The best recruiting classes from 2010-2014

There’s still a few Big Ten programs yet to start their fall practice season. But for most, new faces are mixing with returning places as rosters start to take shape with the 2019 season in mind.

As the talent across the Big Ten continues to get better and deep year over year, many freshmen will arrive to campus and put on their school’s colors with prodigious accolades from their prep days, with a few having the honor of being selected in the MLB Draft. The past of a freshman makes it easier to fill out bios and for outside publications to compile all of the freshmen who compose a recruiting class, list them next to each other, and proclaim who has the best recruiting class. But when the time comes to step into the batter’s box or toe the rubber, what was done in high school means little.

Instead, we think it’s best to allow a recruiting to have their four-year window on campus come to pass, in order to compare and determine who had the best. Here, before fall practice has commenced throughout the conference, and a sense of who may be a standout can fully form, 10 Innings looks at the top recruiting class over the last five years in the Big Ten.

To note, more emphasis was placed on individual success, believing that while one recruiting class can drastically change the fortunes of a program, the success of a team in any given year is made up of four recruiting classes. Also, recruiting classes were based on who was a freshman on campus in the fall of their high school graduating year. This would, for example, exclude considering Scott Donley as a part of Indiana’s class of 2011, as he was a transfer from Virginia Tech. Finally, the first classes for Maryland and Rutgers to have spent all four years in the Big Ten would have been 2014, four-year graduates of this past spring.

So with history on our side which program had the top recruiting class over the last five years?

2010- Indiana

Key players: Dustin DeMuth, Joey DeNato, Ryan Halstead, Aaron Slegers

Four-year team accomplishments: 2013, 2014 Big Ten champions. 2013, 2014 Big Ten Tournament champions. 2013 Bloomington Regional champions. 2013 College World Series. 2014 NCAA Tournament National Seed. 153-82 overall, 65-31 in Big Ten.

Individual honors: 2011 Big Ten Freshman of the Year: DeNato. 2011 Big Ten All-Freshman Team: DeMuth, DeNato, Halstead. 2013 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year: Slegers. 2014 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year: DeNato.

Combined All-Big Ten first-team selections: 7

Highest draft pick: Slegers, fifth round, 140th overall, 2013.

Why them? This class was the foundation of teams that helped Indiana lead the change in conversation regarding Big Ten baseball. The following year’s recruiting class drew the headlines, covered magazines and have two MLBers, but this is the class that was necessary to take Indiana into college baseball’s upper echelon. A four-time All-Big Ten first-team selection, DeNato is the best pitcher in Indiana history, holding the school record for innings, strikeouts and wins. Slegers’ 2013 campaign was quietly dominant. DeMuth litters the Indiana record book, and Halstead was a rock of a reliever at the back of the IU bullpen for their two regional clubs. Arriving to campus two years after Indiana broke through and won the 2009 Big Ten Tournament, this group pushed IU over the top.

 

2011- Indiana

Key players: Kyle Hart, Luke Harrison, Kyle Schwarber, Sam Travis

Four-year team accomplishments: 2013, 2014 Big Ten champions. 2013, 2014 Big Ten Tournament champions. 2013 Bloomington Regional champions. 2013 College World Series. 2014 NCAA Tournament National Seed. 2015 NCAA Tournament. 158-81 overall, 66-28 in Big Ten.

Individual honors: 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Travis. 2012 Big Ten All-Freshman Team: Chad Clark, Hart, Schwarber, Chris Sujka, Travis. 2013 Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player: Travis. 2013 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team: Schwarber, Travis. 2014 Big Ten Player of the Year: Travis. 2014 Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player: Schwarber.

Combined All-Big Ten first-team selections: 5

Highest draft pick: Schwarber, first round, fourth overall, 2014.

Why them? The Bash Brothers. What hasn’t been said of the impact that Schwarber and Travis had on Indiana, Big Ten and college baseball? A rival coach called Schwarber a generational talent, one you see every 20-25 years, Travis a once-a-decade player. Where DeNato is the best pitcher in Indiana history, quite the argument can be made that Hart is the second-best. Appearing in 87 games, Harrison pitched 167 innings to the tune of a 2.86 ERA and 15-4 record. While Schwarber and Travis were ascending the ranks in the minors in 2015, Harrison and Hart were  key factors in Indiana’s transition between head coaches Tracy Smith and Chris Lemonis, making sure Indiana’s two-year run wasn’t a blip on the radar, but the start of a new day for IU baseball.

 

2012- Illinois

Key players: Kevin Duchene, Jason Goldstein, Tyler Jay, Adam Walton

Four-year team accomplishments: 2013 NCAA Tournament. 2015 Big Ten champions. 2015 National Seed. 2015 Champaign Regional champions. 145-74-1 overall, 64-30 in Big Ten.

Individual honors: 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Duchene. 2013 Big Ten All-Freshman Team: Duchene, Goldstein. 2015 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year: Jay. 2014 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team: Jay.

Combined All-Big Ten first-team selections: 4

Highest draft pick: Jay, first round, sixth overall, 2015.

Why them? If Indiana forced a different discussion around Big Ten baseball, this recruiting class of Illini helped cement the change in perception. After helping Illinois to the Nashville Regional in 2013, being left on the outside of the 2014 NCAA Tournament helped fuel the most dominant showing by a team in Big Ten play the following year. As upperclassmen, the class helped Dan Hartleb’s team to a school-record 27-game winning streak, and a 21-1 Big Ten record in 2015. The regular season ended with the Illini were earning the No. 6 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. From their first spring, Duchene was a key starter, Jay a lights-out receiver and Goldstein a rock behind the plate. Walton gave this recruiting class its fourth All-Big Ten first-team selection in 2015, with strong two-way play at short.

 

2013- Ohio State

Key players: Ronnie Dawson, Travis Lakins, Troy Montgomery, Tanner Tully

Four-year team accomplishments: 2016 Big Ten Tournament champions. 2016 NCAA Tournament. 127-102 overall. 46-50 in Big Ten.

Individual honors: 2014 Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Tully. 2014 Big Ten All-Freshman Team: Dawson, Tully. 2016 Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player: Dawson.

Combined All-Big Ten first-team selections: 2

Highest draft pick: Dawson, second round, 62nd overall, 2016.

Why them? The toughest class to pick, the individual star power between Dawson, Montgomery, Lakins and Tully helped pushed this class over Nebraska’s 2013 recruiting class. The Husker did appear in three NCAA Tournaments, 2014, 2016-17, and won the Big Ten, topping Ohio State’s one regional and tournament title. But of Nebraska’s 11 freshmen in the fall of 2013, there were only a combined four All-Big Ten selections, no first-team picks, only five of the 11 made significant contributions over their career. Dawson and Tully were both All-Big Ten second-team picks as freshmen in 2014, before earning first-team nods in 2016, while Montgomery was a second-team selection in 2015. Lakins was a sixth-round draft pick by the Boston Red Sox as a draft-eligible sophomore in 2015.

 

2014- Minnesota

Key players: Micah Coffey, Lucas Gilbreath, Toby Hanson, Luke Pettersen

Four-year team accomplishments: 2016 Big Ten champions. 2016 NCAA Tournament. 2018 Big Ten champions. 2018 Big Ten Tournament champions. 2018 NCAA Tournament National Seed. 2018 Minneapolis Regional Champions. 137-88 overall, 58-34 in Big Ten.

Combined All-Big Ten first-team selections: 1

Highest draft pick: Gilbreath, seventh round, 216th overall.

Why them? The class didn’t have a star like Schwarber, Travis, or Dawson, but collectively they were steady contributors, year after year. Gilbreath is responsible for the lone All-Big Ten first-team selection in the recruiting class, tabbed as one of the three best Big Ten pitchers in 2017. But Coffey was a three-time All-Big Ten pick, a second-team selection in each of his final three seasons, with Hanson earning third-team praise in 2016, before Pettersen did in 2018. The last three years of their time in Minnesota stands against any three-year period for any Big Ten program over the last 25 years, capping their career with winning the Minneapolis Regional, advancing the program to its first super regional appearance.

The Big Ten’s newest assistants

The transition from the summer offseason to the fall practice season isn’t complete without a rundown of new faces. Yes, the Big Ten is welcoming another talented freshman class, headlined by several players saying no to professional organizations, but they will also be new faces in the in the coaches’ boxes and in the dugout as part of the coaching staff.

With an entirely new staff in Bloomington as head coach Jeff Mercer leads the Hoosiers, to two new assistants up the road in West Lafayette under Mark Wasikowski, rounded out by promotions in Columbus and Minneapolis, heres a look at the new full-time assistants coaches in the Big Ten.

Read more

Ten thoughts from the summer II

It’s time to close the book on summer thoughts, news and notes.

Here’s the second part of ten thoughts from the summer, as we get ready to shift gears to fall practices and the 2019 season.

Top prospects heading to campus

The MLB Draft was pretty kind to Big Ten programs this year. Across the conference, from Minnesota to New Jersey, top prep players with pledges to Big Ten programs spurned professional overtures.

A few players did sign a contact. Michigan lost Drew Rom, a Kentucky prep left-handed pitcher, to the Baltimore Orioles, after the American League organization picked him in the fourth round. Ohio State saw recruit Keegan Fish, a catcher and 13th-round pick from southwest Ohio, sign with the Miami Marlins. And Iowa-signee Korry Howell, a JUCO transfer picked by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 12th round.

But more players who were the highlights of respective recruiting classes will arrive on campus.

A few noteworthy players:

Illinois

Catcher Jacob Campbell- 36th round, Chicago Cubs

RHP Aidan Maldonando- 38th round, Milwaukee Brewers

Michigan

RHP Steven Hajjar- 21st round, Brewers

Michigan State

OF Zaid Walker- 36th round, Cincinnati Reds

Nebraska

SS/RHP Spencer Schwellenbach- 34th round, Cleveland Indians

Rutgers

C- Peter Serruto- 22nd round, Reds

Worth noting, a player picked in the 30th+ rounds may not seem overly impressive, outside of the impressiveness of being draft in the first place, but each of the above player’s talent merited being selected earlier. They were drafted in the final quarter of the draft due to their respective commitments to their school. Professional clubs viewed them as unlikely to sign, but the talent each possessed warranted selecting them, just in case there was a change of heart, or a signing bonus of $125,000, the maximum a club can offer without it counting against its allotted pool to sign players drafted in the first 10 rounds, would be a enough.

Prep Baseball Report ranks Maldonado, Schwellenbach and Walker the respective number two players in Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois, players who have a chance to standout on campus over the next three years before their time comes again to be picked by a professional club.

Midwest vs. West

Players like Hajjar and Serruo heading to campus is another example of the Big Ten providing a great product on the field, alongside the world-class education the student-athletes receive. How good that product is might surprise the casual fan, but more and more there is proof the Big Ten is an elite baseball conference.

I remember five years ago, after his first season in Ann Arbor, Michigan head coach Erik Bakich told me there was no reason the Big Ten would not only be a true Power 5 conference in baseball, but would be on par, if not better than the Pac-12 and Big XII. The depth of the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences, along with the geographic advantage will likely have those two be 1-2 in some order for the foreseeable future. But Bakich had no doubt the Midwest could be the Big Ten’s and level to those on the Pacific coast.

Looking at NCAA Tournament participants, since 2015, the Big Ten has placed 17 teams in a regional, with the Pac-12 one ahead at 18. Last year, the Big Ten and Pac-12 split 24 regular season games.

The Pac-12 has done a better job of advancing teams through the NCAA Tournament, and of course have the reigning national champion in Oregon State, who knocked out Minnesota in the Corvallis Regional, but not before the Gophers twice beat UCLA to win the Minneapolis Regional. Now, as schedules begin to trickle out, the 2019 season will offer more opportunities for to two conferences with Rose Bowl ties to square off on the mind.

In touching base with coaches around the conference, what’s known so far in Big Ten-Pac 12 showdowns:

Arizona will travel to Penn State during the final weekend of the regular season, the start of a home-and-home series which has Penn State traveling to Tucson in 2020.

Michigan State has a three-game series at Arizona State, followed by a midweek game at Arizona.

Minnesota will see Oregon State in back-to-back weekends to open the season, the two participating in a pair of tournaments.

Michigan will participate in the Dodger Stadium/Dodgertown College Baseball Classic with USC, UCLA and Arizona. Two years ago the Wolverines were in the field with USC, UCLA and San Diego.

Lengthy droughts continue for Michigan and Ohio State

I started blogging on Big Ten baseball matters 10 years ago, taking over the Ohio State-centric Buckeye Nine. One, I have no idea how that turned into this. Two, it’s a bit scary to think a decade has passed.

Nonetheless, to say the Big Ten of 2018 is not the Big Ten of 2008 is an understatement. Forget recruits, facilities, head coach salaries, just look who has won the Big Ten this decade.

Since 2010, Minnesota has three titles (2010, 2016, 2018) and Illinois has two (2011, 2015). Those two have been historically strong programs, their championships would cause someone to bat an eye in 2008. But Michigan State (2011), Purdue (2012), Indiana (2013-14), Nebraska, hello realignment, (2017) certainly would. But perhaps more than who has won the conference crown is who hasn’t.

The 2019 season will be the ten-year mark since the Buckeyes last won the Big Ten. But even then, they will have a more recent championship than their arch-rival, Michigan last winning the conference championship in 2008. To know just how rare this is, the last time neither Michigan nor Ohio State won a Big Ten championship in a nine-year window would be 1908-1916. A period when the University of Chicago found themselves Big Ten baseball champs.

For the conference as a whole, it’s a good thing the Big Ten isn’t dominated by Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State, as was the case for four decades from 1980-2010. More teams winning means more depth, more depth means more teams in the NCAA Tournament, more teams in the NCAA Tournament increases the odds of having a representative in Omaha.

But it is a bit surprising two of collegiate athletics most recognizable names, programs with storied histories, have gone so long without winning the conference.

Wisconsin baseball isn’t coming back

With the team they have returning, losing only one underclassman to the draft, many view Michigan as a preseason Big Ten favorite, a club ready to end that aforementioned drought. While certainly possible, if not probably, we know for certain one Big Ten institution that’s not winning a baseball championship any time soon: Wisconsin.

The baseball-less Badgers are the lone Big Ten university without a varsity baseball program. As Big Ten baseball continues to make strides, as well as Wisconsin producing top baseball talent (Campbell is a Wisconsin native, as was Minnesota All-American shortstop Terrin Vavra), it’s entertaining to think is the time coming for Wisconsin to revive its baseball program.

I don’t think it’s happening.

In June, the Detroit News revealed the University of Michigan will receive $52.1 million in Big Ten conference distributions, stemming from the television rights the conference has with ABC/ESPN, FOX, and its own Big Ten Network.

There would be Title IX matters to resolve in terms of scholarship equality between female and male students, as well as figuring out where games will be played. But if living in a day and age where Big Ten universities are receiving more than $50 million a year from television rights doesn’t create the landscape for Wisconsin to bring back a program, one that many believe would have more than a shot to compete for conference championships and regional bids when brought back, I can’t see when the time will be right.

Joe Healy’s appreciated work

Wrapping up everything that crossed my mind over the summer, I cannot go without shining a light on the work done by College Baseball Central’s Joe Healy and his podcast series, especially in the absence of myself producing any content. Throughout the summer, Healy spoke to people throughout the media, often beat writers, to dig into ongoings regarding programs around the country. Many of Healy’s podcast covered Big Ten teams, and here you can listen to insights, news and opinion on:

Indiana

Iowa

Nebraska

Purdue

Joe was the lone national writer to cover the Big Ten Tournament this past year, and is a great reference and source for news and content covering the Big Ten.

Ten thoughts from the summer I

With Labor Day behind us, summer has unofficially come to an end. While temperatures throughout the Midwest have been more typical of those seen in the days following Independence Day, students at Big Ten universities have returned to campus and conference baseball teams have begun fall practice.

As programs around the country insert the keys into the ignition and start the engine, in preparation of taking on the road to Omaha, 10 Innings’ Chris Webb puts a bow on summer with the first five of 10 thoughts and observations from news and trends that developed over the summer.

An Indiana man comes home

On July 2, Indiana named Wright State head coach Jeff Mercer the 25th head coach in program history. Mercer filled the vacancy created when Mississippi State tabbed former Hoosier head coach Chris Lemonis as their head coach, eight days prior. Lemonis’ tenure in Bloomington lasted four seasons, creating an situation where IU will be on its third head coach in six seasons in 2019, even though the program has been one of the Big Ten’s best over the last decade.

Lemonis followed Tracy Smith who left after nine years to try to revive the once dominant Arizona State program. But if Indiana continues the success first established by Smith and continued by Lemonis, the Hoosiers have appeared in five of the last six NCAA Tournaments, there shouldn’t be any need for Indiana to be in search over another coach in the near future; Mercer is home.

A native of Bargersville, Indiana, Mercer guided Wright State to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances during the first two years of his head coaching career. Continuing the high level of success at the Dayton, Ohio-based program, first established by current Penn State head coach Rob Cooper, Mercer was emerging as one of college baseball’s bright young coaches. But more importantly than Mercer budding as a promising coach, is Mercer viewing Bloomington as home. To him, there is no next step, no call from a Pac-12 nor Southeastern conference program will pull him from the Hoosier State as happened to his predecessors. Calling the Indiana position his dream job, Mercer is ready to retire as a Hoosier.

“I have loved baseball and the state of Indiana my whole life and it is an honor to be the head baseball coach of the state’s flagship institution,” said Mercer in the press release of his hiring. And to talk to Mercer, it’s quick to learn those words weren’t just the correct answer to go on-record with. Leading the Indiana program, one his father was an assistant coach at from 1988-1989, is where his career goals have been aimed towards and now heart and mind is fully vested in.

This should be welcomed by IU faithful, if not demanded. Lemonis, with his hand in helping nearby Louisville develop into a regional program, was the perfect fit to succeed Smith and keep Indiana at a high-level. The seemingly seamless transition that took place four years ago shouldn’t be taken for granted, each coach has his own identity and belief in how a program should be ran and the culture that’s created. All signs point to Mercer be just as much of a slam dunk hire as Lemonis, and for Indiana players, administrators and fans alike, this should be the last hire of a head baseball coach for the foreseeable future.

As Mercer told me this summer, “it wouldn’t matter if the New York Yankees are calling, I’m saying no, this is where I want to be for the next 25 years.”

Iowa personifies the conference-wide investment in baseball

There could have been a second Big Ten program in need of a new head coach if it wasn’t for the commitment to keep Rick Heller in place by Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta and his department. Pursued by Kansas State, Heller turned down an offer to lead the Wildcats in June, to stay at Iowa.

Announced on Aug. 24, with Heller’s loyalty to the Hawkeyes came a restructured contract and a pay raise. A bump in base salary to $325,000 annually, from $262,000, for the 2018-2019 season, then to $341,000, from $275,000, the next year, on a contract that runs through the 2024 season. Crossing the $300,000-threshold placed Heller among the top five highest-paid coaches in the Big Ten, a thought unfathomable not too long about. But in five seasons in Iowa City, Heller has average a hair shy of 35 wins, collecting 173 victories, for a program that had gone 24 seasons since its last 35-win campaign, with only five such years in the program’s annuals prior to Heller’s arrival.

But ponying up additional pennies to keep Heller in place is only a part of the commitment Iowa has thrown baseball’s way, a reflection of an increase in attention Big Ten programs are experiencing all over the conference. Duane Banks Field has undergone renovations, with more plans on the table to give the grandstands a makeover. Iowa has been able to create the necessary pool for assistant coach compensation in order to flank Heller with strong assistant coaches, coaches that are active in recruiting as well as taking a forward-thinking approach on technology and analytics in baseball.

If Iowa’s two regional trips since 2015 isn’t enough to show the Big Ten of yesteryear is a distant memory, the steps took to bring Iowa to national prominence, mirror throughout the conference, should leave one with no doubt.

Max Meyer Mania continues

Helping Minnesota to its first super regional appearance, and a top ten final ranking, right-handed pitcher Max Meyer compiled one of the most decorated freshman seasons in recent Big Ten history. Tying Minnesota’s single-season saves record with 16, next to a 2.03 ERA, the standout at the back of the Gopher bullpen received All-America honors from the American Baseball Coaches Association, Collegiate Baseball and D1Baseball.com, a third-team selection on each all-star rundown. Collegiate Baseball, Perfect Game and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association picked the Woodbury, Minn. product as a first-team Freshman All-American, with Collegiate Baseball naming Meyer the Freshman Relief Pitcher of the Year. Closing to home, Meyer was the first-team All-Big Ten selection at reliever.

Those accolades alone would not only fill a trophy case, but maker Meyer one of the nation’s top pitchers heading into the 2019 seasons. But what Meyer did over the summer as an encore to his freshman season places him in the elite of the elite among college baseball pitchers.

One of six freshmen named to the 26-member USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, on a team littered with the best talent from coast to coast, Meyer’s performance took a backseat to none this summer. Helping Team USA to a 12-3 showing, Meyer appeared in eight games, saving seven of USA’s victories. Although he only pitched eight innings, the ninth-most on the team, Meyer’s 15 strikeouts paced all USA pitchers. Off five hits and four walks, Meyer allowed three earned runs for a 3.38 ERA.

The last Big Ten pitcher to don the Red, White and Blue for the Collegiate National Team was Maryland right-handed Mike Shawaryn during the summer of 2016. There hasn’t been a Big Ten player play for Team USA as a freshman in at least a decade.

And one last note on Meyer, he was recruited to Minnesota as a two-way player, but the depth of the Gophers in the field and at the plate relegated him to just 30 at-bats in 2018. With program stalwarts such as Alex Boxwell, Micah Coffey, Toby Hanson and Luke Pettersen lost to graduation, and the drafting of shortstop Terrin Vavra, the plan is for Meyer to go all-in as a two-way player, where the Minnesota staff believes he’s capable of just as much production at the plate as on the mound.

Ty McDevitt’s more-than-deserved promotion

But, what if I said Meyer wasn’t even the most decorated Minnesota freshman pitcher? That could be true, as classmate Patrick Fredrickson was picked as Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, the first freshman to win the honor, alongside being names conference freshman of the year, National Freshman Pitcher of the Year by both Collegiate Baseball and the NCBWA, was on every Freshman All-America team, and the ABCA named him a first-team All-American and D1Baseball.com a third-team pick.

Clearly, in Fredrickson and Meyer Minnesota has a two-headed monster every coach in the country would sign up for, potentially the best tandem of rising sophomore righties in the country. But Minnesota’s depth in the freshman class extends to Joshua Culliver, Ryan Duffy, Bubba Horton and Sam Thoresen, a collection of six pitchers poised to be the foundation of a program looking to continue the run of success that has saw the program win two of the last three Big Ten championships.

As stout as Minnesota’s 2017 recruiting class was on the mound, nearly as impressive is how quickly the group collective got up to speed and started producing, with none of the six from a location south of Omaha, all lead by a volunteer coach.

The structure of Minnesota’s coaching staff for the last two years saw Rob Fornasiere as the top assistant to John Anderson, serving as third base coach and handling a lot of the in-game strategy. Pat Casey has served as Minnesota’s hitting coach and dominant force on the recruiting trail, elevated to a full-time position after the passing of longtime pitching coach Todd Oakes. That left the volunteer role to handle the pitching duties, which former Minnesota pitcher Ty McDevitt has done in a lights out manner. Minnesota’s 3.18 team ERA in 2018 was a full run better than the 4.19 mark in 2017, even though Minnesota had to replace their ace and closer.

In the run-up to Minnesota’s memorable postseason, it was announced Fornasiere was retiring at the end of the season. With nary a negative word to be said about him as a person or coach, Fornasiere will be missed in the Gopher program, Minnesota wouldn’t be where they are without him. But it was as perfect of timing as possible for a position to open. In Anderson elevating McDevitt to be Minnesota’s third full-time coach, one of college baseball’s brightest young pitching minds will stay home and work to keep Minnesota among national prominence.

Coaching staffs continue to expand

With Indiana welcoming Mercer, Iowa keeping Heller, and McDevitt moving into a full-time role, coaching news carried most of the summer action. But, increasingly, staff news is no longer just pertains to a head coach, two full-time assistants and a volunteer assistant.

A look at news around the Big Ten this summer saw Illinois and Penn State add a director of operations positions, with Sean Moore, former Iowa volunteer, having an additional title of player development next to his director of operations position for the Nittany Lions. Now all programs except Michigan State have a director of operations position, when no program did before Nebraska joined the conference in 2012.

Mercer won’t only have a director of operations on his first staff, but former Major League veteran Scott Rolen will be Indiana’s Director of Player Development. Ohio State saw their volunteer video coordinator, Matt Angle, move into a full-time role, then realigned the role to be a control position in hiring former Buckeye and all-conference infielder Kirby Pellant.  Michigan has a standalone video coordinator position, while a year ago Rutgers introduced the position of Director of Player Development to the Scarlet Knight program.

Just as the Big Ten has seen head coach salaries have doubled on average over the last decade and increases in assistant coach salary pools to attract and retain top assistants, the sizes of Big Ten baseball staffs continue to swell, showing more and more teams are trying to find that edge to be a perennial winner.

Four Big Ten teams to play in 2018 NCAA Tournament

On Monday afternoon, the NCAA announced four Big Ten teams have been selected to play in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. The 2018 tournament marks the third time in four years at least four Big Ten teams will participate in a regional tying. The conference record of five was set in 2015 and tied last year.

Hours after winning their 10th Big Ten Tournament title, securing the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, Minnesota was announced on Sunday night as one of 16 host institutions for this weekend’s round of regional play. The Gophers were named the tournament’s No. 14 overall seed, before it was announced conference peers Indiana, Ohio State and Purdue, were tabbed as at-large selections, joining Minnesota in the 64-team tournament field.

For the fifth time in six years, Indiana is back in the NCAA Tournament. Heading to the Lone Star State as the No. 2 seed in the Austin Regional, where Texas is the top seed, The eighth time the Hoosiers will be on the road to Omaha, the Hoosiers were regional participants in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017. Indiana enters regional play with a 38-17 record, including a 14-9 mark in the Big Ten to finish fifth.

Already safely in the field, and heading into the unveiling of the tournament field knowing they will be at home, Minnesota now knows they will be joined in the Minneapolis Regional by No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Gonzaga, and No. 4 seed Canisius. at 41-13, the Big Ten regular season and tournament champions will be in their second regional in three years, playing at home during the regional round for the first time since 2000.

Late movement around the country saw Ohio State bow out of the Big Ten Tournament on the NCAA Tournament bubble team, but Greg Beals has the Buckeyes safely back in a regional for the second time in three years, heading to the Greenville Regional, as the No. 3 seed, where East Carolina is the host. A year after going 22-34, the 2018 NCAA Tournament is the first time since 2009 the 36-22 Buckeyes have earned an at-large big to the NCAA Tournament, their 21st overall appearance.

Rounding out the Big Ten’s contingent of NCAA Tournament teams is the club with the most unlikely appearance. Just two years after finishing 2-22 in the Big Ten, second-year head coach Mark Wasikowski guided the Boilermakers to a second-place finish in the regular season before finishing as runners-up in the Big Ten Tournament. Now, Purdue will look to further cement the program’s turnaround, selected as the No. 2 seed in the Chapel Hill Regional, hosted by North Carolina. Purdue heads to Chapel Hill with a 37-19 record, and one of the country’s hottest teams, winning 21 of their last 24 games.

The NCAA Tournament begins on Friday, June 1, on the 16 regional host sites. Regional play is a double-elimination format, among the four teams in each regional, with the winner advancing to next weekend’s best-of-three super regional. If all No. 1 seeds advances, the tournament’s top eight seeds will host super regional play. The NCAA will announce the sites of the super regionals on June 5, upon the completion of regional play.

The super regional winners will participate in the 2018 College World Series, held at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, the site of last week’s Big Ten Tournament. The last Big Ten team to reach the College World Series was Indiana in 2013. The Big Ten’s last national champion was Ohio State in 1966. Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue are in search of their first national championship, with Minnesota claiming three of the conference’s six titles, winning in 1956, 1960, and 1964. Michigan were national champions in 1953 and 1962.

Minnesota to host NCAA Tournament regional

Hours after winning their Big Ten-leading 10th Big Ten Tournament, securing a place in the NCAA Tournament for the 31st time via the conference’s automatic bid, Minnesota was selected as one of 16 hosting institutions for next weekend’s regional round of the NCAA Tournament, the NCAA announced Sunday evening.

Improving to 41-13 on the season with their 6-4 win over Purdue, the Big Ten regular season champions are set to host their second regional in program history, first doing so in 2000. This year’s Minneapolis Regional will be the first time the Gophers are the top seed in a regional, as the 2000 regional saw Nebraska, then a member of the Big XII, head to Siebert Field as the regional’s top seed, while the Gophers entered the postseason holding a No. 2 seed. The Huskers went on to win the regional, topping Wichita State in the championship game.

In the program’s 37th season under the guidance of head coach John Anderson’s, Minnesota has already accomplished much to garner attention on the national stage. The Gophers entered the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 11 team in the nation, ranked by the National College Baseball Writers Association. Their 41 wins are the most since their 41-18 campaign in 2017, and, next to their second conference championship in three years, the Big Ten title was their first since 2010.

The tournament’s top 16 seeds, 33 at-large teams, and the three other teams set to join Minnesota in the Minneapolis Regional will be announced on Monday at 12:30 p.m. ET, on ESPNU, when the tournament’s entire 64-team field is unveiled. Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, and Purdue, are conference peers expected to be considered for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament. If five teams are selected to play in a regional, it will tie the Big Ten’s high-water mark, set in 2015, when Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, and Michigan and made the tournament, and tied last season, when Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, and Nebraska all saw regional action.

The last Big Ten team to host a regional was Illinois in 2015. On the heels of a 21-1 Big Ten season, the Illini entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 6 overall seed. Illinois won the Champaign Regional, before falling two wins shy of reaching the College World Series, as Vanderbilt, national runners-up, won both games of the Champaign Super Regional.

As Minnesota left Omaha as conference tournament champions Sunday afternoon, the team’s road back to TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, and a bid for the program’s fourth national championship, first since 1964, is set to start at home in Minneapolis.

Top-seeded Gophers claims Big Ten Tournament title

In oppressive, 97-degree Omaha heat, the battle between the Big Ten’s two best teams was a hotly-contested one, a contest which saw Minnesota outlast Purdue, winning 6-4, to claim the 2018 Big Ten Tournament championship. Their 10th tournament title, the Gophers claim the conference’s automatic bid to next week’s NCAA Tournament.

As they have all season, Minnesota performed in a workman-like fashion to cap a perfect 4-0 week.

With the second-seeded Boilermakers the designated visitors, in the top of the first, center fielder Skyler Hunter lined a first-pitch, two-out single up the middle. Three pitches later, first baseman Jacson McGowan lined a double over the head of Minnesota center fielder Alex Boxwell, plating Hunter for the initial 1-0 lead.

Where Purdue used a back-to-back hits to jump out in front, big blasts in back-to-back innings saw the Gophers grab the lead.

Making his fourth start of the season, the first pitch of the second inning from Purdue right-hander Andrew Bohm was hit into the left field bullpen by Minnesota catcher Eli Wilson, tying the game 1-1. In the third, another first-pitch big hit came off of the bat of Terrin Vavra, with the junior shortstop hitting his 10th home run of the season to right center, pushing Minnesota in front, 2-1.

After a scoreless fourth, the two regional-bound teams traded blows over the next two innings, creating a back-and-forth content fitting of the conference’s two hottest teams.

In the fifth inning, Purdue seized the opportunity created in Minnesota turning to the bullpen, relieving starter Nick Lackney who held the them to five hits over four inning. Facing right-hander Brett Schulze, a leadoff single from second baseman Tyler Powers and a one-out walk drawn by catcher Nick Dalesandro put two Boilers aboard. Hunter’s second single, followed by McGowan’s second double, put the Boilers back on top, 3-2. Minnesota responded with an RBI-single from left fielder Ben Mezzenga, scoring DH Toby Hanson, who singled to open the home-half of the frame before moving to second on a sac bunt by Luke Pettersen, then to third on a fly out by Boxwell.

An inning later, the roles reversed with Purdue scoring a run, countered by two from the Gophers.

Singles from right fielder Alec Olund, Powers, and a run-scoring drive to right from shortstop Harry Shipley put Purdue back in front, 4-3. But after the tying run crossed home, in the next at-bat, Shipley was thrown out trying to move into scoring position, with Wilson throwing him out on a dirt ball read.

A string of three singles in the bottom of the sixth pushed Minnesota back in front, the contest’s third lead change in four at-bats. A leadoff single from Boxwell, followed by a sacrifice bunt from right fielder Jordan Kozicky, then RBI-single from Petterson, tied the game, before the 25th RBI of the season by Mezzenga, a liner up the middle, gave the Gophers a 5-4 lead.

Purdue’s aggressive nature that saw Shipley thrown out to end their sixth inning at-bat, had already contributed to two outs on the bases before. In the top of the fourth, DH Nick Evarts was thrown out on an attempt to steal third base, an inning before Dalesandro tried to reach third on Hunter’s single to right that scored Powers. A fourth out on an aggressive play seeking an extra base prevented the tying run, Purdue’s last scoring threat.

With one out in the eighth inning, pinch-hitting for Evarts, DH Evan Kennedy hit a 2-2 double to right field, off Minnesota closer Max Meyer. Pinch-running for Kennedy, following a strikeout by Olund, Charlie Nasuti was thrown out at home, when Mezzenga fired to Wilson after a single to left-center field by third baseman Evan Warden.

Adding an insurance run, a one-out single by Hanson, paired with a two-out double to left center by Vavra gave Minnesota its sixth and final run of the game. Armed with a two-run lead, Meyer pitched a 1-2-3 inning for his 16th save of the season, giving the conference champion Gophers their Big Ten-leading 10th tournament title.

A lock to host their first regional since 2000, Minnesota moved to 41-13 on the season. Also heading to the NCAA Tournament, their first trip since 2012, Purdue fell to 37-19, and will find out their regional destination on Monday at noon Eastern when the entire field of 64 is announced.

10 Takes: Big Ten Tournament Day 4

And then there were two… the best two. Saturday’s semifinals saw No. 1 seed Minnesota top No. 7 Ohio State, 8-1, before second-seeded Purdue provided their own definite victory, toppling No. 4 Illinois, 11-5. As Minnesota seeks its first Big Ten Tournament title since 2010, and Purdue seeks a second crown to stand alongside their 2012 triumph, the Big Ten Tournament championship features the top two teams in the conference standings, the two teams with the highest rated RPIs, the two hottest teams, and two teams ticketed for a regional.

Here’s what was observed on Saturday.

Fredrickson cool under pressure (and heat)

If there was to be a time when Minnesota right-handed pitcher Patrick Fredrickson was a bit vulnerable, the conditions were favorable for that time to arrive on Saturday morning. In his first taste of postseason action the freshman was on the rubber against a tough Ohio State lineup, one who has already faced him, in 90-degree weather. Neither the Buckeyes nor blistering Omaha sun could rattle the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year. With an efficient 77-pitch, six-inning start, Fredrickson scattered only two hits, allowing one run, a first inning home run by Tyler Cowles, to improve to 9-0 on the year.

“The formula once again with Patrick Fredrickson on the mound was for him to pound the zone with three pitches and for us to play defense behind him,” said John Anderson after the game. He gave up the home run, but he … then got back to doing his thing. Before the six-run inning, I got the guys together in the dugout and said, we were trying too hard. We didn’t have a good approach at the plate the first half of the game. We had a lot of opportunities but couldn’t get the big hit.”

Minnesota exhibits offensive depth

With Fredrickson cruising, one big inning from Minnesota was all that was needed to cruise into Sunday’s title game. With the game tied 1-1, a Jordan Kozicky walk followed by Toby Hanson sending a triple over the head of Ohio State center fielder Dillon Dingler put the Gophers in front. Kozicky later singled in the inning, as to did Luke Pettersen and Cole McDevitt, with Alex Boxwell, Micah Coffey, and Eli Wilson all drawing walks. By the time the sixth inning was over, eight batters reached base safely, six Gophers crossed home, and Minnesota was well on their way to their 40th victory of the season. The inning summed up Minnesota’s ability to wear down the opposition, with multiple players showcasing an ability to be patient, string out at-bats and reach base. By the end of the game, seven Minnesota batters recorded a hit, even with leading hitter Terrin Vavra going 0-for-4.

Pavlopoulos gives Beals something to build on

Needing a fourth starter to step up in an effort to extend their tournament run, Greg Beals turned to senior right-handed pitcher Yianni Pavlopoulos. Making his fifth start, appearing in his 17th game overall, Pavlopoulos allowed one run off five hits in three innings. The right-handed did walk three batters, but Minnesota’s John Anderson spoke to Pavlopoulos’ changeup and sinking fastball keeping the Gophers off balance, and from being able to capitalize early in the contest. Ticketed for a regional, it’ll be important for Ohio State to be able to find a dependable fourth starter. Weekend starters Connor Curlis, Ryan Feltner, and Adam Niemeyer have yet to pitch a complete game in their combined careers. Next weekend, the Buckeye bullpen, led by workhorse Seth Kinker, will likely be needed in every contest, chipping away at Ohio State’s pitching depth as the weekend progresses. If the Buckeyes find themselves in the loser’s bracket, it’s imperative a capable fourth starter emerges to alleviate some of the bullpen strain, that role may now be on Pavlopoulous.

Cowles breakthrough campaign continues

With a home run and two walks, Cowles continued his strong senior season, as his two-year Ohio State career enters the final month. A transfer from Sinclair Community College, Cowles struggled in 2017, batting .190. Saturday’s home run upped his average to .327 and boasted his slugging percentage to .527, an increase of .213. Teammate Noah McGowan received much attention throughout the year, and deserved attention, in leading the Buckeyes in hitting, average, on-base percentage, doubles, home runs, and RBI. But Cowles, a third-team All-Big Ten outfield selection, has allowed McGowan to put up big time numbers in his cleanup spot by being a force in the Ohio State three-hole. With Dominic Canzone and Kobie Foppe’s ability to reach base, Cowles, more than any other, is the Buckeye that stirs the pot and get the team going.

Don’t forget the Gopher upperclassmen pitchers

After Fredrickson qualified for a quality start and exited after six innings, senior right-handed pitcher Jackson Rose allowed one hit over two innings, before junior left-handed pitcher Jeff Fasching closed the door with a scoreless ninth. Rose and Fasching’s outings come on the heels of junior right-handed pitcher Reggie Meyer tossing a shutout against Illinois on Thursday, and Jake Steven logging 3.2 innings in the tournament opener against Michigan State. Minnesota’s underclassmen pitchers, led by Fredrickson and fellow first-team all-Big Ten selection Max Meyer, have been in the spotlight as they have excelled as first-year players. But with 15.2 innings of work from upperclassmen this week and only two earned runs allowed between them, the Gophers with hardware from the team’s 2016 championship have been a steady force in Minnesota on the verge of securing a regional at home.

Illini uncharacteristically sloppy…

Illinois entered Saturday with a Big Ten-leading .980 fielding percentage, and arguably the country’s top defensive middle infield. Unfortunately for Dan Hartleb’s club, Illinois had more than a few miscues contribute to their exit from the tournament. Shortstop Ben Troike had a tailor-made double play ball roll under his glove, catcher David Craan threw a ball into center field trying to throw out a runner, and the webbing in the glove of first baseman Bren Spillane allowed a ball to tear through. In addition to the free bases allowed by the defense, Illinois pitchers issued four walks, hit two batters, and threw five wild pitches. It was an atypical outing from a team who defense and ability to eliminate extra opportunities had contributed mightily to the team’s 33 wins.

…and Purdue pounces on opportunities

Every time Illinois made a mistake, Purdue seemingly took advantage of the opportunity. It’s never ideal to give a quality team extra outs, but more so when that team is Purdue. Taking the mold of their head coach, Purdue seeks every opportunity to find an edge, pushes for extra bases, and tries to exert as much pressure as possible on the opposition. In addition to the three errors, four walks, two hit batters, and five wild pitches, Purdue stole four bases, led by Nick Dalesandro grabbing two. Purdue did get thrown out on the bases three times, but Mark Wasikowski’s club stayed true to form, and more times than not were rewarded for being the aggressor and taking the action to Illinois.

Hartleb’s confidence in Watson warrented

Ahead of his start against Purdue, Dan Hartleb showered right-handed pitcher Cyrillo Watson with praise, Saturday evening, saying he has all of the confidence in the sophomore, regardless of opponent. Illinois’ shaky defense did allow Purdue to score three unearned runs, but Watson put Illinois in a position to win, pitching six innings, allowing two earned runs of six hits and a walk, striking out three batters. Watson entered the year in the Illini rotation and much was expected of him. Illinois would see Andy Fisher and Quinn Snarskis blossom and grab weekend roles, limiting Watson’s opportunities, but the performance Watson gave against Purdue showed why much was thought of him, and also shows the Illini has the depth in starting pitching to make a run in a regional.

Boilermakers powered on by bullpen

Purdue did benefit from a sloppy Illinois performance, and they did set the tone offensively. But the Boilermakers didn’t play the cleanest baseball themselves, walking eight batters, hitting two, and committed two errors. The difference was the performance by the Boilermaker bullpen. Trent Johnson, Bo Hofstra and Dalton Parker combined to pitch the final 6.1 innings, allowing Illinois to score one run off two hits. The depth of Purdue’s bullpen has been on display this week, and is nicely summed up in the fact all-Big Ten closer Ross Learnard has yet to pitch, even though Purdue heads into the title game 3-0.

Purdue’s looks to give doubters one last statement

Purdue players and coaches alike have not shied away from referencing how one preseason prediction penciled the team to finish 11th in the Big Ten this year, and how that has fueled their motivation. From 2-22 to a second-place finish and a shot to return to West Lafayette with a Big Ten Tournament title, if there are any who still choose to cast doubt over Wasikowski and the direction of the Purdue program, they do so at their own peril, the Boilermakers have looked like one of the best teams in the nation this week in Omaha, and don’t show signs of slowing down any time soon. Sunday should be fun on.

10 Takes: Big Ten Tournament Day 3

With two teams eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament and two more set to go home after action on Friday, day three of action from TD Ameritrade Park was full of intense, breath-taking, post-season defining moments.

When the final outs where recorded, after Ohio State and Michigan resumed their rivalry, the Buckeyes turned back the Wolverines, 5-3, to stay alive, before Illinois knocked off Indiana for the second time in three days, winning 5-4.

Here’s a round up of the 10 leading storylines from action on Friday.

Big wins for Bucks and Illini

Although NCAA Tournament projections to begin the week had them in a regional, wins on Friday will mean Illinois and Ohio State leave Omaha with at worst 2-2 records. And with the .500 week, both teams have all but locked up an opportunity to continue their season next weekend. Ohio State’s 5-3 victory over Michigan was their 14th win over an RPI top 100 team, with Indiana’s 5-4 walk-off win against Indiana giving the Illini the season series in five games against the Hoosiers and evening their record to 7-7 against RPI top 50 teams. Ohio State’s 1-3 finish to the season, and dropping their first tournament game to Purdue caused slight concern, as well as a marquee series victory for Illinois. Both potential resume red flags have been alleviated as spots in the field of 64 have been secured.

It’s hot in Omaha

The first-pitch temperature for Michigan and Ohio State at 3:14 was 95 degrees. It was hot. It has been hot. It will continue to be extremely hot in Omaha. There’s nothing else to really add to that, it’s been blistering.

Call on Kinker

Ohio State head coach Greg Beals viewed a win over Michigan as being so vital to his team’s NCAA Tournament aspirations that after a three-inning, 50-pitch save on Thursday, Buckeye closer Seth Kinker was called on to get the final five outs on Friday. As he has done time and time again, showing why he has the unbridled trust from Beals, Kinker struck out four batters in 1.2 innings of scoreless work to record his 15th save of the year. The allowing just two hits over 4.2 innings, with seven punchouts, Kinker lowered his Big Ten-leading ERA to 1.49.

Coolen continues late-season flourish

A day after going 2-4 in OSU’s elimination game against Iowa, Coolen collected his first home run of the season, a solo blast in the sixth inning, to continue to pay dividends as a late-season lineup fixture for Beals. Highlighted by College Baseball Central’s Joe Healy, changes to find a fix to Ohio State’s underwhelming infield defense created an opportunity for Coolen to take over at first. And now, as the Bucks close in on a second regional in three years, Coolen’s bat has helped add depth to an already impressive offensive attack.

Michigan’s tough ends promises for bright future

In his postgame press conference, Michigan head coach Erik Bakich said he wasn’t going to try to make a case for the Wolverines to be in next week’s NCAA Tournament, that his team didn’t finish strong enough to warrant a spot nor grabbed enough marquee wins. But Bakich said his team will watch Monday’s announcement of the tournament field, with the thought in mind this will be the last time Michigan’s name is not announced on Memorial Day, as a team ticketed for a regional.

There is good reason for Bakich to be optimistic about the future.

Outside of senior first baseman Brock Keener, and center fielder Jonathan Engelmann, a likely high-round draft pick, Michigan’s starting lineup should return intact next year, as well as the Wolverine weekend rotation of Tommy Henry, Ben Dragani, and Karl Kaufmann, a sophomore-freshman-sophomore trio. A team that entered the final five games of the regular season atop the Big Ten standings, and were in contention for a regional berth a year after losing 11 players to the draft and five seniors to graduation, what would have been a major rebuilding year for many programs, wasn’t for Michigan.

“We put ourselves in a position, and as a coach you hope that all those pieces coming back next year will see, and remember that feeling of what it was like to be in first place and understand that championships and Michigan are synonymous — they go hand in hand. That’s the goal here is to win the Big Ten first before we start talking about things on a national scale. But the future is gonna be very bright because of the foundational year that we had, the toughness that went along with it.” -Erik Bakich

Indiana plays “soft”

Indiana held a 2-1 lead after two innings, then saw the score sit 3-1 in their favor through the first four innings. But even with a bullpen that is the perceived strength of the club, Indiana couldn’t hold on and fell to Illinois for the second time in Omaha to bow out of the tournament. It was a defeat that didn’t sit well with head coach Chris Lemonis nor senior outfielder Logan Sowers.

More than any team in Omaha, there wasn’t as much on the line for the Hoosiers. Their spot in a regional was safely set, a near-miracle was needed for them to be in a position to host. While other teams entered the week on the bubble, needed the auto-bid to continue their season, and Minnesota looks to secure their spot as being regional host, Lemonis thought he team could be relaxed, have fun, and just play, as their pursued the tournament title.

That didn’t happen, instead, Lemonis thought he team played soft. Both he and Sowers spoke to IU being better than they showed, with Sowers insisting there will be words shared in the locker room to get the team in gear, while Lemonis alluded to sharing a few words in their postgame huddle. After entering the week on the heels of a six-game winning streak, a 1-2 showing isn’t going to sit well with Indiana on their return to Bloomington, but it may be the shock to the system the team needs to turn the intensity up a notch to return to Omaha in two weeks.

Kaletha leaves Omaha with

A catalyst atop Indiana’s lineup for much of the season, junior center field Logan Kaletha saw his production tail off during May. Kaletha did draw three walks against Michigan State, but went six at-bats without recording a hit over the first two games, to drop his average to .271, down from .331 when Indiana was 28-6 prior to their series against Ohio State. A 2-for-5 effort against the Illini, including a game-tying solo home run to right field in the seventh, his eighth of the year, allows Kaletha to head into a regional with a little momentum, where he can be the ultimate table-setter in front of Matt Gorski, Sowers, and Luke Miller, creating a dynamic lineup capable of running through a regional, and beyond.

Spillane’s big blast

Following strikeouts in his first two at-bats, one wouldn’t have been wrong to wonder if it just wasn’t Bren Spillane’s week. At some point, even the best of the best have a slump. But then Spillane stepped to the plate with two on in the fifth and made all forget about his prior whiffs. In a 10-pitch at-bat, Spillane show a Tim Herrin fastball left-center, clearing the 375-foot mark, for his 23rd home run of the season, tying the contest. Now just three home runs shy of Illinois’ single-season mark, with his team’s back against the wall, Spillane showed why he was the Big Ten Player of the Year, potentially giving Illinois the hit they needed to not only play on Saturday, but next Saturday as well.

A total team effort the Illini

Where Spillane has been the linchpin to Illinois’ offense, and had the big blast the team needed to get back into the ball game, the winning run was a total team effort; from a team Dan Hartleb praised for their togetherness and desire to play for each other.

The bottom of the ninth started with a Jack Yalowitz single, a sacrifice bunt from Zac Taylor, before the game-winning double to deep center from Ben Troike. Where Yalowitz and Taylor entered the season as Illini’s top two draft prospects, not Spillane, the outfielders are respectively batting .221 and .228. While it isn’t atypical for the draft to be heavy on the minds of juniors and a lull in production occur, Hartleb stated any pressure the two placed upon themselves was due to wanting to be there and produce for the whole of the team. In a game which may have solidified their case as an NCAA Tournament, manufacturing the winning run, and doing whatever the team needed, was accomplished.

Optimism for different reason

Postseason press conferences can be tough when they follow an elimination game, but each coach who spoke on Friday expressed optimism for different reasons.

Even though their season has wrapped up for all intents and purposes, it was clear Bakich saw an incredibly bright future for the Wolverines, running off the players returning and the positions which will have the depth necessary to see Michigan return to the top of the conference table.

For Beals, the win over Michigan was an exclamation point on a resume which has the totality of showing a strong team from the start of the season to the end. Where prior years have seen the Buckeyes fall short of an at-large bid, there was confidence Ohio State has earned their spot, explicitly expressed when Beals said their usage of Kinker will be dialed back, in preparation of next week.

Similar to Beals, Dan Hartleb believed his club’s Friday win earned them the right to play another weekend. A spot in the NCAA Tournament is necessary for a return trip to Omaha in late June, but Hartleb’s joy in coaching this specific club, and that they will likely have another week together shone through.

And for Lemonis, there was disappointment in his team’s performance, but he knows the quality of his team and there was a hint of wanting to get back on the horse as soon as possible. Indiana didn’t play their best baseball, but with no concern of not making the NCAA Tournament the resiliency they have the opportunity show is something the fourth-year coach is looking forward to.

It wasn’t too long ago when the end of run at the Big Ten Tournament meant the end of a team’s season. But as this year’s affair is down to the final four teams, that’s not the case, which means very good teams are playing against each other, making for very good games.

What to watch for in Omaha

After a year hiatus, the Big Ten Tournament returns to Omaha, where it will be for four more years. College baseball’s grand stage is set to host what many believe will be the Big Ten’s best tournament, as seven teams are in the mix for an at-large berth to next week’s NCAA Tournament.

From potential regional hosts, to Golden Spike Award semifinalists, to record-setting players on nearly every team, here’s the 10 leading storylines to follow this week in Omaha.

The Bren Spillane Show

Illinois’ 10th Big Ten Player of the Year is having a season rivaled by few, if any, in Illinois’ storied history. Spillane finished the regular season as the Big Ten’s Triple Crown winner, batting .407 with 22 home runs and 57 RBI. Regional projections from national outlets have Illinois safely in next week’s NCAA Tournament. But a big week by the Big Ten’s brightest star can make their case a slam dunk, by using his premium power to send a few balls out of TD Ameritrade Park.

Spartan speed

While Spillane has the power to hit home runs in any environment, TD Ameritrade Park is known for being tough on home run hitters. Perhaps better suited for teams with the ability to run, Michigan State enters the tournament as a potential dangerous No. 8 seed, thanks to their speed. The Spartans led the Big Ten in stolen bases and attempts, swiping 98 bags in 125 attempts. Sophomore outfielder Bryce Kelley paced Big Ten players with 31 steals, setting a new Michigan State single-season record.

Luke Miller’s power surge

Three home runs during a weekend sweep over Maryland helped Indiana junior third baseman Luke Miller grab the final Big Ten Player of the Week honor. After missing some time in the middle of the season due to injury, Miller is back being a force in the hear of IU’s lineup. Now leading the Hoosiers with 11 home runs, Miller has the type of bat that change the tide of a game in one swing, and do it again, game after game. Heading to Omaha on a six-game winning strike, IU looks poised to make a deep postseason run, spurred by one of the Big Ten’s most dangerous players getting hot.

Ohio State’s reliance on Seth Kinker

No Buckeye pitcher has appeared in more games over his career than senior right-hander Seth Kinker. No reliever in the eight-year tenure of Greg Beals has been as trusted as Kinker. Leading the Big Ten with a 1.62 ERA, Kinker has been Mr. Reliable for Beals and the Buckeyes, racking up 13 saves and a 6-1 record in 26 appearances. But those 26 outings have resulted in 55.2 innings pitched, as Kinker is more than a one-inning save. With few other Buckeyes showing the ability to close the door or escape a tight jam, how will Beals used Kinker? In past history is any indication, it’s a lot, Kinker pitched in five games during Ohio State’s run to the 2016 tournament title.

Minnesota’s freshmen pitchers

Minnesota has more than enough depth to pitch through the Big Ten Tournament, there isn’t a concern on how often a pitcher will be turned to, and how long he pitches. What is worth keeping in mind with the Big Ten championships is how their first-year pitchers perform in their first taste of postseason baseball. Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, Patrick Fredrickson, and fellow first-team All-Big Ten selection, closer Max Meyer, will be front and center as the pressure cranks up a notch, as too will Jake Stevenson and Sam Thoresen, fellow freshmen who will likely start Minnesota’s third and fourth games respectively, if Minnesota tracks towards their 10 tournament title.

Attendance

A loaded Big Ten Tournament field does not include the team nearest to Omaha. For the first time in their Big Ten history, Nebraska will not participate in the postseason tournament. A part of the return to Omaha was the attendance of the 2014 and 2016 tournaments, in large part due to Nebraska’s presence. Without the Huskers in the field, will Omaha still show up?

Hellerball

One caveat to a potential drop in attendance is Iowa’s making the tournament. Under Rick Heller, the Big Ten Tournament has provided some magical moments. Two years ago, Iowa almost shocked the conference, falling one game shy of winning the tournament as the No. 8 seed. Last year, the Hawkeyes did win the tournament, and reached the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. It appears the automatic bid is Iowa’s key to the NCAA Tournament again, but it seems Iowa is comfortable fighting with their back against the wall. And if the Hawkeyes reach the weekend, they will undoubtedly have a homefield advantage as Hellerball is running deep in the heart of those in the Hawkeye State.

Who has a fourth starter?

No matter what, in this format with eight teams, a team must play a minimum of four games to win the tournament. The Big Ten experienced some of the worst spring weather in recent memory, seeing games cancelled week after week. As a result, a team may not have a fourth starter as polished as previous seasons, where the ability to play numerous midweek games would help build depth in the rotation. Some teams, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, have more than one option available after their traditional weekend three. Others, Michigan State, and Ohio State, come to mind first, may utilize Johnny Wholestaff if they have a deep tournament run.

Does momentum matter?

The postseason is often called a new season. Starting today, the records reset, all eight teams have a 0-0 record, and there is a clean table. But does the end of the regular season matter? Does a teams form carry over? If so, that’s good news for Indiana and Purdue, who respectively start the tournament on a six-game winning streak and victors in 18 of their last 20, and not so good news for Michigan and Ohio State, teams who finished the regular season in six and four games, respectively.

The out of town scoreboard

Yes, it is true, one should focus on only the things which they can control. For teams in Omaha this week, that means effort, confidence, execution. But for more than a few teams it will be worth finding a way to send positive vibes into the environment, and wish a few teams good luck throughout the country. It appears Iowa, Michigan, and Purdue are on the NCAA Tournament bubble. For them, along with a few wins this week, it would be nice if favorites in other conference tournaments win, that no bids are stolen. There will be enough to watch in Omaha to keep fans interested and engaged through the weekend, keeping track of scores around the country is the cherry on the cake of conference tournament chaos.