do with the end product. We spend so much time getting [the players] to buy into the process and trusting the results will take care of themselves. We want to play with freedom, unafraid to crash and burn. [Wednesday] night we got beat by a good William & Mary team, but it was one of those things where I thought the energy was great…we just didn’t execute.”

The loss evened Maryland's record on the young season after the Terrapins took two out of three in Knoxville against Tennessee last weekend, a statement series win for Vaughn to open with. Eight months after Szefc handed the ball to him, Vaughn got to hand the ball to Bloom to get the season rolling, a welcoming arm to get his head coaching career started. Bloom did nothing other than strike out nine Volunteers over seven scoreless innings and second baseman Nick Dunn pounded three home runs.

The non-conference slate doesn’t get any easier from here, with series against Bryant and East Carolina coming up, as well as games versus Coastal Carolina and No. 6 North Carolina. And the conference schedule includes Indiana, Michigan, Purdue, and Nebraska.

Vaughn said the most important thing he can do this season is build bonds with his guys, especially the pitching staff, who he hasn’t had a ton of contact with during his time in College Park. After that happens, things start to fall into place.

"I caught in college, I’ve caught professionally, I’ve caught my whole life, so I’ve spent a ton of time working with pitchers,” he said. "…knowing them on an intimate level, talking about things as a staff, knowing pitchers really well, that’s important. [I want to] spend a lot of time just hanging out with them, getting to know them, what makes each guy tick. that’s the root of everything."

It’s a lot to take on in year one for a 30-year-old head coach, but Vaughn is in a good position to succeed. He said himself before the season he wouldn’t have accepted the position if he had felt it wasn’t the right position to be able to succeed.

And so it’s so far, so good. But then again, it’s only the sixth inning for Vaughn. And we all know the later into a game it gets, the harder it is to get outs.

Webb's Words: The Big Ten is a worthy foe to the Pac-12

Chris Webb-

In the summer of 2013, I spoke to Erik Bakich on his experience over his first year in Ann Arbor. I asked whether the season had gone as expected, what the program needed to do to return to its past glory, the state of Michigan recruiting.

Each topic also reflected the state of the Big Ten. Meeting expectations was dependent on the team reaching the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2013 and how the Wolverines stacked up against their conference foes. Returning to the top of the conference would require Michigan bringing in players better than their conference peers. At the time, more and more Big Ten programs were gaining traction in recruiting and finding the right players to make

Indiana captured the attention of the country with their run to Omaha, and the Big Ten produced two NCAA Tournament teams that year, Illinois was the other, for a second straight year. Prior to 2012, the Big Ten only sent multiple teams to the tournament in twice of the previous six seasons.

The conference was getting better and Bakich spoke to how it was becoming a destination for top baseball players throughout the country. His sentiment was reflected in one bold statement, stating he believed the Big Ten not only could be a conference viewed as one of the best, but have a deserved place at the Power 5 table that one wouldn't bat an eye towards. Bakich alluded to the depth of the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences and how they'll have a leg up, he previously coached within both conferences, but stated the Big Ten could and would hold its own against the Pac-12 and Big XII.

That time has come.

When it comes to placing teams in the NCAA Tournament, the ACC and SEC will always be 1-2 or 2-1. Geographically advantages will carry the day, less road games, more time outside in a natural practice element, the excess of state lotteries to aid recruiting, those are all advantages Big Ten programs will never have.

But for the other Power 5 conferences, the Big Ten can and has been an equal, if not better peer. Outside of the ACC and SEC, the Big Ten is the only conference to have at least five teams make in the NCAA Tournament in two of the last three years, sending 13 teams, from eight different programs, to a regional.

This weekend, for a second year in a row, the Big Ten - Pac-12 Baseball Challenge brings Nebraska and Ohio State together to take on #2 Oregon State and Utah, in Surprise, Ariz. In Nebraska and Oregon State, the respective reigning conference champions square off. In Ohio State and Utah, two 2016 conference champions can be found (Ohio State won the 2016 Big Ten Tournament, Utah were the Pac-12 champs.)

As the Big Ten looks to avenge a 2-6 showing last year, the eight games are just 21 games between the Big Ten and Pac-12 over the next two weeks. This year's Dairy Queen Classic doubles as another Big Ten/Pac-12 challenge, with Illinois, Michigan State and host Minnesota taking on #26 Arizona, #12 UCLA and Washington.

Next weekend, after they have their own game this Saturday against Arizona in the Town Gwynn Legacy, Michigan caps their spring break with a trip to Stanford for a four-game set in Palo Alto.

And about the Cardinal, Stanford is the storied Pac-12 program that Bakich declined a summer offer to become their next head coach, following the retirement of legendary coach Mark Marquess, opting to stay in Ann Arbor.

That's what Bakich saw five years ago, a conference going toe-to-toe with a conference like the Pac-12, coming out on top as the place to be.

What to watch for this weekend

Can Penn State and Purdue stay perfect?

Penn State and Purdue opened the season with perfect 3-0 records, respectively sweeping Elon and Western Michigan. The competition picks up in week two, with both heading to tournaments which features at least one tough test.

For Penn State, the Nittany Lions return to North Carolina, headed to Cary and the USA Baseball Complex for games against Maryland-Baltimore County, Monmouth, and St. John's. St. John's, enters the weekend the No. 27 team in the country, coming off a midweek win over  #8 North Carolina. It will be a tall task for Penn State to duplicate it's 3-0 weekend, but a strong showing in Cary will give further credence to a turnaround year in State College.

Like Penn State, Purdue will have an opportunity to showing their spotless opening weekend was a true sign of things to come 2018. In Alamo Irish Classic, hosted by Notre Dame in San Antonio, Purdue will take on Saint Louis, Incarnate Wood and the Irish, with a championship or consolation game on Sunday. Notre Dame is on the outside of this week's NCBWA poll, but the Irish took two of three from then No. 11 LSU in Baton Rogue last weekend. The Boilermakers aligned their rotation so ace Tanner Andrews will be on the bump Saturday against their in-state foe.

Who excels in regional-type field?

Penn State and Purdue aren't alone in preparing to take part in a quality tournament this weekend. Throughout the country, stout competition will put Big Ten teams to the test this weekend, resembling could be found in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

In Myrtle Beach, Illinois will see if it can match Indiana's 3-1 showing in a Coastal Carolina-hosted tournament. The Illini will play the Chanticleers twice, as well as face West Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth in the Brittain Resorts Invitaitonal.

In the All-State Sugar Bowl Baseball Classic, Iowa joins a four-team field alongside Ball State, New Orleans and Virginia Tech, looking to build off of their 3-0 weekend.

Out west, Michigan will face San Diego, Arizona and Cal Poly in the Tony Gwynn Legacy in San Diego.

Can Michigan State rebound?

Michigan State's first trip this season to California was a forgettable one. Last weekend, the Spartans dropped all four contests at Fresno State, three by one run. Michigan State returns to the Golden State this weekend for three games at Pepperdine (2-3), looking to reverse course on the young season. Junior right-handed pitcher Riley McCauley shined in his weekend debut, striking out 12 batters in six innings, allowing only one run off two hits. But timely hits alluded Jake Boss' club. Michigan State batted .203 for the weekend, leaving strong starts by McCauley and senior right-hander Ethan Landon (6.2 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 9 SO) fall by the wayside.

Burke Granger & Chris Webb-

The Big Ten’s top pitching prospect is set to be under a heavy scouting eye this weekend. Transitioning into the Friday starter role for Ohio State, junior right-handed pitcher Ryan Feltner will square off against #2 Oregon State in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge.

Splitting time between starting and reliever, Feltner was inconsistent in 2017, going 1-5 with a 6.32 ERA. Fortunes turned in the Cape for the 6’4, 195-pound hurler, as the Russ Ford Outstanding Relief Pitcher winner did not allow an earned run, recording eight saves in 13 appearances.

An above-average athlete with projectable frame, Feltner can sit 93-95 with a fastball that garners plus grades for its sheer velocity, though he has yet to show consistent command with it or any of his secondary offerings. As a Buckeye, Feltner has struck out 124 batters in 136.1 innings but has walked 61 batters. Thrown in the low-80s, his best off-speed pitch is a slider with sharp two-plane break, while a mid-80s changeup gives him a useable third pitch.

"His changeup is OK," said an longtime AL scout. "But he needs to get to it," he added, alluding to Feltner's trouble of locating his fastball and falling behind in counts.

While his in-game showings has caused some scouts to take an approach of wait-and-see, one NL cross-checker spoke to the things that are going to show up no matter what as reason to consider Feltner as a potential top-three round pick.

"You look at the body and the arm," the cross-checker said. "He's a good athlete, the arm works, it isn't impeded in his delivery, and the body can probably add on another 10 pounds, and think of what that will do to his ability to pitch with the velocity he has."

Oregon State features three potential top-two round draft picks, led by second baseman Nick Madrigal, who may be the most talented collegiate hitter in this class. A strong showing against the Beavers can cement Feltner’s place as a top prospect in his own right.

"Teams won't forget this game when debating in the draft room," the AL scout said. "If he does well, they'll use it to support why they should take him. If he does poorly, they'll use it to argue why they shouldn't."

10 Innings' Scouting Grades

FB- 60/65

CV- 35/45

SL- 40/50

CH- 45/55

Control- 35/50

 

All Session Big Ten Baseball Tournament Tickets on Sale

Omaha, Neb. –This spring some of the best college athletes in the country and their fan favorite teams will be welcomed back to TD Ameritrade Park Omaha for the return of the Big Ten Baseball Tournament.

All session tickets for the 2018 Big Ten Baseball Tournament are on sale. The tournament is scheduled to span five days, starting on Wednesday, May 23, culminating in a championship game on Sunday, May 27 at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.

Tickets can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com, by calling 1-800-745-3000, or by visiting the CenturyLink Center Box Office. All session ticket sales are priced as follows:

• Club Level – $55
• Reserved – $50
• College Student/18-under – $25
• Children two and under will not need a ticket

The Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority (MECA) and University of Nebraska-Lincoln are thrilled to co-host the Tournament this year through the year 2022.

Feb. 22 Power Rankings

The 10 Innings Power Rankings are back for 2018. But this year, instead of touching on where the team is or isn’t playing its best baseball, as we rank each team based on the quality of baseball they are playing at the present moment (not necessarily who is best 1-13, though over time they usually align), each week will have a theme where we share insights from each team on that particularly topic.

For week one, we highlight the aces around the Big Ten, noting how each team’s top pitcher opened the season, and how such a showing would impact the their team’s season if it were the norm.

Records through Feb. 20.

#1 Indiana (3-1)

In Indiana’s 6-3 loss to Oklahoma, junior right-handed pitcher Jonathan Stiever allowed six runs off eight hits in five innings, giving up three home runs. Last year, as IU’s Friday starter in 14 games, Stiever was struck for 10 home runs, showing there is a propensity to surrender hard contact. As much as IU has an offense that can bail him out, Stiever will need to curtail the loud hits, if he’s to be the ace that Indiana needs to have a long postseason.

#2 Purdue (3-0)

Purdue’s Tanner Andrews was dominant in his start against Western Michigan. In 6.2 innings, Andrews did not concede a run, scattering four hits without issuing a walk, striking out nine batters. Such a showing isn’t out of the norm for Andrews, he had four scoreless outings last year. But even with those four outings, Andrews finished with a 4.52 ERA, due to four outings where he allowed at least five earned runs. If the Andrews that pitched against WMU can be the Andrews Purdue routinely sees in 2018, last year’s turn-around is only the beginning.

#3 Maryland (2-1)

Andrews didn’t open the season with another weekly honor as that went to Maryland’s Taylor Bloom. Bloom edged out Andrews with a nine-strikeout, zero-walk showing himself, holding Tennessee off of the scoreboard over seven innings of five-hit baseball. Bloom thrives off of command and control, using location and deception to beat hitters. Outings like the one against the Volunteers can lead to back-to-back Big Ten Pitcher of the Year winners for the Terps, and a fourth regional in five years.

#4 Penn State (3-0)

Justin Hagenman nicely assumed the role of the Penn State ace, leading the charge in what ultimately was a sweep of Elon. Pitching to a 5.49 ERA over 80.1 innings in 2017, Hagenman opened his junior season with five innings of scoreless baseball against Elon, striking out seven batters, walking two, and giving up four hits. The .183 opponent’s average carried last year by ace Sal Biasi may be hard to duplicate, but his 3.18 is in reach with showings like Hagenman’s on Friday, which would go a long way in Penn State rebounding from a 18-37 season.

#5 Nebraska (3-1)

Take a bow, Mr. Alvarado. In Luis Alvarado’s first season as a collegiate pitcher, the Husker right-hander logged 10 saves and held a 1.76 ERA in 15.2 innings. Not bad. In Luis Alvarado’s first start as a collegiate pitcher, the Nebraska senior allowed one run off four hits, striking out nine batters in 4.2 innings. That also is not bad. Alvarado has the stuff to take Nebraska’s Friday role and run with it. He still only has 20.1 career innings under his belt, but if the flash of promise can last a starter’s workload, Nebraska will have more than a fighter’s chance to repeat.

#6 Ohio State (3-1)

It was a fairly typical outing for junior right-hander pitcher Ryan Feltner, which unfortunately isn’t what the Ohio State coaches need from their ace in 2018. Entering the season as the Big Ten’s top pitching prospect, Feltner had a 6.32 ERA over 62.2 innings last year, striking out 57 batters but walking 28. Feltner’s line against Canisius on Friday: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 6 SO. Feltner has the ability to power his fastball by batters, but needs to reel in his control and concede fewer hits if the Bucks are to rebound from last year’s 11th-place finish.

#7 Iowa (3-0)

Nick Allgeyer did not receive a decision in Iowa’s 4-3 victory against Toledo on opening day, but the showing by the junior lefty was a victory for Iowa. A year removed from Tommy John surgery, Allgeyer struck out seven batters in five innings, held Toledo to four hits, and walked three batters. After pitching to a 3.44 ERA in 36.2 innings in 2016, Allgeyer was inline to be a weekend starter last year. Now, as Iowa needs to replace its season-ending weekend rotation, Allgeyer is in a position to help the Hawkeyes sustain the program’s rising momentum.

#8 Michigan (2-1)

Any of Michigan’s three weekend starters could serve as the staff ace, but we’ll give the nod to righty Alec Rennard on seniority, and due to the senior being first out of the gate for Michigan. Army mustered only four hits off Rennard in five innings, going down on strikes four times without collecting a walk. Rennard is a strike-thrower, finishing the 2017 season with only 15 in 65 innings. The ability to keep free bases to a minimum will immensely help Michigan as the Wolverines settle in a lineup with six new starters in the field.

#9 Minnesota (2-2)

Moving from midweek starter to weekend headliner, Reggie Meyer gave Minnesota a solid start in their opener at Georgia Tech. Over four innings, Meyer allowed three runs to score, two earned, off four hits, walking a batter and punching out three. Pitching is the big question mark for the Gophers after losing their closer and weekend bookends. As he was on Friday, Meyer doesn’t have to be spectacular, just solid, to help Minnesota seek a second Big Ten title in three years.

#10 Illinois (1-1)

Illinois’ season opener occurred on Sunday, after a cancelled flight prevented them from heading to Texas as planned, then snow postponed an adjusted opener in St. Louis on Saturday. Ty Weber was on the mound when Illinois finally opened the season against South Dakota St.. But given the circumstances, who takes the ball this Friday may change. Weber or not, Illinois will ask more of the left-hander than what he showed last year, going 2-7 with a 5.51 ERA in 78.1 innings. Sunday’s start was a step in the right direction, holding the Jackrabbits to two runs in 4.2 innings, Weber did walk three while striking out three.

#11 Rutgers (1-2)

Senior John O’Reilly had the toughest opponent of any Big Ten pitcher this weekend, taking on Miami. But with 35 starts under his belt, few pitchers in the country have been called upon to start as many games as O’Reilly has. With his background, he knows the three-inning outing against Miami isn’t good enough to help Rutgers move up the Big Ten pecking order. O’Reilly walked three batters and hit another, and gave up five hits as the Hurricane scored seven runs, five earned, off the right-handed pitcher.

#12 Northwestern (1-2)

The lone Wildcat pitcher to make a start in every weekend in 2017, hopes are high in Evanston that Hank Christie can be a leading force in Northwestern sustaining the momentum created in the program last year. The first start to Christie’s sophomore season wasn’t favorable to that cause. In 3.1 innings, Omaha racked up six runs off seven hits. Northwestern will utilize a tandem-system, piggybacking pitchers at a predetermined mark, so Christie may not have the opportunity to put up eye-popping numbers, but with the ball in his hand to open the weekend, his outings can go a long way in setting the tone for the Wildcats throughout the season.

#13 Michigan State (0-4)

The Spartans left Fresno without a win, but their ace Riley McCauley did everything he could to start the season on the right foot. Making the transition from closer to start, McCauley punched out 12 Fresno State Bulldogs in six innings, allowing one run off two hits and two walks. A coach never knows what a pitcher will give him when he’s extended in a new role, Jake Boss will gladly take Friday night’s McCauley for the remaining 50 games of the season.

Week 1 Weekend Observations

The opening weekend is in the books, and it was a fair weekend for the Big Ten, as the conference went 27-16. In five opportunities, the Big Ten picked up wins over nationally-ranked programs, Indiana topped South Alabama and Rutgers wrapped up their weekend with a victory over Miami. Three teams went 3-0, Iowa, Penn State, and Purdue, while Maryland and Michigan won weekend sets, with the Buckeyes and Cornhuskers joined the Hoosiers in going 3-1.

Digging deeper, here’s the top observations from the weekend that was.

Billy Phillips provides the weekend highlight

The box score may not garner a second look, it was a scoreless inning of relief in a lopsided defeat, allowing one hit with one strikeout, but Maryland junior left-handed pitcher Billy Phillips provided the highlight in all of college baseball this weekend.

From Wilmington, Del., Phillips’ sixth inning appearance in the Terrapins’ weekend finale against Tennessee was the first career outing for Phillips, as the southpaw has missed the prior two seasons fighting, recovering and winning a battle against leukemia, dating back to his senior year of high school in 2015.

In a conference where from Ohio State left-handed pitcher Zach Farmer valiantly fought leukemia, as well as former Minnesota pitching coach Todd Oakes, we’re once again reminded of the resolve in humans and the character of the individuals who play and coach in the sport. And as we learned with Farmer and Oakes, nobody fights alone and we’re all there to support Phillips as his leukemia fades more and more into the distance.

Do not question their commitment to baseball

There’s been a noticeable increase in the level of commitment Big Ten baseball programs have seen over the last decade. The most obvious example of the uptick in commitment are the stadium renovations or completely new stadiums seen around the conference. Less noticeable signs of backing are increased salary pools for assistant coaches, more members to support staffs in the form of director of baseball operations and video coordinators, and increased recruiting budgets.

The latest sign of Big Ten programs doing everything they can to field a competitive team was on display this weekend as weather forced Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue alter their schedules.

All three teams were set to fly out of Chicago on Thursday, but each saw their flight canceled. Ultimately Illinois and Purdue had to cancel their trips to Texas. Northwestern did make it to their destination and played three of four games against Omaha, but not before every option was exhausted to ensure games were played.

Purdue ended up with three games in Georgia, Illinois saw their opening day pushed back twice, forced to settle for games against Austin Peay and South Dakota State in St. Louis on Sunday, Northwestern was considering incurring a cost of $30,000 to join Cincinnati and Miami on a charted plane to points out west.

Obviously, no team wants to bag their games on opening weekend. But it does take an administration to sign off on additional costs that come with a change of travel plans at the last second, find transportation, food and lodging for 40 people. That willingness is another testament to the importance of baseball around the Big Ten.

Hoosiers have the necessary experience

As great as a team may look on paper, you never truly know how a team will be once the season starts. Indiana returned a lot of players from their Lexington Regional team, and as reflected in the preseason conference coaches’ poll, were deserving of their near consensus preseason ranking. There will be more than a few home runs hit between Matt Lloyd, Luke Miller and Logan Sowers, already the trio have combined for five, but perhaps more important than the offensive production from the bats, or the scoreless innings Pauly Milto, Cal Krueger and Lloyd can toss on the mound, is the experience Indiana has as a club that’s been in two of the last three NCAA Tournaments and knows what is necessary to win at a high level.

Indiana finished the weekend with a solid 3-1 record, but it wasn’t a weekend full of ease for Chris Lemonis and staff.

Indiana jumped out to a 2-0 lead after their first at-bat in the season opener against Oklahoma, but ultimately lost 6-3. Indiana showed no hangover in cruising to a 5-0 victory over Kansas State on Saturday. On Sunday, IU rallied from 3-0 first-inning deficit to South Alabama in walk-off fashion, 8-4, and after Coastal Carolina grabbed a 5-3 lead with a four-spot in the fourth, answered with two runs in their at-bat in the fifth, before winning 6-5.

The ability to take a blow and respond, to stay composed in a final at-bat and throw away a poor performance will go a long way as Indiana looks to make a deep postseason run in June.

Michigan’s weekend rotation will carry the team

If you were following Michigan’s weekend series against Army you probably lost track of how many Wolverines made their Michigan debut this weekend. Between freshmen, JUCO transfers or players who have been in the program but buried due to the depth Erik Bakich has built up, it was almost a day-to-night change in the team Michigan fielded compared to the team that ended the 2017 season in the Chapel Hill Regional. But there was comfort to be found in the starting pitchers Michigan rolled out, a group that will likely carry the club in 2018 as fresh faces get accumulated and up to speed to the college game.

Using a weekend rotation of a senior followed by two sophomores, Alec Rennard, Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffman each pitched at least five innings and recorded a scoreless start. The Right-left-right trio combined to pitch 16 innings, scattering 11 hits with two walks, holding Army batters to a .189 batting average. Each pitcher was a significant factor out of the Michigan bullpen in 2017, with Rennard garnering a few starts, and now, as three of the few Wolverines who know what it takes to win in the Big Ten, as starting pitchers the rotation will go a long way in how Michigan fares this year.

The perfect script for Penn State

Penn State head coach Rob Cooper could not have asked for a better opening weekend for the Nittany Lions. In a three-game series at Elon, Penn State swept the Phoenix, opening the season 3-0 for the first time since 1980. Each victory provided Cooper and company with reasons to be optimistic in Penn State’s quest to reach the postseason for the first time since 2012.

In the opener, Justin Hagenman surrendered four hits and struck out seven batters as he takes over the of staff ace following the departure of Sal Biasi. In total, PSU pitchers racked up 15 strikeouts in the 2-1 win. Penn State’s offense lifted the team to an 8-6 win on Saturday to clinch the series, the team picked up two doubles and two home runs in their 10 hits, noteworthy as Penn State only slugged .329 last season. After missing the 2017 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Sal’s younger brother Dante made his PSU debut, keeping the game close, before closer Eric Mock recorded his second save of the weekend with a hitless, three-inning effort, helping Penn State secure the 3-2 win.

The pitching was there, more pop was on display and Penn State did not commit an error over the three games. All aspects clicked this weekend for the Nittany Lions.

A Year Two JUCO bump can help Bucks bounce back

It would be an understatement to say the 2017 season did not go as Ohio State hoped. Coming off of an appearance in the 2016 Louisville Regional, Ohio State finished 22-34 overall, 8-16 in the Big Ten to finish in 11th place. A big factor in Ohio State unable to duplicate their 2016 success was the loss of six draft pictures and a handful of other multi-year starters who graduated. Ohio State tried to fill the holes left in the lineup with JUCO transfer, but newcomers Bo Coolen, Tyler Cowles, and Noah McGowan respectively batted .230, .190, and .214 between 384 at-bats. It’s only one weekend, but the numbers put up in the first weekend may sure an their second season in Columbus may fare a bit better.

Earning Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week honors by Collegiate Baseball, McGowan batted .400 with a double, two home runs and a nation-leading 13 RBI, 12 coming with two outs. McGowan drove in 19 runs for the 2017 season. Cowles picked up four hits in 12 at-bats while Coolen added a pair of singles in five at-bats.

Ohio State will face a drastic jump in competition in the upcoming weekend, Oregon State and Utah and considerably better than UW-Milwaukee and Canisius, but the starts are encouraging for three players who struggled a year ago, a core that Ohio State has enough pieces surrounding to create a potent lineup if everything clicks.