Michigan Breaks the Big Ten’s Glass Slipper

June 15, 2013

For the first time in 30 seasons, a Big Ten program was taking the field in the College World Series. Capturing the attention of the college baseball universe, the upstart Indiana Hoosiers crashed a tournament of bluebloods. Joining Indiana’s first round opponent, Louisville, filling out the tournament bracket were LSU, Mississippi State, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Oregon State and UCLA. Reaching its first College World Series after knocking off perennial power Florida State, while the front of the Indiana’s gray uniforms read in crimson script HOOSIERS, Cinderella was also a fitting moniker.

It wasn’t just that the boys from Bloomington weren’t supposed to be there, what business did the Big Ten have being in Omaha? This was a year before the conference moved its postseason tournament to TD Ameritrade Park, where Omaha was synonymous for the tournament at the end of June, not the one at the end of May. And unfortunately the place that too often felt it was on Pulto, not in Nebraska.

Before Indiana hosted and won Bloomington Regional and commenced the program’s storybook postseason, a Big Ten program last hosted a regional in 2008, with the Ann Arbor Regional. And that, too, was five years after the last out of NCAA Tournament contest came on a conference field, when Ohio State hosted the 2003 Columbus Super Regional. And while Indiana wasn’t that far removed from NCAA play, the Hoosiers won the 2009 Big Ten Tournament to join Minnesota and Ohio State in regional action, the Big Ten only produced four total NCAA teams between 2010-2012. Before the Power 5 label was in the conscience of sports fans, the Big Ten was a distant cousin of its to-be autonomous conference brethren.

Indiana knocked off Louisville, 2-0, before falling to Mississippi State 5-4 and Oregon State, 1-0, to bow out of the tournament. Kyle Schwarber would go on to be a household name and help the Chicago Cubs win a historic World Series in 2016. Sam Travis would be a second-round pick in 2014, and eventually be joined by teammate Aaron Slegers, the 2013 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, in the big leagues. With the success of individuals going forward and the team’s tight contests with the best of the best, Indiana removed all doubt and proved it belong there. But there was one question that would go unanswered as Indiana bowed out and the clock struck midnight: What would happen to Cinderella?

Realizing a the possibility of a new reality for Big Ten programs, was Indiana’s run just a great story where generational talents spearheaded a once-a-generation feat? Was this truly the dawn of a new day in Big Ten baseball? Would the glass slipper return and another long-shot from the Midwest return? Or would it be left behind for another 30 years?

 

June 15, 2019

Six years to the day of Indiana’s victory over Louisville, the Big Ten claimed another two-run victory of an Omaha staple. After cutting the Big Ten’s College World Series drought by 80% over its last period of absence, Michigan knocked off Texas Tech, a team appearing in its fourth College World Series in six years, 5-3. The outfit of Wolverines that have led the program to the College World Series for the first time since 1984 are similar to those Hoosiers in many ways.

Where Indiana had a potent 1-2 punch that served as the catalyst to the team’s success, Schwarber and Travis, Michigan has a pair of top two round picks of their own, with Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffmann leading a rotation that can go toe-to-toe with any in the country. Michigan’s run saw them advance through a regional with a household name, Oregon State, just like Indiana turned away a Bloomington Regional field that saw Florida in it. And where IU went on the road and knocked off heavy favorite Florida State in super regional play to reach the pinnacle, Michigan grabbed two games against the tournament’s top overall seed, UCLA. In fact, in addition to knocking off #1 UCLA, one wouldn’t be wrong to say Michigan was more of an underdog to reach Omaha than Indiana.

An underdog they may be, but here’s where Michigan and the state of the Big Ten diverges from 2013: this isn’t a Cinderella story. The Wolverines aren’t coming from a home that’s looked down on and an outcast.

In the five previous years before the Big Ten’s last College World Series appearance, there was just the one, 2008 Ann Arbor, NCAA Regional on a conference campus. What’s happened in the five years before Erik Bakich, the NCBWA National Coach of the Year, has guided Michigan to college baseball’s final destination? Indiana hosted the 2014 Bloomington Regional as number fourth national seed. Illinois hosted the 2015 Champion Regional and Super Regional as the tournament’s sixth overall seed. Minnesota hosted and won the 2018 Minneapolis Regional. Only once, in 2014, did the Big Ten fail to produce three Regional teams, while twice placing five teams in the NCAA Tournament, 2015 and 2017.

And now, in 2019, the Big Ten is another five-bid conference, matching the number of teams placed in a regional by the Big XII and Pac 12. With Michigan knocking off Texas Tech, they stepped into the same batter’s boxes and on the same pitching mound as a team from a conference the Big Ten is now a peer of. Over the last five NCAA Tournaments, the Big Ten has produced 22 regional-bound clubs, just one off 23 the Big XII and Pac 12 have produced.

Michigan’s second round contest is against the same team Indiana knocked off to turn the college baseball world upside down, Florida State. A win for the Wolverines would do the same, and put Michigan in the driver’s seat of their bracket, within them three victories from claiming the program’s first national title since 1962 and the Big Ten’s first since Ohio State won it all in 1966. As one of the last four teams in the NCAA Tournament, a Michigan victory certainly would elicit more stories of the little team that could, of the mighty underdog and perhaps a few mentions of Cinderella story in a story here or there.

If that is the case, the glass slipper is indeed placed upon the Wolverines, it’s time for them to destroy it once and for all. Michigan has proved the conference is now in the same neighborhood as the home of those blueblood elites, ending the season in the place where the preseason favorite should. Regardless of whether Michigan wins it all or finishes with the same 1-2 showing as Indiana, the ending of this story doesn’t change. There’s no concern of what happens when the clock strikes midnight, the Big Ten has proven it is and will be back.

Michigan Opens College World Series with Win

Over three games in mid-March, Texas Tech swept Michigan in Lubbock, Texas, outscoring Michigan 29-10. A series that was circled in the offseason as a premier non-conference tilt, the Red Raiders knocked the Wolverines out of the writers’ poll and showed the Big Ten favorite had a ways to go before being able to go toe-to-toe with a program that appeared in three of the previous five College World Series.

That wouldn’t be the case in the fourth contest between the two.

Meeting again on college baseball’s biggest stage, Michigan reversed its fortunes against the Big XII champion. Behind seven strong innings from starter Karl Kauffmann, a two-inning save from Jeff Criswell, and a two-run triple from Jimmy Kerr, highlighting a three-run third, Michigan opened the 2019 College World Series with a 5-3 win over Texas Tech. Moving to 47-20 on the season, Michigan collected its first College World Series win since 1983, only the Big Ten’s second.

As Michigan continues a storybook run through the postseason, here’s a roundup of news, stories, and tweets on the victory in Omaha.

Box Score

Michigan Athletics recap

Karl Kauffman Battles, Leads Michigan To CWS-Opening Victory

Joe Healy, Baseball America

In the end, Kauffman, who two weeks ago was drafted 77th overall, threw seven innings, allowing eight hits and three runs with no walks and three strikeouts. He didn’t dominate, but as Bakich alluded to, he induced a ton of weak contact.

Michigan Showcases Impressive Opening Act

Kendall Rogers, D1Baseball.com

There were two unknowns for Michigan entering the contest against the Red Raiders. First, the Wolverines hadn’t been on this stage in a long time. So, would they come out a little nervous and show the rustiness that new teams in the CWS often do? Also, could the Wolverines find a way to corral a Texas Tech team that not only swept them down in Lubbock earlier this season, but also outscored them 29-10?

Erik Bakich, Bo Schembechler, and a Michigan baseball awakening

Anthony Fenech, Detroit Free Press

Bakich, 41, has been chasing the College World Series as a head coach for more than a decade. He’s considered one of the up-and-coming coaches in the country, has been wooed elsewhere, but stayed in Ann Arbor. He has the smallest salary among the head coaches competing in Omaha this week.

Wolverines get revenge on Red Raiders in opening game of CWS

Abby Snyder, Michigan Daily

The phrase Revenge Tour usually brings Michigan football to mind. But lately, the term has been just as true of Michigan’s baseball team (47-20), which defeated No. 8 Texas Tech, 5-3, in the opening game of the College World Series on Saturday. In March, the Red Raiders swept the Wolverines in disheartening fashion. But when it counted, and with a chip on their shoulders, Michigan emerged triumphant.

The key to Michigan’s postseason run: game one

Kent Schwartz, Michigan Daily

“The way we’ve been approaching all these tournaments is we’re just going to worry about Game 1 and do whatever we have to do in Game 1 and worry about Game 2 in Game 2,” said Michigan baseball head coach Erik Bakich.

The Wolverines are done playing with their backs against the wall.

Michigan beats Texas Tech 5-3 in its 1st CWS game since 1984

Eric Olson, Associated Press

Coming off a three-game super regional where they knocked off No. 1 national seed UCLA, the Wolverines built a 4-0 lead in the third and Kauffmann and Jeff Criswell worked out of trouble when the Red Raiders (44-19) threatened.

 

Nebraska Names Will Bolt Head Baseball Coach

Lincoln, Neb. — One of the catalysts in Nebraska baseball’s rise to national prominence in his playing days, Will Bolt returns to his alma mater as head coach. Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos named Bolt the 24th head coach of the Husker baseball program on Friday.

Bolt brings 16 years of coaching experience to the Nebraska program, including five seasons on the Husker baseball staff and four years as a head coach at Texarkana College.

Bolt served as Nebraska’s Associate Head Coach under Darin Erstad from 2012 to 2014 and also was a volunteer assistant on the 2005 Husker team that reached the College World Series. As a player or coach, Bolt has been a part of all three of Nebraska’s College World Series teams and all four Super Regional squads.

Bolt returns to Lincoln after spending the past five seasons on the Texas A&M staff where he helped the Aggies to five straight NCAA regional appearances and a trip to the 2017 College World Series.

“The opportunity to come back home to Nebraska and lead the Husker baseball program is such a blessing and honor for my family and me,” Bolt said. “It is such an exciting time in Husker athletics with the foundation laid by Bill Moos within the athletic department, and the success Coach Erstad and staff have had on the field.

“My family and I have the fondest affection for the Huskers and the city of Lincoln, and truly cannot wait to become part of the Husker family again!”

The native of Conroe, Texas, had his first association with the Nebraska program as a player for the Huskers from 1999 to 2002. A member of Dave Van Horn’s first recruiting class at Nebraska, Bolt played on four NCAA regional teams and captained the Huskers’ first two College World Series teams in 2001 and 2002. Bolt finished his Husker playing career with school records in games played (251), games started (242), at-bats (922), hits (281), doubles (56) and assists (639).

“Will Bolt has been a winner at every stop he has made as a coach and player, and I am proud to welcome him back to Lincoln as our next head baseball coach,” Moos said. “Will was a part of the most successful teams in the history of our baseball program, and he knows what it takes to win here.

“Will has proven to be an outstanding recruiter wherever he has coached. He understands the appeal of Nebraska and everything our baseball program and University has to offer to student-athletes.”

Bolt and his wife, Lauren, have two sons, Jaxon and Austin, and one daughter, Bella. Bolt has signed a five-year contract that will pay him $300,000 annually.

Webb’s Words: At Home, Mercer Brings Home the Title

And then I thought to myself “Where at this complex can I buy some bourbon and be alone? I need to contemplate my existence.”

Ok, first, some background.

It was August 6, 2016. I was staring down a 30th birthday in exactly 45 days, but that wasn’t the root of a momentary life crisis.

I was at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., for Prep Baseball Report’s Future Games. Every August, the Future Games brings together the top uncommitted rising juniors in Prep Baseball Report’s coverage area. As the contingent of players from Ohio were battling Prep Baseball Report’s Michigan squad, I found enough space among the more than three dozen college coaches camped out on this game and squatted along a brick pillar to take in the action. Making small talk with the surrounding coaches, a coach to my left departed and afford me enough space to stand up and take an unobstructed view of the game.

Whoever did what, whether the green-clad Michigan team beat the scarlet-dressed Ohio State outfit or vice-versa, what player could be a middle-of-the-order bat for whomever in five years, I couldn’t tell you. My lasting impression from the evening was what I projected for a coach.

With more space to stand up and take in the game, I ended up standing next to Wright State head coach Jeff Mercer. Mercer had recently been named head coach of his alma mater, taking over for Greg Lovelady, whom Central Florida named head coach. After congratulating Mercer on his first head coach position, and reliving a bit of the 2016 Louisville Regional, where Wright State knocked out Ohio State en route to finishing runners-up to the Cardinals, Mercer and I started talking recruiting.

What made Wright State successful under Loverlady, and before that Penn State’s Rob Cooper, was Wright State’s uncanny ability to find gems in the recruiting trail. Whether they trusted the bat to provide enough value to overcome defensive deficiencies other recruiters saw, took a chance on the undersized kid, or just had a better scouting eye, for going on a decade, Wright State did more than any other Midwest program given resources, brand name, facilities, location. To be candid, it shouldn’t be possible that a commuter school outside of Dayton, Ohio could on multiple occasions beat the top team in the nation (Georgia in 2009 and Virginia in 2010) be a consistent regional presence, rack up 40-win seasons and knockout the state’s flagship school with at least five times as much resources. But Wright State did all of the above.

At an event where coaches are ask to project players just coming off of their sophomore, if not freshman, high school seasons, I asked Mercer how the recruiting landscape had changed since he played, and if the Wright State model was sustainable with the recruiting cycles continued acceleration. For the next 30 minutes, Mercer not only explained what made Wright State successful on the recruiting trail, but identified trends and inefficiencies in recruiting, how to recruit a football player versus a one-sport baseball specialist, what type of nutrition plan is demanded of different body types and he will provide a player once on campus to maximize their physical being.

As the class of 2018 and 2019 graduates from Ohio and Michigan shook hands at the end of their game, Mercer and I vowed to keep in touch, exchanged pleasantries and asked for the inning and who’s on the mound of the other games.

It’s not uncommon to lost track of time when talking to coaches as events on the recruiting trails. Especially by August, most of the players have been seen too many times to count. Conversations drift and can span the range of ranking fast food burgers to desired careers as amateur storm chasers to debating the merits of Marriott versus Hilton hotels. What made the conversation with Mercer stand out was the articulation, thoroughness and precision of plans. There was no wavering from one thought to the next. Mercer wasn’t just a new head coach learning as he went, he was prepared for this day from the time he entered the coaching ranks.

And then there’s me, the to-be-30-year-old, who had trouble on a daily basis figuring out what to eat for lunch and how to cook it. This level of detail, articulation of a vision, and purposeful intention behind every action was beyond me and my 29 3/4 years. I needed that bourbon.

I first knew of Mercer when he a first baseman at Wright State. During the 2009 season, I ran a blog called Buckeye State Baseball that covered all of Ohio college baseball. Under the direction of Cooper, Mercer was on a 2009 Wright State team I followedthat participated in the Forth Worth Regional. It was also a year that saw Mercer named Horizon League Player of the Year.

Following Mercer’s decorated career between Dayton and Wright State, he spent a year as a Graduate Assistant at Ohio Northern, and then coached on Rich Maloney’s staff at Michigan for the 2011 season. I had been around college baseball enough to know a coach doesn’t land at a place like Michigan, less than two years removed from his playing days, especially when one year is spent at ONU, no disrespect to the Polar Bears. I assumed Mercer had a bright future and kept track of what appeared to be an up-and-comer and the next big thing.

At the same time, you could say the same for the Indiana baseball program. While Mercer’s collegiate career was coming to an end in the Lone Star State, the Bluegrass State bore witness to a revived Hoosier program.

The 2009 season ended with Indiana in the Louisville Regional, its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 12 years, as the Hoosiers won the Big Ten Tournament. A team decorated with three first-round picks, Eric Arnett, Matt Bashore and Josh Phegley, and three eventual Major League Baseball players, Alex Dickerson, Jake Dunning and Phegley, the third-seeded Hoosiers ran bullied the tournament field and showed there was a new kid on the block in Big Ten baseball.

While we fast forward a little, here is where we also show how timing is a funny thing and everything.

It’s June 2013. Indiana, now with Kyle Schwarber and Sam Travis, built upon the foundation laid by Dickerson and Phegley. The Hoosier appeared in the College World Series, finishing sixth in the country. Indiana became the first Big Ten team to reach Omaha since Michigan in 1984, as Tracy Smith was named National Coach of the Year.

At the other end of the Big Ten standings, Penn State relived Robbie Wine of his duties at Penn State. With coaches around the country seeing what is possible at a Big Ten program, the Penn State head coach vacancy received interest from all parts of the country. Three candidates emerged as finalists: Wright State’s Rob Cooper, Saint Louis’ Darin Hendrickson and Louisville assistant coach Chris Lemonis. Ultimately Lemonis decided to stay at Louisville and Penn State tabbed Cooper. With Cooper leaving Wright State, the Raider program was turned over to assistant Greg Lovelady, who then added Mercer to his staff.

The following year, Indiana wouldn’t quite reach their 2013 highs, but they did earn a national seed in the NCAA Tournament and hosted a second consecutive regional. Hired by Indiana in 2006, Smith recruited the players that saw Indiana break their postseason drought in 2009 and over the next five years established himself as one of college baseball’s top coaches, spearheaded Indiana going from Sembower Field, a place that was on-par with a mid-tier high school program, as well as made Indiana the standard-bearer in the Big Ten. Arguably the most recognizable school in college baseball, Arizona State plucked Smith from Bloomington. And now, after being of interest for Ohio State’s vacancy in 2010, Michigan’s in 2012 and Penn State the prior summer, Indiana made Lemonis their head coach and put him in charge of keeping the Hoosier program at it’s peak.

For the most part, Lemonis did just that. In four years, Indiana went to three regionals. They continued to recruit at an elite level, contend for Big Ten championships, and saw college baseball become something you schedule to do in Bloomington.

Meanwhile, less than two hours across the border in Ohio, the Wright State machine continued to churn out conference crowns and regional appearances. Wright State set a program record with 43 wins in 2015, then reset the record book in 2016 with 45 wins. In the two years that Mercer led the Raiders, Wright State went 77-38, received their first national ranking in 2017 and appeared in the 2018 Stanford Regional.

While it was almost two years since I had that what-is-my-life moment, the moment came for Mercer to do what he had sought out to do all along.

A native of Bargersville, Ind., Mercer is the junior of Jeff Mercer Sr. When junior was a toddler, senior was an assistant baseball coach at Indiana from 1988-1989. As he would grow up and play for Franklin Community High School, he was only an hour away from the program he dreamed of leading. College baseball did land him in Bloomington, but Dayton and Wright State kept him in the region, as did coaching stops at ONU, Michigan, Western Kentucky and Wright State.

But now it was time to come home.

The success Indiana had from 2009-2018 was a bit bittersweet. Indiana was indeed one of the top 30 programs in the country. Their success in Bloomington made Smith and Lemonis top targets. Targets by athletic departments that pour seemingly unlimited funds and resources into their baseball programs. Just as multiple Big Ten schools were interested in Lemonis while he was an assistant at Louisville, it wasn’t long in his tenure that it became an annual eventual for Lemonis’ name was tied to a vacancy at a college baseball blueblood. Ultimately, Mississippi State was able to pluck Lemonis away from Bloomington following the 2018.

What was Indiana to do to not continue this cycle of hiring a good coach, see have success, step forward as one of college baseball’s best, then leave?

Hire a guy who sees Indiana as the final destination, one who planned for the opportunity from day one. Hire Jeff Mercer.

Throughout Indiana’s search to fill the surprise vacancy created by Lemonis’ departure, I spoke with those close to Indiana’s search. They did not want to become the Xavier basketball of college baseball: a very good to great program potentially losing a coach every handful of years. Where media threw out names like Nate Yeskie of Oregon State or Wes Johnson at Arkansas, Indiana had no such interest. They wanted a guy who knew what it meant to be a Hoosier, a guy who would want to retire in Bloomington. They weren’t interested in the hot name, let alone coaches who couldn’t tell you Bargersville from Brownsville, Indiana. If it meant sacrificing a ranking here or there, so be it, who wants to don the Crimson and Cream and not look elsewhere?

This time, it didn’t take a 30-minute talk with Mercer to contemplate what’s to come. It took all of 30 seconds.

When I called Mercer to ask if he would have interest in the Indiana vacancy, he said absolutely, that he wouldn’t leave Indiana even if the New York Yankees called offering their manager job. Mercer shared some family insight, like how his parents have a barn 15 minutes from campus, how at his grandparents thee first thing you saw when you opened the door was Christ on the crucifix and a picture of Bobby Knight. Mercer grew up only knowing Indiana and in his heart the possibility of leading Indiana is what everything he worked for in coaching was for.

And so it came to pass. Hundreds of resumes and well-qualified coaches applied, but it didn’t take long for Indiana to find their guy. On July 2, 2018, less than nine days after Lemonis left, Indiana Director of Athletics Fred Glass named Mercer the 25th head coach in Indiana’s baseball history. I’ll guess Glass will be long retired before Indiana needs their 26th head coach.

It was two and a half years after we chatted in Westfield, but one week out from the start of the 2019 season, Mercer and I had another conversation that saw time fly by. Speaking to culture and buy-in, nutrition plans, how he wants to build the IU program to his liking, every belief and principle had a purpose behind it. Every decision had a reason. Every action a why. While I was looking to the 2019 season, Mercer was operating just as he normally does. Everything he worked for led him to this moment, it was just another day in February, all actions prior led up to it, all actions to come to lead Indiana to a title.

On Saturday, Mercer led Indiana to their seventh Big Ten championship. In winning the conference crown in his first season, Mercer became the first Big Ten coach to win the conference championship in his first season at the school since Minnesota’s John Anderson did it in 1982. There were 32 hires in the Big Ten since Minnesota tabbed Anderson, if you were wondering.

The more I dug through record books and checked coaching records against who won the Big Ten, there were some pretty impressive coaches who were unable to do what Mercer did. Some hall of fame coaches in fact. Ohio State’s Bob Todd didn’t win a title in his first year, he needed two seasons to bring a title to Columbus. Maloney restored past promise and glory in Ann Arbor, but the Wolverines didn’t win the Big Ten until his fourth season. Darin Erstad and Dan Hartleb have opportunities to go down as the best coaches in the respective histories of Nebraska and Illinois baseball, but their first Big Ten crown didn’t come until their sixth season.

And so it was Anderson who last accomplished what Mercer did this weekend, fittingly. A coach back in his home state, a coach who has no desire to leave. A coach who’s planned it out for as long as he can remember. If there’s ever going to be a coach who matches Anderson with 11 Big Ten championships over a 38-year career, it’s the 33-year-old Mercer.

Rest easy, and celebrate Indiana, you have your coach, he’s home and not going anywhere. Bourbon’s on me.

Weekend Reads: May 2

With the college baseball season heading into its stretch run, there isn’t a shortage of fascinating subjects, interesting notes and compelling storylines. Heading into a big week of Big Ten baseball, here’s a half-dozen must-reads, as well as a look at how outlets see the NCAA Tournament field coming together.

 

There’s plenty of work left for the Hawkeyes, which are seeking their third regional berth in the last five seasons. But opportunity awaits in the final month. It starts this weekend, as Iowa (27-16, 11-7 Big Ten Conference) hosts No. 25 UC Irvine (28-11) in what is its most pivotal series of the year.

Examining the Hawkeyes’ postseason chances with college baseball analysts Dargan Southard, HawkCentral

 

“You just have to be able to continue to compete, it’s so cliché, but just the toughness,” Mercer said. “You just have to continue to go and go and go, and you can’t worry about what happens. We couldn’t worry about what happened Friday, we couldn’t worry about what happened in the first five of six innings (on Saturday). You’ve got to just keep going.”

Power, Toughness Have Indiana On The Rise Joe Healy, Baseball America

 

From a walk-on, who wasn’t even guaranteed a spot on the 35-man roster his freshman season, to an emerging MLB prospect, Nwogu is living the dream playing for his hometown team.

Walk-on to MLB prospect, Ann Arbor native doing it all for Michigan Ryan Zuke, MLive.com

 

“We’ve talked about this being a young team,” Beals said. “Well, it’s time to get over that. They are not freshmen any longer. We’ve played 44 games…These games coming up are critical. Now, the test is: Can you stay in it? Can you play it out through the dog days.”

Beals Prods Bucks For The Stretch Run Greg Hoard, Press Pros Magazine

 

That petty cash goes towards groceries, cleaning supplies and other sundries around the apartment. Smith’s dedication more directly pays off on the mound. In the span of the past year, the left-hander from suburban Chicago has risen from little-used reliever to weekend starter.

Purdue baseball’s Patrick J. Smith seeing summer dedication pay off in starting rotation

 

During the second weekend of the season, the Cats were in a rain delay in Durham, North Carolina. Dunn said the team spent the delay in the dugout cracking jokes and telling stories. He cited junior Alex Erro as “probably the best storyteller,” as well as a great impersonator, highlighting his impression of freshman Anthony Calarco.

During delays, Northwestern players have different ways of staying loose Peter Warren, Daily Northwestern

 

NCAA Tournament Projections

Baseball America In: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska

D1Baseball.com In: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska

Perfect Game In: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska

10 B1G Baseball Things to Watch in May

The final month of the college baseball season is here. With respect to February, March, April and even June, there’s nothing like baseball in May.

From fights for conference championships, battles for individual honors, the polishing og postseason resumes, the opportunity for some firsts and the heartbreaks of some, lasting memories are made in May.

What’s in store for the Big Ten in May? Here’s 10 things to watch across the conference as a wild month unfolds.

The Player of the Year showdown

Michigan’s Jordan Brewer and Ohio State’s Dominic Canzone are 1-2 in the Big Ten in batting. The Wolverine leads the conference with a .378 average, the Buckeye sits second at .367. Both are hitting for power in posting gaudy averages. With the conference’s top slugging percentage, .685, Brewer has 11 doubles with 11 home runs. Slugging .656, Canzone has 12 doubles, two triples and 12 home runs. Where Brewer trails in extra-base hits, and total hits (66 to 54) he bests Canzone in stolen bases. Brewer has swiped 13 bags in 17 attempts to Canzone’s six stolen bases in seven tries.

For the first time in several years, without a David Kerian, Matt Fielder, Jake Adams or Bren Spillane there isn’t a clear cut favorite for the conference’s top individual honor as the season enters the final month. With two equally viable candidates, last POY battle this tight was 2013 when Illinois Justin Parr and Indiana’s Kyle Schwarber each had a rightful claim. As Michigan looks for its first conference crown in 11 years, and the Buckeyes fight for a spot in the conference tournament, these two leading men will be needed to be at their best. And the one that is looks like they’ll go down as the Big Ten’s best.

Who takes home the ERA crown?

Seven Big Ten pitchers posses ERAs between 2.00 and 2.40. Extending it to 2.70 nets three more hurlers. While pitching continues to get better and better in the Big Ten, and teams possessing deeper staffs, there hasn’t been a year quite like the one we’re witnessing in 2019. There isn’t just one very good, perhaps dominant pitcher, there’s been several.

Minnesota’s Max Meyer leads the Big Ten with a 2.00 ERA, a sneeze better than Penn State’s Dante Biasi’s 2.01 mark. Iowa’s Grant Judkins is right there at 2.11. PSU stretch reliever Mason Mellott sports a 2.30 ERA, Indiana’s Andrew Saalfrank checks in at 2.31.

With 90 strikeouts in 62.2 innings and a .177 ERA, Biasi has incredible numbers alongside his ERA to stake his claim for Big Ten Pitcher of the Year. But with ERAs as low as his, and the company breathing down his neck, it would take one bad outing to fall out of the top 10.

Big time bye weeks

The race for the Big Ten crown is going to be dramatic, with Michigan, Indiana, Nebraska and Iowa all within two games of each other. The rounding out of the Big Ten Tournament field should be just as intense, with two games separating fifth and 11th places. But don’t forget about the action taking place outside of conference play.

Three significant bye weeks round out the regular season. Iowa hosts UC Irvine, Nebraska host Arizona State, and Arizona travels to Penn State. The first two series have NCAA Tournament implications. Both Irvine and ASU are ranked. Winning those series will help Iowa and Nebraska solidify their postseason resumes. For Penn State, it’s been a tough season, one that start with promise before fizzling out. While postseason play will elude them, winning their final series of the weekend, especially against a Power 5, nationally-recognized team like Arizona, will give a young team something to rally around in the offseason.

Regardless of outcome, it is great for the Big Ten to have perennial powers and college bluebloods on their turf, late in the season, with an opportunity to continue to shape the perception of Big Ten baseball.

Does Penn State play spoiler?

It just hasn’t been Penn State’s year. Although the team has pitched to a 3.84 ERA, fourth-best in the Big Ten, a conference-worst .231 batting average has been an anchor around the Nittany Lions all season. Of Penn State’s 15 conference losses, seven have been by one run and six by two runs. Penn State has suffered six defeats where they allowed three runs or fewer, and three when it’s only been one or two runs. Although a return to the Big Ten Tournament must wait at least another year, Penn State can do significant damage to a pair of club’s postseason hopes, prior to the season-ending series versus Arizona.

First up, Penn State welcomes Rutgers to town this weekend, a club with their own offensive struggles. The Nittany Lions play their final Big Ten in Columbus, against an Ohio State team that is incredibly sneaky. Every possible outcome is on the table as Penn State takes on these two scarlet-clad clubs. Including outcomes that can keep a club, or both, from Omaha.

Can the Hoosier slug 100 home runs?

Indiana leads the country with 77 home runs, a pace of 1.75 home runs per each of the team’s 44 games. Over a 56-game schedule that amounts to 98 home runs. Can the Hoosiers hit 100 home runs? With 11 games left in the regular season, IU needs to hit 2.1 per contest to hit the century mark before the postseason. Assuming all games are played in the regular season and Indiana at worst goes 0-2 in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, they would need 23 over 15 games, a modest clip of 1.53 home runs per game. As the team creeps towards the century mark, the Big Ten record for home runs in a season is in play. The mark sits at 108, set by Michigan in 1985.

There is one record the Hoosiers are assuredly going to blow by: most times struck out. Indiana batters have struck out 469 times this season, just 14 shy of the single-season record set by Ohio State in 2016. Of course that Ohio State team won 40 games, and won the Big Ten Tournament. Success Indiana would take.

Is a regional heading to Champaign?

Earlier this season, there was a time when Illinois was ranked. Then, there was a time when Illinois sat 1-5 in Big Ten play. Now, the Illini are back on the upswing, with a few big opportunities in front on them.

Illinois picked up a 5-2 win over Indiana State on Wednesday, giving the team a ninth win in 13 contests against team with an RPI of 50 or better. And with an RPI of their own at 21, Illinois is compiling a resume that has a chance to host a regional. That resume can add a pretty shiny start with a weekend over Indiana, whom the Illini host this weekend. Illinois’ RPI may take a hit through the rest of May, series versus Purdue and at Michigan State has Illinois facing the Big Ten’s two worst rated clubs. But already Illinois has weekend wins against Florida Atlantic, Illinois State, Minnesota and Nebraska, in addition to taking two games against Coastal Carolina. Barring a complete collapse over the final month, Illinois zeroing in on a return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. And just as they did that year, the Illini might be playing postseason baseball at home.

Will Rutgers have enough juice to get to Omaha?

Rutgers has the weekend rotation to earn a spot in the program’s first Big Ten Tournament. With Harry Rutkowski, Tommy Genuario and Tevin Murray, all three holding sub-3.50 ERAs, the Scarlet Knights are capable of winning every weekend on the strength of their staff. But to win a baseball game one must outscore the opposition. The scoring part has been tough for Rutgers this year. While the team has a 3.29 ERA in Big Ten play, fifth-best, the bats havent’ match. The club’s .234 batting average is 11th and it’s .292 slugging percentage sits last. With the weekend rotation all in line to return next year, their success this season has opened the door for possibilities next year of vying for a conference crown and spot in the NCAA Tournament. But it would be a bitter pill to swallow if postseason play is put off another year with the way the Rutgers rotation has pitched.

What does Maryland get out of Blohm?

Maryland junior left-handed pitcher Tyler Blohm opened May making just his third appearance on the mound. Prior to Wednesday’s action, the 2017 Big Ten Freshman of the Year was sidelined for two months, last pitching on Feb. 17 against Virginia Commonwealth, before returning to the mound on April 23 for a start against VCU. As he returns to form, the results have been encouraging. In his two outings, Blohm has logged 5.1 innings, allowed two hits and struck out nine batters against one walk. Blohm possesses the stuff to be among the Big Ten’s top pitching prospects when healthy. With his return, and doing so in strong from, he gives Rob Vaughn and the Terps one more bullet in the chamber as they fight a crowded field for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament. It is worth watching if Maryland can get him back into the weekend rotation and stretched out, as their finishing stretch of Michigan-Minnesota-Iowa, might be the toughest in the conference.

Northwestern’s bid for a winning season

It’s been 15 years since Northwestern last had a non-losing season, going 25-25 in 2003. The drought dates back to 2000 to find Northwestern’s last winning season, a 30-27 campaign. The Wildcats opened May on a high, defeating Illinois State, 6-3, a team ranked 32 in the RPI. At 19-22 heading into their final 10 games, it would take a 7-3 run to finish the regular season north of .500. Northwestern’s final three weekends see Nebraska and Minnesota travel to Evanston, around a series at Rutgers. With that finishing stretch, a winning season may be a tall order. But the opportunity is there for Spencer Allen and company to take a significant step forward as a program.

Who wins the Big Ten? Who reaches Omaha?

Just look at the standings? It’s crowded. It’s time for chaos. Welcome to May.

10 B1G Baseball First-Half Thoughts

The Big Ten has reached the midway point of its conference season, bringing to close a first-half that had a bit over everything. A small sample size certainty contributes to it, but only one and a half games separate third from 10th place, as the first four weekends providing shocking results, one after another. It does appear two teams have jumped to the front of the pack, with two more teams hanging on by a thread, but for everyone else, it’s been a roller coaster of a conference slate.

Before looking ahead to what should be an equally frantic second-half, here’s a look at 10 first-half thoughts.

The wildest opening month in recent memory

Where does one begin? Whether it’s due to greater parity or weather forcing one Saturday doubleheader after another, the first four weeks of the Big Ten season has been full of twist and turns.

Illinois opened conference play with a 1-5 mark, after opening the season on a 17-4 tear. Iowa was primarily responsible for Illinois’ slow start, sweeping the Illini in their conference-opening series. Unfortunately for Rick Heller’s club, the Hawkeyes were on the opposite side of a sweep one week later at Indiana. Ohio State has also suffered a brooming, seeing Northwestern enter Columbus and leave with three wins. But the Buckeyes would then rebound the following weekend by taking two of three from a ranked Michigan team, a Wolverine club which some viewed to be the prohibitive favorite after taking a series against Minnesota.

Many times it has appeared a team was poised to make go on an extended run, only to take a step backwards the following weekend. Similarly, more than once has it appeared a club had a long season in front of them, before looking like a top club the next weekend. I guess that’s how you get five teams a game within .500.

Indiana has its scariest lineup in at least a decade

Indiana leads the Big Ten in home runs and it’s not even close. The Hooisers have slugged 66 home runs, lapping Michigan’s second-best total of 37. In fact, with 13 home runs apiece, Cole Barr and Matt Lloyd have more home runs individually than Purdue (6) and Rutgers (10) do as a team and just as many as Michigan State. In total, 12 Hoosier have left the yard, with Matt Gorski (9) and Grant Richardson (7), set to join Barr and Lloyd in double-digits. It’s a 1-9 with power the Big Ten hasn’t seen in some time.

Indiana isn’t too far removed from the days of Kyle Schwarber and Sam Travis, but this is the most potent IU lineup to take to Bart Kaufman Field. Indiana’s 2014 national seed team only hit 43 home runs on the year. The year before, when Indiana reached the College World Series, Tracy Smith’s club hit 53 home runs in 65 games. Those dominant clubs where more methodical and wore you down over nine innings, opposed to capable of putting up a crooked inning no matter which part of the lineup is due up, at whatever junction.

With 66 home runs in 37 games, this Indiana outfit is squarely on pace for a 100-home run season. Every player possesses the ability to go out of the yard, at any given moment, recall memories of Indiana’s 2009 club, when first-round Josh Phegley and freshman Alex Dickerson anchored a potent offense that mashed its way to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 13 years.

Again, the two best teams will not play each other

Speaking of the Hoosiers, its appears that they and the Huskers of Nebraska have separated from the pack and are moving forward as the two best clubs. Indiana’s 7-2 Big Ten mark trails only Nebraska’s 10-2 clip. While Indiana is powered by ferocious attack, Nebraska’s pitching has been at top form, stifling opponents. While they fight for the conference titles, fans look to be out in the cold, and won’t see what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, as the Hoosier and Huskers are not slated to play each other in the regular season. (Although that didn’t stop the two from meeting in the 2014 Big Ten Tournament for an unforgettable affairs.)

If the two finish 1-2 or 2-1 in the Big Ten standings, it will be another year when the top two clubs do not meet. Just as IU and Nebraska didn’t meet in 2014, nor did Illinois and Iowa in 2015, nor Minnesota and Nebraska in 2016, nor Nebraska and Illinois in 2017. The streak did end last year, as Minnesota and Purdue met in an abbreviated two-game as Minnesota outscored Purdue 40-15. That was far from the classic a not-to-be series between Indiana and Nebraska has the potential to be.

Penn State isn’t what their record says they are

At the opposite end of the standings, Penn State’s 1-10 conference mark has the Nittany Lions 12th in the 13-team table. It’s almost becoming downright cruel, but Penn State is far from what one would expect of a club with one win in 11 conference games. Of the 10 losses, five have been by two runs, with four coming by a lone run. Only once, a 5-1 loss to Minnesota in the first game of the Big Ten season, has Penn State been decisively outmatched.

In their 11 conference contests, Penn State has only gave up 41 runs, an average of 3.72 per game, pitching to a 2.79 ERA in conference play. Only Nebraska and Indiana, a pair of clubs Penn State has played, have lower ERAs, 1.92 and 2.32, respectively. But in baseball you can only win if you outscore the opposition. As strong as Penn State’s pitching has been, the oppositions has been better, holding PSU to 26 runs and a .202 batting average. But, as the Nittany Lions enter the second-half of Big Ten play with the two toughest opponents behind them, they do so with a weekend rotation that should have them in every game and will trip up any time gauging their ability by their Big Ten record. Especially as Dante Biasi and his 1.93 ERA and Big Ten-leading 70 strikeouts sits atop the weekend rotation.

A slow start for the stars

Heading into the season, prognosticators pegged Illinois Michael Massey, Indiana’s Matt Gorski and Michigan’s Jesse Franklin as the Big Ten tops players, with Minnesota sophomore right-handed pitcher Patrick Fredrickson a heavy favorite to repeat as the conference’s top pitcher. While it’s far too early to write anyone off, the seasons those four players are having are not what was expected.

Injury has slowed Massey down and kept him out of the field, regulated to Illinois’ DH spot all through February and March. Just recently has the 2018 Rawlings Gold Glove recipient returned to his natural second base, as he bats a good, but not spectacular .333. Gorski does have the aforementioned nine home runs, but he is batting just .276. That’s still significantly better than Franklin’s .238 mark, although Franklin has one-upped Gorski with 10 home runs. Iowa’s Chris Whelan, Ohio State’s Kobie Foppe and Rutgers’ Carmen Scalfani are also expected offensive leaders who haven’t seen hits fall in as expected.

But the most perplexing slow start falls on Fredrickson. A year removed from going 9-0 with a 1.86 ERA, Fredrickson is 1-3 with a 5.74 ERA. En route to winning Big Ten Pitcher and Freshman of the Year honors, Fredrickson issued just 27 walks in 97 innings. Control has been a significant issue in 2019, as the Gopher has walked 25 batters in just 26.2 innings.

Freshmen making an impact

Where some returning standouts have struggle, there’s a crop of rookies getting it done, a few stepping up to pick up some of the slack from those once all-conference performers, setting up a dandy of a Freshman of the Year race.

Right-hander Garrett Burhenn holds a 3.16 ERA as he has emerged as Ohio State’s ace. Richardson’s seven home runs pace freshmen, one more than Burhenn’s fellow Buckeye freshman, Zach Denzenzo and Maryland’s Maxwell Costes, the latter holding a .911 OPS and a Maryland-leading 30 RBI. Michigan closer Willie Weiss has six saves and a 3.38 ERA. While Cam McDonald has stepped up nicely for the Illini, with a .307 batting average and

Seniors are providing significant production

Of course, the seniors won’t have the freshman steal all of the spotlight.

Seniors have stepping up to pacing their respective club in hitting are:

Jack Dunn (.374), Northwestern

Grant Van Scoy (.363), Illinois

Jordan Bowersox (.344), Penn State

Matt Lloyd (.318), Indiana

Dunn leads the conference in average and on-base percentage (.477), while Lloyd leads in home runs and slugging percentage (.689) and RBI (38).

Seniors carrying the torch on the mound are:

Matt Waldron (1.76 ERA), Nebraska

Pauly Milto (1.98), Indiana

Hunter Parsons (2.95), Maryland

Waldron’s ERA leads Big Ten hurlers, with Parsons’ 64 innings the standard-bearer.

Max Meyer gives Minnesota a puncher’s chance

One star who has delivered on preseason promise would be the walk-away winner of any Most Valuable Player honor: Minnesota sophomore Max Meyer. With the Gophers struggling to find traction, the Gophers moved their all-american closer to the front of the rotation. Converting a key reliever to starter hasn’t worked out well for a few Big Ten teams in recent years (Indiana, Nebraska (several times), Michigan State, Northwestern just to name a few), but it has so far for John Anderson, and it may be a move that saved their season.

Minnesota sat 2-8 on the year, in part due to stout competition, before Meyer made his first start against Oregon State on March 8. Minnesota has gone 14-10 since, while Meyer sports a 1.97 ERA on the season, with 58 strikeouts in 50.1 innings and a .204 batting average against. With Meyer atop the rotation, Minnesota can go toe-to-toe against anyone in the country. With Fredrickson’s regression and all but Jeff Fasching and Brett Schulze providing inconsistent returns, Minnesota desperately need the experiment to work. And it has. Meyer emerging as a frontline starter is also coming as he tackled two-way duties, batting .292 over 96 at-bats in 29 games.

Rutgers has the staff it needs to reach the postseason

While Minnesota entered the season looking to reach Omaha as College World Series participants, looking build off last season’s end in the Corvallis Super Regional, Rutgers is looking to play in Omaha as participants in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time. And for the first time under Joe Litterio, The Scarlet Knights have a weekend staff capable of getting them there.

Sophomore Harry Rutkowski, junior Tommy Genuario and junior Tevin Murray make up a rotation with respective ERAs of 3.23, 2.97 and 3.66. That has Rutgers join Illinois, Indiana and Michigan as Big Ten teams with each pitcher in their weekend rotation holding a sub-4.00 ERA. And just like the Hoosiers, Illinois and Wolverines, the Scarlet Knights have a reliable closer in senior Serafino Brito. Rutgers doesn’t have the pitching depth those three other clubs do, Rutgers’ team ERA is 4.69, ninth in the conference, but they can role out a strong rotation and close out games in a manner needed to finish in the top eight.

ESPN and Fox Sports provide more national exposure

As the Big Ten Network is in its second decade, the benefits of the conference-centric network have been invaluable. Additional revenue for Big Ten athletic departments have helped many olympic sports receive new or enhanced facilities. The network helps with recruiting in exposing those facilities and the game action to all parts of the country. And it’s new for friends and families to tune on a game when unable to travel and take in. But more and more BTN isn’t the only network airing Big Ten baseball to the country from coast to coast. Already ESPNU has aired Big Ten play, the finale of the Purdue-Nebraska series, while FS1 has shown a non-conference Purdue-Indiana midweek affair and a Butler-Purdue contest the following week. ESPNU will also air the finale of the Minnesota-Indiana , a week before FS1 broadcasts action from Minneapolis in a showdown between the Gophers and Buckeyes. While gates around the conference may take a small hit, it’s great to see Big Ten baseball on multiple airwaves around the country.

Saturday Roundup, March 9

Saturday was a busy day around the Big Ten, with 15 games spanning the country, from the foothills of the Appalachians all the way to Los Angeles. There wasn’t the drama that Friday possessed, but there were series clinched by Illinois and Nebraska, while Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue and Rutgers saw their weekend get underway after weather disrupted their planned weekend.

Here’s a rundown of how Saturday unfolded in the Big Ten.

Scores

Illinois (9-3) @ Grand Canyon (6-8), W, 5-2

Indiana (7-6) vs. #7 Oregon State (12-1), L, 8-3

Iowa (7-4) vs. Evansville (5-6), W, 18-7

Maryland (8-5) @ Stetson (6-8), L, 12-7

Michigan (9-3) @ USC (5-8), L, 4-1

Michigan State vs. Western Carolina (7-5), L, 6-4 (10)

Michigan State (3-10) 7 vs. Ohio State (7-6) 1

Minnesota (2-10) vs. San Diego (11-4), L, 6-5 (8)

Nebraska (6-6) @ #25 Baylor (9-4), W, 2-0

Northwestern (4-8) @ Missouri (8-5), L, 17-11

Penn State (8-3) @ Central Florida (10-4), L, 5-3

Purdue (2-10) vs. NJIT (6-3-1), L/W, 9-3 (10), 9-8

Rutgers (3-8) @ USC Upstate (6-8), L/W 1-0, 8-7

Saturday Highlights

Unhittable Fisher leads Huskers to series win

It’s going to be an easy call for the Big Ten when announcing this weekend’s individual honors. The effort Nebraska senior left-handed Nate Fisher together wasn’t only the best of the weekend, but it might end up as the top pitching performance of the year at season’s end.

Leading Nebraska to a series-clinching 2-0 win at #25 Baylor, Fisher could not be touched. Pitching into the ninth, Fisher did not allow a hit on the afternoon. Pulled after hitting the first batter of the ninth, Fisher’s final line read: eight innings, zero hits, zero runs, one walk and six strikeouts. Most impressive was the efficiency at which Fisher pitched, needing only 84 pitches to pitch into the ninth. Baylor did record a hit off reliever Robbie Palkert to avoid the no-hitter, before freshman right-hander Colby Gomes closed the door with a one-out save.

Offensively, lone runs in the fourth and ninth were enough to help the Huskers reach .500. In a 2-for-4 day, Gomes recorded a one-out single, before coming around to score on a sacrifice fly by Luke Roskam. In between, as part of a 3-for-4 afternoon, a single by Gunner Hellstrom advanced Gomes to third from first. Nebraska’s third multi-hit effort was secured by freshman shortstop Spencer Schwellenbach, with a RBI-single, giving the game it’s final 2-0 score.

Overpowering Mokma helps Spartans salvage Saturday split

After being unable to secure a 4-2 lead after eight innings in a 6-4, 10-inning loss to Western Carolina, Michigan State head coach Jake Boss took no chances with his bullpen in a non-conference showdown against Ohio State.

Holding the Ohio State lineup in check all night, sophomore right-handed pitcher Mike Mokma pitched a complete-game against the Buckeyes, scattering seven hits, allowing just one run, and strikeout 11. Over 127 pitches, the second-year sophomore did not issue a walk.

“Mike was outstanding in every way tonight,” MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said. “Mike did a heck of a job when we really needed it. We had a disappointing loss in game one, and thankfully for us, Mike was ready to go out and play. He threw a lot of strikes tonight and was in command the whole way.”

Mike Mokma was the story of the game,” Ohio State head coach Greg Beals said. “He commanded his fastball really well and pitched in good counts almost all night long.”

Every batter in the MSU lineup recorded at least one hit in support of Mokma, with a 3-for-4 effort from Bryce Kelley, and a 2-for-3, two-double evening from Royce Ando leading the way.

Noteworthy relief efforts litter Saturday’s slate

There were a few outstanding relief efforts on Saturday that saw pitchers do everything they could to keep their team in the game.

Pitching 4.1 innings, Illinois’ Sean Leland struck out eight, did not walk a batter and held Grand Canyon to one hit, in Illinois’ 5-2 win.

Although they fell short of a comeback win, Penn State saw Kyle Virbitsky pitch the final three innings against Central Florida, allowing just one hit and one run.

Ohio State freshman TJ Brock pitched three perfect innings against Michigan State, striking out five Spartans.

Purdue’s Austin Peterson pitched the final 5.2 innings, surrendering just two hits while punching out nine in Purdue’s 9-8 win over NJIT.

Purdue and Rutgers bounce back to end skids

Tough losses on Saturday afternoon extended losing streaks for Purdue and Rutgers. But with nightcaps of Saturday doubleheaders still to play, both clubs were able to shake off the defeat and head to bed on Saturday night with a victory in tow.

USC Uptate did just enough in collecting six hits to turn back Rutgers, 1-0 in game one of their twinbill. With offense at a premium, Rutgers’ four hits weren’t enough to support a strong effort on the mound by Harry Rutkowski. The sophomore pitched 5.2 innings, scattered five hits and struck out eight. A second one-run contest was played Saturday night between the two, with the Scarlet Knights coming out on top this time, 8-7, overcoming five errors in the process. Chris Brito and Tyler McNamara both collected RBI-singles in the ninth inning to halt a four-game slide.

A pair of 10th-inning errors helped NJIT bring 10 batters to the plate, as a six-run extra frame powered the Highlanders to an game one victory over the Boilermakers, 9-3. Purdue had used a three-run eighth to tie the game. The ability to score later in the game continued into Saturday’s finale, as Purdue scored in each of the final four frames to win 9-8, putting an end to a five-game skid. Trailing 7-3 at the stretch, a three-run seventh, and two-run eighth set the stage for a dramatic ninth. After NJIT knotted the game 8-8 in the top of the inning, back-to-back four-pitch walks put Tyler Powers and Evan Albrecht on. A bunt single from Skyler Hunter loaded the bases, before a third four-pitch walk of the inning, drawn by Cole McKenzie, gave Purdue a literal walk-off victory.

Hawkeyes collect the hits

Before the season starter, Iowa head coach Rick Heller felt his 2019 lineup would be the most consistent, 1-9. Absent were the big threats of years past like Jake Adams, Tyler Cropley, Mason McCoy and Robert Neustrom, but present was a collect of players Heller was confident all could do their job and come together as a potent force.

Saturday’s game against Evansville may have been exactly what Heller envision.

Taking on Evansville in Marian, Ill., Iowa pounded out a season-high 19 hits in their 18-7 romp. Supporting Cole McDonald’s six-inning, one-run effort, 10 Hawkeyes collected a hit, with first baseman Zeb Adreon leading the way, using three doubles to go 3-for-5 evening with four RBI. Izaya Fullard, Ben Norman and Matthew Sosa each collected a home run, as the Hawkeyes pounded out nine extra-base hits.

“I’m happy with how our team came out to play. They had great focus in all areas of the game, especially on offense. Zeb Adreon had a big night with four RBIs. Izaya Fullard had five RBIs. Matthew Sosa comes into the game and has three RBIs with some great at-bats. Up and down the lineup, guys put quality at-bats together. We did a job of executing when we needed to move runners.”

Oregon State still has the Big Ten’s number

With their 8-3 win over Indiana, Oregon State is now 7-0 against the Big Ten this year. The Beavers have twice beat Minnesota and swept Nebraska in a four-game series the second week of the season.

Unfortunately for the Big Ten, this is nothing new. Oregon State swept Minnesota in last year’s Corvallis Super Regional, and grabbed all four games, two apiece, against Nebraska and Ohio State last February. To find the last time a Big Ten team defeated Oregon State, you have to go back to Feb. 24, 2017, when the Buckeyes knocked off the Beavers, 6-1, in Surprise, Ariz. Since then, Oregon State has won 15 in a row.

Errors comes back to bite

Saturday wasn’t the finest day on the diamond for many conference teams, with poor showings in the field coming back to haunt teams in close losses. Here’s a look at whose defense let them down the hardest.

Indiana: three errors, two unearned runs.

Michigan State: two errors, two unearned runs, lost by two in 10 innings to WCU.

Maryland: three errors, four unearned runs.

Minnesota: four errors, two unearned runs, lost by one run.

Purdue: three errors in game one vs. NJIT, all six 10th inning runs were unearned.

Penn State’s three errors against Central Florida did not lead to any unearned runs.

Friday Roundup, March 8

With the non-conference slate winding down and teams having nearly a dozen games under their belt, it’s beginning to be more clear what can be excepted of Big Ten teams to come. And if Friday’s results were any indication, what is to come is an incredibly competitive conference season where no weekend will be a gimme.

Here’s a roundup of a big night for Big Ten baseball.

Scores

Illinois (8-3) @ Grand Canyon (6-7), W, 6-3

Indiana (7-5) vs. Washington (8-3), W, 1-0

Maryland (8-4) @ Stetson (5-7), W, 7-0

#18 Michigan (9-2) @ #2 UCLA (9-3), W, 7-5

Minnesota (2-9) vs. #7 Oregon State (11-1), L 2-1

Nebraska (5-6) @ #25 Baylor (9-3), W, 12-4

Northwestern (4-7) @ Missouri (7-5), L, 3-2

Penn State (8-2) @ Central Florida (9-3), W, 5-2

Michigan State vs. Western Carolina, CLD

Ohio State vs. Furman PPD

Rutgers @ USC Upstate PPD

Rankings reflective of Baseball America’s March 4 top 25.

Friday highlights

The Big Ten makes some big noise

Just a look at yesterday’s scoreboard reveals a big day for the Big Ten. The conference grabbed two road wins against top 25 clubs, while going 6-2 overall. And the the two losses were one-run contest against Power 5 opponents. The most runs a team allowed were UCLA’s five against Michigan, as the conference outscored the opposition 41-19. The conference has collectively had an up-and-down first three weeks, but now with conference play around the corner, it appears teams are coming into form.

Pauly Milto’s career-defining performance

Slowly, but very steadily and surely, Indiana right-hander Pauly Milto is carving space in the Indiana record books and is set to graduate as one of the Hoosiers best pitchers in program history. With a 2.87 ERA over 213.1 career innings, the numbers support the argument. And now, Milto has a defining outing that will live in the memories of Hoosier faithful well beyond his four-year career in Bloomington. The final game on opening day of the Seattle Baseball Showcase at T-Mobile Park, Milto was dominant against Washington, a 2018 College World Series participant and team entering with only two defeats over the 10 games in 2019.

In eight innings, Milto allowed just one hit, walked one batter and hit another, to face just three batters over the minimum. The senior struck out six batters in a 104-pitch outing, throwing 68 for strikes. Milto’s dominance on the mound was needed as the Hoosiers were held to just six hits, but Drew Ashley’s two-out single to left, scoring Cole Barr, was enough to give Indiana a key win.

Max Meyer’s statement-making first start

Before Milto silenced the Huskies, except for one pitch, Minnesota’s Max Meyer gave everything the Gophers could have asked for in his first career start, also twirling a gem. With Minnesota looking to turn around an 2-8 start, Meyer was moved into the Gopher rotation, following a 4.2-inning relief appearance at No. 23 North Carolina State, where the sophomore right-hander allowed one run and struck out four. In his second consecutive outing against a ranked team, Meyer gave John Anderson a career-high six innings against Oregon State, striking out eight batters without issuing a walk, and allowed only four hits. But one of the hits was a two-run home run against fellow USA Baseball Collegiate National Team member Adley Rutschman, one of the top two MLB Draft prospects. The 2-1 loss will sting, but Meyer showed he has the ability to go deep into contests, and if he can stymie a top five team the way he did last night, the season’s outlook is a lot brighter for Minnesota.

Penn State continues hot start

They didn’t defeat a ranked team, but Penn State knocking off Central Florida on the road might have been the most eye-catching result. Coming off of a 15-win season, few outside of State College expected much of the Nittany Lions. But a 7-2 showing after three weekends brought a little attention to what Rob Cooper’s club is doing in the early part of 2019, a spotlight surely to grow larger after holding an UCF team who entered the weekend at 9-3, to three hits. Sophomore Mason Mellott continues to shine as a stretch-reliever, pitching the final three innings without allowing a run, supporting 3-for-5 efforts by Jordan Bowersox and Parker Hendershot.

Tommy Henry’s B-game still plenty good

It wasn’t his best performance, but Wolverine junior left-handed pitcher Tommy Henry was still plenty good, leading Michigan to the road upset over UCLA. Michigan’s 7-5 win was the program’s first over a top five team since defeating #4 Illinois in the 2015 Big Ten Tournament. Entering the contest without conceding a run in 23 innings, the Bruins did tag Henry for two runs and six hits over six innings, but the southpaw’s 10 strikeouts to two walks helped keep the bears at bay, and push Michigan to 9-2 on the year.

Maryland’s Costes is picking up where his brother left off

With senior right-handed pitcher Hunter Parsons quieting the Hatters, Parsons scattered six hits over seven innings, with 10 strikeouts to one walk, freshman Maxwell Costes provided all of the offense the Terps would need. Now 8-4 on the young season with the 7-0 road win at Stetson, Maryland saw Costes go 2-for-3 with a walk, home run, two runs and RBI out of the cleanup spot. With a team-leading .326 average, two home runs and a 1.013 OPS, Costes is continuing the family trend of being a force in the heart of the Maryland lineup, more than adequately filling the shoes of Marty Costes, who was a 22nd-round draft pick of the Houston Astros following a three-year career in College Park.

Sweet swinging Jack Yalowitz is back

Following a breakout 2017 season, where he batted .335 with 12 home runs and 10 stolen bases as a sophomore, expectations were high for Illinois outfielder Jack Yalowitz in 2018. But the draft season played out in a surprising manner, with his average dropping to .216 and power dipping to four home runs. Back in Champaign for a senior season, Yalowitz is reverting to his 2017 form and giving the Illini the production they need to break a four-year NCAA Tournament drought. Powering Illinois to a 6-3 win over Grand Canyon, Yalowitz matched career highs with four hits, two home runs and five RBI. Helping Illinois to an 8-3 start, the former first-team all-conference outfielder is batting .350.

Nebraska finds the long ball, again, and again

Through their first 10 games, Nebraska had yet to hit a home run. The Huskers were able to find the long ball on Friday, then had so much fun they did it twice in the same inning. Just two batters in, senior shortstop Angelo Altavilla blasted a two-run home run, then three batters later it was junior catcher Luke Roskam’s turn to dial up a two-run long ball. En route to routing Baylor, 12-4, Altavilla hit his second home run of the game in the top of the ninth, to cap a five-RBI night. Roskam added three more hits, in addition to his home run in the first, to go 4-for-6 with two runs and four RBI. On the mound, senior right-hander Matt Waldron allowing two runs, one earned, over seven innings, striking out eight batters without issuing a walk.

 

The Ten: Week 1

It didn’t take long for a Big Ten player to grab the national spotlight.

With 11 strikeouts in a six-inning, no-hit outing, Iowa junior right-handed pitcher Grant Judkins received a pair of national accolades in addition to being the conference’s top pitcher over opening weekend. Who else starred to get a new season underway? Here’s the first edition of The 10 this year, rounding up the weekend’s top individual performances.

Michigan St. Sr. 3B Royce Ando

Sliding to the hot corner for his senior season, the Spartan’s swan song got off to a hot start. Racking up five hits in 11 at-bats, Ando picked up a hit of each kind, using two singles, a double, triple and home run to touch 11 bases. Ando’s weekend line finished .455/.500/1.000.

Ohio State Fr. RHP Garrett Burhenn

Burhenn’s collegiate debut was almost perfect, literally. Taking the mound for the Buckeyes on Saturday against Seton Hall, the rookie logged eight innings and pitched to the minimum of 24 batters. Striking out six without issuing a walk, Burhenn surrendered only one hit, then promptly erased the runner with a double play. Burhenn’s effort led an Ohio State staff that allowed just six runs over four games.

Ohio State Sr. OF Brady Cherry

A change of scenery appears to be exactly what Cherry needed. Anchored in Ohio State’s infield for his first three seasons, moving from third to second and even seeing time at first base, now an outfielder, Cherry’s senior season is off to a stellar start. The offensive force in Ohio State’s 4-0 weekend, Cherry recorded seven hits in 14 at-bats, connecting on a pair of doubles and two home runs, to slug 1.071. The 15 bases Cherry touched over opening weekend is already more than one-fourth of his 2018 total of 58.

Nebraska Soph. OF Jaxon Hallmark

Hallmark earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors after using eight hits in 18 at-bats to drive in 10 runs. The sophomore recorded two doubles and a stolen base, to score five runs. For good measure, Hallmark recorded two outs to close out Nebraska’s 10-6 win over UC Riverside on Saturday.

Michigan Jr. LHP Tommy Henry

Stepping into the role of ace for the Wolverines, the junior southpaw gave Erik Bakich and staff exactly what is desired from a leading pitcher. Pitching six innings of shutout baseball against Binghamton, Henry scattered six hits without conceding a run, struck out nine batters while walking just one.

Iowa Jr. RHP Grant Judkins

When you’re the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week, the National College Baseball Writers Association Pitcher of the Week and a Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Week, it’s highly likely you had a dominant performance. Judkins was indeed dominant. Spurring Iowa to a winning weekend in a 10-0 win over Marshall, Judkins did not allow a hit over six innings and struck out 11 batters. Judkins’ 11 strikeouts sets a new career high, while edging teammate Jake Dreyer and Michigan’s Karl Kauffmann for the Big Ten lead after one weekend.

Penn State Soph. RHP Mason Mellott

Penn State pitchers proved mighty tough in their season-opening series against Monmouth. Powering the Nittany Lions to a 3-0 record, PSU hurlers allowed only eight hits and three earned runs. At the forefront of the charge on the mound was Mellott. The sophomore pitched four hitless innings in relief to earn the win in PSU’s 1-0 season opening victory. Then, on Sunday, Mellott logged two innings, allowing one hit and one unearned run, to earn the save in Penn State’s 6-4, securing the weekend sweep.

Indiana Sr. RHP Pauly Milto

It’s a new era in Bloomington as Jeff Mercer takes over the Hoosier program. But, at least for one game, it was more of the same. Pauly Milto continued to add to a dominant career with a gem in Indiana’s season opener. On Saturday, at Memphis, Milto pitched seven innings of scoreless baseball, striking out seven batters. The righty scattered just two hits without issuing a walk, giving Mercer a sign of what he can expect on Friday nights with his new club.

Illinois Sr. OF Zac Taylor

Few players in the Big Ten have the combo of power and speed that Taylor has. As Illinois looks to break a four-year NCAA Tournament drought, Taylor’s dynamic ability was on display, giving Dan Hartleb’s team the type of production needed to replace Big Ten Player of the Year Bren Spillane. In three games, Taylor rapped out six hits, collecting two doubles and a home run, while adding five stolen bases.

Illinois Jr. RHP Cyrillo Watson

As good as Taylor was at the plate and on the bases, Watson was his equal on the mound. Long viewed as the Illini with the best pure stuff and most potential, Watson put it all together in his 2019 debut. Helping Illinois finish the weekend 3-0, Watson logged six shutout innings against Sacred Heart. The junior righty scattered five hits while striking out eight batters, and did not issue a walk over the 90-pitch outing.

 

Freshman of the Week

Burhenn

Pitcher of the Week

Judkins

Player of the Week

Cherry

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