Weekend walk-off

With the calendar turning to April, every Big Ten team has now stepped into conference action. It was another sweep-heavy weekend with five teams picking up three-game sweeps, led by the defending champions showing little regard for relinquishing their crown.

Before Monday’s deeper weekend review, he’s a quick look at the weekend’s action.

Defending champs reign supreme

Michigan State entered the weekend as the Big Ten’s top hitting team, highest scoring team and the team with the conference’s best RPI. With a 3-0 record after a road sweep of Illinois, the Spartans were also at the top of the Big Ten standings.

But so too was Minnesota. The Gophers picked up three Big Ten road victories of their own, sweeping Ohio State in Columbus.

With someone forced to take their first lost of conference play, what can’t be found on paper between stats and standings was the difference between the two undefeateds.

As impressive as MSU’s season to date has been, there’s something about knowing first-hand what it takes to win a conference championship and continually play at a high level. What Michigan State was missing, showcased earlier this season in a tight but winless series at South Carolina, and what Minnesota has, is the ability to find the big hit and have a constant approach throughout the entire batting order, for all nine innings.

Excelling in those two areas allowed Minnesota to pick up a pair of one-run victories in a Saturday doubleheader, 3-2 and 4-3, before capping the sweep with a solid 9-4 victory on Sunday. With the three victories, a part of nine in a row, Minnesota’s Big Ten championship defense is off to a roaring start, picking up sweeps in the first two weekends of Big Ten play for the first time since 2003.

For Michigan State, an 0-4 week, including a 3-2 midweek loss to Western Michigan, has the Spartans looking to regroup after a 15-5 start.

 

The cream is starting to rise

Maryland continued a strong start to conference play with a weekend road sweep of Rutgers. After picking up a series victory in a competitive series against Michigan, the Terrapins, the coaches’ preseason favorite, provided the Scarlet Knights with a rude welcoming to Big Ten play and continued to show its muscle.

With weather postponing the start of the series a day, and forcing a Sunday doubleheader, Maryland picked up a 5-1 victory on Saturday, and grabbed Sunday wins of 6-1 and 9-1 to sweep Rutgers. Maryland’s bullpen pitched 10.1 innings of scoreless relief, as the Terps, who after starting the season 1-5, have won 17 of 20 games.

Michigan was just as hot in March as they broke into the polls. Following a three-game home sweep of Penn State, at 22-6, Michigan has no concern of falling out of the rankings. More important;y for Erik Bakich’s team, the three wins allowed Michigan to not lose ground to Minnesota and Maryland in the conference standings. Michigan’s trio of victories were powered by a slugging offense. In the sweep of the Nittany Lions, the Wolverines scored 39 runs on 38 hits and had five innings of at least four runs over the weekend.

 

Out of conference, in control

For a second weekend in a row, three Big Ten teams enjoyed a conference bye week. And enjoy did that. Illinois, Northwestern and Iowa each welcomed a non-conference foe to town and each captured a weekend victory.

Behind senior first baseman Pat McInerney homering in each game, Illinois picked up three victories over Indiana State, winning 6-4, 2-1 and 5-2. The weekend sweep saw McInerney take sole possession of the Big Ten’s home run lead with 11, one more than Iowa first baseman Jake Adams. In the weekend clincher, freshman right-handed pitcher Ty Weber tossed a four-hitter, a game won on a McInerney walk-off home run.

Iowa, too, enjoyed a sweep. The Hawkeyes turned back UNLV over three games, grabbing victories by scores of 3-0, 6-5 and 7-6. Junior right-handed pitcher Nick Gallagher pitched seven scoreless innings in the opener, combining with junior righty Josh Martsching to three-hit the Rebels. A Saturday doubleheader saw the Hawkeyes grind out a pair of one-run victories, Iowa needing a pair of three-run last-at-bat innings to take the weekend.

Walk-offs were in vogue this weekend and Northwestern made sure they were in on the fun. After splitting a Saturday doubleheader with Air Force, falling 11-3 in the series opener before rebounding with a 7-6 victory, a second one-run win gave Northwestern its first winning home weekend. In the bottom of the 11th in Sunday’s finale, junior DH Connor Lind picked up his first home run of the season with a solo shot to left, leading the ‘Cats to victory.

 

Elsewhere

Only a travel curfew could keep a pitching-dominant Nebraska team from a weekend sweep. The Cornhuskers picked up wins of 7-3 and 3-1 over Indiana, before a series finale ended in a 1-1 draw after 11 innings due to Nebraska’s travel curfew. NU starters pitched 17.2 innings and allowed five runs.

Purdue played as bad as a team can on Friday in a 13-2 loss to Ohio State. The Boilermakers committed five errors, tossed six wild pitches and walked eight batters. Mark Wasikowski’s team apparently got an entire weekend’s worth of bad play out in one game as Purdue bounced back for 6-1 and 2-1 victories to continue a rebound season.

 

Top performances

Illinois Sr. 1B Pat McInerney 4-for-9, 3 BB, 3 HR, 4 RBI, 4 R

Illinois Fr. RHP Ty Weber 9 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 7 SO

Indiana Soph. RHP Pauly Milto 6.1 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 SO

Iowa Jr. RHP Nick Gallagher 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 SO

Iowa Soph. 2B Mitchell Boe 5-for-10, 3 2B, 3B, 4 R, 5 RBI

Michigan Jr. 3B Drew Lugbauer 6-for-10, 2 HR, 2 2B, 7 RBI, 6 R

Ohio State Jr. RHP Yianni Pavlopolous 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 SO

Purdue Soph. LHP Gareth Stroh 7.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO

 

Standings

Minnesota 6-0, 18-8

Maryland 5-1, 18-8

Nebraska 2-0-1, 15-10-1

Michigan 4-2, 22-6

Iowa 2-1, 17-9

Indiana 3-2-1, 14-11-2

Michigan State 3-3, 15-9

Purdue 3-3, 15-12

Ohio State 1-5, 11-16

Penn State 0-13, 10-16

Rutgers 0-3, 10-17

Illinois 0-3, 9-16

Northwestern 0-3 8-18

The 10 Spot: Top freshmen

 

A week after the 10 Spot looked at the top breakout performances thus far, it’s time to put a spotlight on the top freshman around the Big Ten. With six weekends of play under their belt, their freshman season is nearly half-way through. With it, players are starting to emerge who look to be stalwarts in the lineup for years to come or positioning themselves as potential weekend aces.

Maryland  LHP Tyler Blohm

Picking up back-to-back Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors will assure a spot on this list. Maryland leftt-handed pitcher Tyler Blohm has anchored the Terrapin rotation and has shown no signs of his youth, providing consistent outing after consistent outing for head coach John Szefc. Making six starts through six weekends, Blohm has logged 28.1 innings, sporting a 2.86 ERA. Next to a .204 batting average against, Blohm has struck out a batter for every full inning pitched with 28.

Northwestern 2B Alex Erro

Wildcat second baseman Alex Erro did not record a hit in any of Northwestern’s three opening-weekend games against Arizona State. The weekend against the Sun Devils may be the only time in his career he goes 0-for-9. Since Northwestern’s trip to the desert, Erro has recorded a hit in all but one game, having an 18-game hitting streak snapped in the second game of Friday’s doubleheader against Indiana. With 30 hits in 85 at-bats, Erro is pacing the Wildcat attack with a .353 average, collecting three doubles and a pair of triples along the way. Erro has struck out only four times so far.

Michigan State  OF Danny Gleaves

Michigan State is the top offensive team in the Big Ten, and freshman outfielder Danny Gleaves is doing his part in providing the Spartans with a deep lineup. With 15 games under his belt, all starts, Gleaves is carrying a .324 average through his debut season. With five doubles a home run and seven stolen bases, Gleaves is fitting in perfectly with an offense that has a desirable blend of power and speed.

Indiana 1B Matt Gorski

Gorski has provided Indiana with a strong bat at a position the Hoosiers have had sub-par production from since Sam Travis moved to the professional ranks. Through 19 games, Gorski has a Hoosier-best .354 average, adding a bit of pop with a pair of doubles and two home runs. For good measure, the product of Hamilton Southeastern has added four steals in six attempts, looking to be a lineup staple from here out.

Nebraska OF Mojo Hagge

At 5’7, Husker outfielder Mojo Hagge is by all accounts undersized. But through 21 games, there is nothing short or insufficient in his playing abilities. Hagge has hit from the first time Darin Erstad penciled him into the Husker lineup, running up a .338 average over 77 at-bats. While veteran outfielders Scott Schreiber and Jake Meyers needed time to return to their previous levels of production, Hagge’s hitting out of the gate helped the Huskers weather a rocky 3-6 start.

Michigan LHP Tommy Henry

A 3.40 team ERA has powered Michigan to a 17-6 start and spot in national polls. One of the most consistent Michigan men on the mound has been southpaw rookie Tommy Henry. For pitchers with at least 12 innings of work, Henry’s 1.08 ERA is the best, running up 19 strikeouts against five walks in 16.2 innings. Appearing in eight games, Henry provides Michigan with a polished reliever capable of going multiple innings.

Indiana SS Jeremy Houston

A second rookie has broke through and grabbed a starting spot in the IU infield alongside Gorksi. Houston has been a rock at the toughest position in the infield, providing Chris Lemonis with a reliable glove at shortstop, committing only three errors in 85 chances. Houston has also gave the Hoosiers a pretty solid bat. Sixteen games into his career, Houston is batting .306 with three doubles and a pair of triples. What may be most impressive is the eight walks against eight strikeouts.

Purdue RHP Skylar Hunter

A year after batting .246 en route to 10 wins, Purdue holds a .277 team average through 22 games, already besting last year’s win total with 12 victories. Leading Purdue’s improved hitting attack is center fielder Syklar Hunter. With 25 hits in 65 at-bats, Hunter’s .385 average is tops among Boilermakers and ranks fourth in the Big Ten.

Iowa OF Ben Norman

Outfielder Ben Norman started his career in Iowa City with one hit in 12 at-bats, going hitless in four of five games. Since then, Norman has four games of at least three hits to counter. Going 25-for-71 on the year, with seven doubles and a home run, Norman is one of six Hawkeyes with a .300 or better average, hitting .352 on the season, next to a .418 on-base percentage and .493 slugging percentage, forcing his way into become the everyday Hawkeye center fielder.

Purdue RHP Dalton Parker

Established veterans can struggle when taking on the pressure-filled position of closer. So far, as Purdue enjoys a program revival, Boilermaker Dalton Parker has had little difficulty taking on the role at the back of the bullpen, excelling as just a freshman. Appearing in seven games, Parker is 2-1 with a team-best four saves. Over 19.2 innings, the right-handed pitchers holds a 1.83 ERA, on the strength of 18 strikeouts and a .143 opponent’s batting average.

Weekend preview March 23-26

After five weekends of college baseball action, Big Ten play begins this weekend with five series. There isn’t a lull in the opening weekend of conference games, with a stout weekend on deck. The Big Ten year starts in a big way with the preseason favorite, Maryland, hosting the current favorite, Michigan, as well as last year’s two championships, Minnesota and Ohio State, squaring off in Columbus. Fireworks can be expected in Iowa City, while two series in Illinois look to dodge raindrops.

The road to the Big Ten Tournament in Bloomington begins this weekend, here’s a rundown of what’s happening around the conference.

Depth leads Michigan into showdown of contenders

Before the season, one theme prevailed when Michigan head coach Erik Bakich spoke of his team in looking ahead to the 2017 season: depth.

“You’re never going to hear any coach complain about having depth on the mound,” the fifth-year head coach said. ” That’s one area you never want to be thin in. We’re lucky that not only do we have depth, it’s older depth, with juniors and seniors.”

There was disappointment in Michigan’s 2016 end. After winning the Big Ten Tournament and playing in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, expectations were high for Michigan. But the Wolverines lost nine of their last 11 games, finished 36-21 and did not play in a regional. Though outside expectations were temped, they went internally, many familiar faces returned in the locker room, players who knew what was needed to take the next step.

“It’s not often you get an entire infield unit of returning starters back, but that’s what we have with Jake Bivens, Drew Lugbauer, Michael Brdar, Ako Thomas and Harrison Wenson,” Bakich said a week before the season, as Michigan returned eight of nine starters. “I like the experience of the outfield, the experience of the infield. It looks like it’s projected to be one of those (special) lineups with returning players.”

With the experience around the diamond and the Wolverines needing to replace only left fielder Matt Ramsay, Bakich noted there was optimism for the team looking to claim its first Big Ten championship since 2008. But only in the second week of February, Bakich cautioned Michigan had yet to do anything on the field.

Fast forward to the start of Big Ten play and the Wolverines have done quite a bit on the field.

Opening Big Ten play with a showdown on the road against the coaches’ preseason favorite, Maryland, at 16-4, Michigan owns the Big Ten’s best record and is the conference’s lone nationally-ranked team, penciled as the 21st-best team in this week’s NCBWA poll. The Wolverines have garnered quality wins against San Diego, USC and swept a three-game series at Atlantic Sun favorite Lipscomb. Michigan’s success has come thanks to the depth, both in run prevention and finding ways to score, a prognostication that has turned into reality.

On the mound, 18 pitchers have seen action. The multitude of pitchers with innings under their belt isn’t a reflection of Bakich and pitching coach Sean Kenny trying to figure out roles, in search for quality innings, it’s state of having capable guys, left and right. The Wolverines leads the Big Ten with a 3.22 ERA, and Michigan pitchers also top the conference charts in strikeouts (170) and opponent’s batting average (.233).

Helping the cause of U-M pitchers is a defense which isn’t giving the opposition anything to work with. Michigan’s .981 fielding percentage is second in the conference, behind Minnesota’s .983 mark. Opponents have had no luck running on Wenson and Michigan pitchers, successful stealing just seven bases in 15 attempts. Bakich says Michigan’s sure-handedness is a reflect of the experience in the field, players knowing how to track and read balls, what plays they can and can’t make.

But neither the pitching depth or fielding prowess speaks to the versatility Michigan is capable as much as its offensive attack.

Michigan’s .270 team average won’t jump off the page, nor will the 6.4 runs they score per game. Both are solid marks, but respectively rank fifth and fourth in the conference. But how Michigan can score runs sets itself apart. The Wolverines are tied for fourth with 18 home runs, second with 111 walks and first with 47 stolen bases. Holding a 4-2 record in games scoring five runs or less, but also having nine games of scoring at least seven runs, Michigan can win the closer game and walk away with in laugher. In hitting the long ball, moving base to base, being aggressive and taking 90 feet at every opportunity, a blend of speed, power and patience has Bakich liking the offensive makeup of the team.

“Doing it in a variety of ways,” Bakich said following Michigan’s doubleheader sweep of Northern Illinois. “Home runs, a couple of stolen bases, bunts, moving runners, sac flies, first-to-thirds, just different ways to manufacture runs.”

What’s behind Michigan’s ability to score runs in multiple ways? Depth.

“It speaks to the depth. For the first time in awhile we got guys pushing each other. There’s good internal competition making everybody better.  You want to see execution from your depth and we have that now. We like the different weapons and the choices we have, the match-ups we can play.”

And so far, Michigan has shown they can play with anyone.

Potent offenses square off in Iowa

The conference’s No. 2 hitting team takes the road to square off against the No. 3 hitting club thus far. With Purdue heading to Iowa City, there’s the potential for high-scoring games. The Boilermakers’ .281 team average is just above the Hawkeyes .278 clip. Already this week both teams have shown their offensive mite.

On Wednesday, Purdue knocked off Ball State, 16-4, hours before Iowa defeated Bradley, 12-1. For Iowa, it was the second straight game scoring 12 runs, the fifth time this year they have crossed home at least a dozen times in a game. Purdue’s 21 hits against the Cardinals was a season-high as the Boilermakers reached double digits in runs for a sixth time this season.

Purdue freshman Skylar Hunter leads the Big Ten with a .426 average over 54 at-bats. Right behind him is Iowa sophomore Robert Neustrom, second in the Big Ten with a .395 clip. With Iowa first baseman Jake Adams leading the Big Ten with eight home runs and 27 RBI, it shouldn’t be a surprise senior shortstop Mason McCoy is tied for the conference lead with 21 runs scored. McCoy is tied with a Purdue player, Harry Shipley.

For the pitchers who are to be tasked with shutting down the potent offenses, Iowa enters the weekend with a team ERA of 5.02, besting the 5.94 mark of Purdue. Opponents are batting .274 off Hawkeye pitchers, with 14 home runs. Boilermaker hurlers have pitched to the tune of a .276 opponents average, conceding 18 home runs.

Purdue is visiting Iowa City for the first time since 2012, Since then, Duane Banks Field has become one of the toughest places for a visitor to win under. Since the start of the 2015 season, Iowa is 36-10 at home.

Around the conference

Champions clash

The 2016 Big Ten champions and 2016 Big Ten Tournament champions will meet to open the 2017 Big Ten season. Both NCAA Tournament teams a year ago, Minnesota (11-8) heads to Columbus to take on Ohio State (9-11) in defense of their conference crown.

With the Gophers playing in a regional for the first time since 2010, Ohio State’s Louisville Regional appearances the Buckeyes first regional showing since 2009, neither team has yet to show last year’s form, both experiencing heavy turnover.

Minnesota lost the Big Ten Player of the Year in Matt Fiedler to the draft, alongside the graduation of top pitcher Dalton Sawyer and closer Jordan Jess. Ohio State is still looking to replace All-American outfielder Ronnie Dawson, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, as well as three other positional players drafter, Jacob Bosiokovic, Troy Montgomery, Nick Sergakis, and the drafting of their Friday starter Tanner Tully.

The lost of six regulars shows in Ohio State’s .247 team average, and the Buckeyes have yet to pitch at last year’s level, sporting a 5.02 ERA, more than a run and a half higher than 2016’s 3.35 showing. Minnesota sports a solid team average, .275, but it isn’t the lofty mark the team used en route to its championship, .323.

The meeting of the two champions will allow one to get a key weekend win and start to build momentum in pursuit of last year’s success.

Final tune-ups

Three teams will still be in non-conference action this weekend, stepping outside of the Big Ten for their bye weeks.

After falling to Cal State-Bakersfield, 8-6 on Tuesday, Nebraska (9-9) continues a California spring break with a four-game set at Cal Poly (7-12), Thursday through Saturday. On the line is a perfect 6-0 all-time record against the Mustangs as the Huskers look to get back over .500 and build upon their 9-9 record. In addition to a clean record against Cal Poly, also noteworthy is the 21.2-inning scoreless streak junior left-handed pitcher Jake Meyers has dating back to Feb. 25 against #1 Oregon State. Meyers’ 1.54 ERA leads the Big Ten, a part of Nebraska’s 3.67 team ERA, good enough for third in the Big Ten.

Penn State opened its home slate with a 4-3, walk-off win over Bucknell, Tuesday night, and look to continue the winning ways inside Medlar Field at Lubrano Park with four games this weekend against Columbia. At 7-11, the Nittany Lions have a chance to reach .500, while Columbia enters the weekend with just one win in 12 games. Both teams have struggled at the plate, Columbia owns a .227 team average with Penn State batting just .219, but if the Nittany Lions can grab a lead by the sixth inning, they look to be in good shape. PSU is 6-0 when leading after six.

Rutgers (6-14) is on the road for a three-game set in Spartanburg, S.C., against South Carolina-Upstate (12-11). The Scarlet Knights are looking to get back on track, hoping to end a four-game losing streak. The Spartans are the third straight Atlantic Sun weekend opponent for Rutgers, following weekends at North Florida, where RU won the final two games to take the series, and Florida Gulf Coast, who swept Rutgers.

Weather shakes up schedules in Illinois

Due to inclement weather rolling through the Midwest, set to hit Illinois on Saturday, both series in Illinois this weekend will feature Friday doubleheaders.

In Champaign, Michigan State (12-5) and Illinois (6-12) will play at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., CT on Friday, before taking Saturday off and resuming their series at 2 p.m. on Sunday, a game scheduled to be aired on BTN.

Up the road in Evanston, the series between Indiana and Northwestern will begin at noon CT, on Friday, with game two set for 3 p.m. For now, Saturday’s game is still on, providing for two days to get the final game of the series in if needed pushed to Sunday.

Injury notes

Iowa junior right-handed pitcher Nick Gallagher is back atop the Hawkeye rotation after missing last week’s series at Kansas State.

Ohio State junior right-handed pitcher Adam Niemeyer will not pitch this weekend due to an elbow injury.

Per the Indiana Daily Student, Indiana freshman shortstop Jeremy Houston is day-to-day with a hamstring injury and sophomore pitcher Jonathan Stiever will see more action this weekend after rehabbing from an upper body injury.

Required reading

An unlikely Hawkeye becoming Big Ten’s top slugger -Chad Leistikow, The Des Moines Register

Iowa baseball set for Big Ten play -Jordan Hansen, The Gazette

Ohio State hosts reigning outright Big Ten champion Minnesota -Edward Sutelan, The Lantern

U.S. Bank Stadium gets mixed reviews for Minnesota baseball -Luke Hanlon, Minnesota Daily

Surprise! Rutgers 2-sport star Jawuan Harris is practicing in spring football camp -Keith Sargeant, NJ.com

After recovering…it’s old fastball, new job for Husker pitcher Jake Hohensee -Evan Bland, Omaha World-Herald

Midweek wrap

The Big Ten went 9-2 over midweek games as more and more action returns to Big Ten campuses around the conference. From Michigan State and Penn State winning home openers to Purdue continue to show offensive mite at the plate, here’s a recap of the week’s midweek games.

Terps split at UNC-Wilmington behind Smith

Maryland junior shortstop Kevin Smith is starting to swing the bat in a way many expected him to. Entering the season as the Big Ten’s top 2017 MLB Draft prospect on lists from Baseball America and D1Baseball.com, the 2016 Cape Code League all-star has enjoyed a power surge over the last week.

The Terrapins were on the road for a pair of midweek games at UNC-Wilmington. On Tuesday, eight runs over the first three innings by the hosts were too much for Maryland to overcome. Making his first career start, senior right-handed pitcher Mike Rescigno allowed six runs, four earned, off four hits and a pair of walks, only recording four outs.

As Maryland tried to climb out of the early hole, Smith homered in the fifth and sixth innings, two of Maryland’s three home runs, with sophomore right fielder Marty Costes added a home run in the fourth. Though Maryland out-hit UNC-Wilmington 10-9, two Terrapins errors lead to four unearned runs for the Seahawks.

After taking the Tuesday loss, Maryland bounced back on Wednesday, with Costes and Smith again at the charge.

For a second consecutive game, Costes hit a home run, with Smith launching his fourth and fifth home runs of the year in a 10-6 win. With the victory, Maryland improved to 13-7 on the year in advance of Big Ten play and UNC-Wilmington fell to 9-10.

The second game of the two-game midweek set saw the roles reverse with the Terrapins jumping out to an early lead. Following a one-out single, Costes pulled his fourth home run of the year over the left field wall. UNC-Wilmington aided the Maryland effort with a fielding error and balk leading to a third run of the inning for the visitors as Smith picked up an RBI on a grounder. Maryland added four runs in the seventh, powered by a three-run home run from Smith. Smith’s second home run of the game came in the eighth, a solo shot to left field, before the teams traded two runs in the ninth.

UNC-Wilimington’s turn on Tuesday, Maryland won the game despite being outhit, 9-8, with four Seahawk errors providing a helping hand. Costes and Smith each went 2-for-5 with Costes driving in two runs and Smith dialing up a five-RBI day.

Grand slams send Iowa past Bradley

Hawkeye catcher Tyler Cropley and right fielder Robert Neustrom each connected on grand slams as a pair of six-run innings powered Iowa (11-8) past Bradley (6-12) Wednesday evening, 12-1.

In the bottom of the first, with already two runs in and the bases loaded, Cropley sent a ball over Duane Banks’ left field wall for his second home run in three games and Iowa’s second grand slam of the season. It didn’t take long for Rick Heller’s club to pick up its third grand slam of the season.

Responding to a Bradley run in the top of the third, a leadoff single and a pair of two-out walks loaded the bases in front of Neustrom. Entering the game as the Big Ten’s leading hitter with a .408 average, Neustrom’s third home run of the year was an opposite field home run to left, to make Iowa the second Big Ten team with a pair of grand slams this year, following Ohio State’s 15-10 win on Feb. 18 against Delaware. The Hawkeyes added two more runs in the frame to close the game’s scoring.

Seven Iowa pitchers head the Braves to one run off four hits, led by freshman right-hander Grant Judkins pitching three innings, allowing one run on one hit with three strikeouts.

Boilermakers continue streak

Riding their longest winning streak since a 10-game run in April 2012, Purdue (11-8) picked up a sixth consecutive victory with a 16-4 dispatching of Ball State (11-10), Wednesday afternoon in Muncie, Ind.

Mark Wasikowski saw his leadoff batter reach base in seven of Purdue’s first eight at-bats, as the Boilermakers scored in five of the first six innings, each a multi-run inning.

Purdue started the scoring with three runs in the top of the first, an inning highlighted by a steal of home from sophomore left fielder Nick Dalesandro. Dalesandro filled up the box score with a 3-for-4 game, picking up a walk, scoring four times and driving in two runs.

But Dalesandro wasn’t alone in have a propensity to reach base with 11 Boilermakers safely reaching base in a 21-hit attacked. Purdue’s three run first inning was matched by a trio of runs in the third and sixth innings, a five-spot in the fourth and two more runs in the fifth added up to 16 runs for Purdue, playing its first game in its home state.

Freshman right-handed pitcher Jack Dellinger was the beneficiary of Purdue’s offensive onslaught, improving to 1-1 on the year with a five-inning start, allowing three runs, one earned, off four hits and a walk, striking out three batters. Freshman center fielder Skylar Hunter went 3-for-3 with five RBI and classmate Mike Madej added a pair of hits in three at-bats, driving in three runs.

Elsewhere

Rutgers (6-14) fell to Rider (7-10) on Tuesday, 7-2. In the loss, sophomore center fielder Jawuan Harris stole three bases to run his season total to a Big Ten-leading 13 steals. The three swipes moved Harris into RU’s all-time top-10 list, with 50 career stolen bases, equaling the mark of former Scarlet Knight and big leaguer David DeJesus. At the plate, Harris was 2-for-3 with a pair of walks and senior first baseman Mike Carter added two hits in four at-bats, but RU pitching couldn’t slow down a Rider attack that collected 16 hits.

Six Illinois (6-12) pitchers combined to hold Illinois State (5-13) to four hits in a 7-1 victory on Tuesday. Illinois scored two runs in the bottom of the first on two-out RBI-singles from DH Casey Dodge and second baseman Michael Massey. Massey lead Illinois with three hits on the day, joined be first baseman Pat McInerney and center fielder Doran Turchin, both with two, as Illini recording multi-hit games. Freshman right-handed pitcher Cyrillo Watson received the start and pitched three hitless-innings, striking out two batters.

All nine batters recorded at least one hit as Michigan State (12-5) recorded 16 hits in a 11-2 victory over Central Michigan (8-12), on Tuesday, in the Spartans’ home opener. MSU scored three runs in the first, fourth and eighth innings, lead by a dominant top of the order. Michigan’s State’s first four batters combined to go 9-for-17 with eight runs scored, led by sophomore first baseman Alex Troop’s 3-for-4 day. Seven Spartan pitchers saw action in the matinee, combining to strikeout 11 Chippewa batters, conceding one earned one.

Ohio State (9-11) scored in each of its first six trips to the plate, finishing with runs in seven of eight innings, to knock of Youngstown State (2-15) 12-8. The Buckeyes used a big day from freshman second baseman Noah West, who went 2-for-4 with a double and one of OSU’s three triples in the game, scoring four runs. Tre’ Gantt and Noah McGowan each picked up a triple in a two-hit game. Sophomore catcher Jacob Barnwell picked up three RBI, while battery mate lefty Connor Curlis pitched three innings of one-hit baseball in a scoreless-start.

Penn State (7-11) made the most of six hits over 10 innings on Tuesday night, defeating Bucknell (8-9), 4-3 in walk-off fashion. Sophomore second baseman Conlin Hughes recorded half of PSU’s six hits, his final one opened the bottom of the 10th with a single. Moving to second after a hitter batter, Hughes scored on an errant throw down the right field line following a sacrifice bunt attempt by Willie Burger. Nittany Lion freshman right-hander Eric Mock pitched four innings, allowing just one hit without yielding a run, striking out five batters.

A four-run fourth inning spurred Michigan to a 6-4 win over Western Michigan (9-8) to run the Big Ten’s best record to 16-4 on the year. WMU broke through first, scoring three runs on four hits in the top of the second off Wovlerine Jayce Vancena, but it would be the only blemish on the five-inning line of the junior right-hander, holding the Broncos to four hits while striking out four without issuing a walk. In U-M’s big inning, a Harrison Wenson two-run double to left field was the big hit, with Jonathan Engelmann adding a sacrifice fly and Ako Thomas picking up an RBI-single. Michigan added a run in the fifth, before the team’s trading runs in their final at-bats. Thomas, left fielder Miles Lewis and DH Nick Poirier each recorded two of Michigan’s 10 hits.

The fourth inning was also the decisive frame in Indiana’s 3-2 victory over Cincinnati on Wednesday. IU (10-8-1) used a bunt single from freshman first baseman Matt Gorski to open the inning, and quickly two Hoosiers were on base following a single from senior right fielder Craig Dedelow. A double down the left field line from sophomore third baseman Luke Miller scored Gorski, with Dedelow and Miller scoring one batter later on a single by freshman catcher Jake Matheny. Six Indiana pitchers combined to hold Cincinnati (10-10) to a run in the fifth and eighth, with Tim Herrin tossing four innings of one-run baseball.

The 10 Spot: Breakout performances

 

With the start of Big Ten play this weekend, already one-third of the 2017 college baseball is behind us. With five weeks of action to reflect upon, we’re at the point where impressive numbers have weight, a hot streak simply doesn’t last nearly 20 games, that’s consistent performance.

As such, here’s a look at ten players, outside of freshmen and transfers, who have shown early-season success isn’t a fluke, they’re ready to help their team fight for a Big Ten championship.

*Stats through March 21

Nebraska Soph. INF Angelo Altavilla

As Nebraska weathered a 3-6 start, sophomore Angelo Altavilla was doing everything possible to make sure the Husker boat didn’t sink. With head coach Darin Erstad looking for a lineup he could trust, Altavilla played second base, shortstop and third base, providing much needed versatility. While most of the Husker lineup was in an early-season slump, Altavilla was not, showing a hot stick from the start, batting .400 through the first three weekends. Nebraska now sits 9-9 on the season, with its team average up to .262, performing as expected. And Altavilla has continued to swing it. Altavilla leads Nebraska with a .365 average and .464 on-base percentage. A year ago, Altavilla picked up four hits in 19 at-bats. His total hit output has already been trumped solely by his six doubles.

Michigan Sr. SS Michael Brdar

Michigan has been the Big Ten’s most consistent team in 2017. With 15 wins in 19 games, the Wolverines are also the Big Ten’s lone nationally-ranked team. Senior shortstop Michael Brdar has been the most consistent Wolverine, performing at a high-level from his number three-spot in the lineup and in the heart of the diamond for all 19 games. Brdar’s .333 average leads U-M, dialing up a .419 on-base percentage on the strength of 11 walks and just three strikeouts in 75 at-bats. A year after batting .250 with eight doubles, a triple and a home run, Brdar is also seeing an uptick in power numbers, collecting five doubles and three home runs. For good measure, Brdar has only committed two errors while adding nine stolen bases.

Penn State Soph. OF Jordan Bowersox

Penn State is still searching for its collective stroke at the plate, with the Nittany Lions’ .219 batting average is the conference’s worst mark. But Penn State does boast one of the conference’s top hitters thus far in sophomore outfielder Jordan Bowersox. Serving as an occassional leadoff batter for Rob Cooper, a year after batting .244 over 42 games, Bowersox has upped his average by more than .100 points, sporting a .353 hitting clip. Thanks to six doubles and a home run, Bowersox is second on the team with a .485 slugging percentage, and leads PSU with a .413 on-base percentage.

Purdue Soph. C/OF Nick Dalesandro

The season Nick Dalesandro is having may be less a surprise and more that of a player coming into his own. Dalesandro arrived in West Lafayette with much fanfare an attention, a ballyhooed recruit with the expectations of being the leader in reviving a dormant program. Dalesandro had a good freshman year, batting .277 with a .653 OPS, seeing time in all three outfield spots, on the mound and behind the plate. His second season for the Boilermakers has not seen him step on the mound, but he has again played all three outfield spots and behind the plate. This time doing it with a bat that cannot be removed from the lineup. Dalesandro is batting .324 through 18 games, connecting on his first two career home runs, adding five doubles and five stolen bases for a very productive first season.

Ohio State Jr. CF Tre’ Gantt

There were big holes to fill in the Ohio State outfielder with Ronnie Dawson and Troy Montgomery selected by MLB teams following their junior season. Dawson, an All-American, and Montgomery, a preseason All-American heading into the 2016 season, helped lead Ohio State to the Big Ten Tournament title and the program’s first NCAA Tournament since 2009. A lot of production was lost. A lot of production is coming from Gantt’s bat. Just like the two aforementioned Buckeyes, Gantt is a left-handed hitting outfielder with speed and is now showing a bit of power. Gantt paces Ohio State with a .365 average, six doubles, a pair of triples, a .581 slugging percentage and .467 on-base percentage. Gantt’s 10 extra-base hits, which match his output over the last two seasons, are second in the Big Ten, with his 43 total bases ranking third.

Minnesota Sr. RHP Brian Glowicki

Brian Glowick has faced hitters in 38 official at-bats this year. One batter recorded a home run off of the Gopher right-handed pitcher, another reached second a double. Two have players have singled off of the senior. Nobody else has recorded a hit. Appearing in nine games for Minnesota, Glowicki has been as close to a lock-down closer as there is. With only one run on his accord in 11.1 innings, Glowicki holds a .79 ERA with 13 strikeouts and one walk. Leading the Big Ten with six saves next to a 1-0 record, Glowicki has matched his saves total from his prior three seasons in Minneapolis where a 4.52 ERA in 85.2 inning.

Indiana Sr. OF Alex Krupa

With Indiana returning four players who saw playing time in the outfielder, how the Hoosiers lined up in the grass was question and perhaps good problem for Chris Lemonis to have. Senior Alex Krupa has put his best foot forward to make sure he’s in the lineup. A year ago, transferring to Indiana from Iowa Western, Krupa had a good year, batting .281 with a team-best 14 stolen bases. But with only three doubles a triple, Krupa slugged .313, leading to an sub-.700 OPS at .676. This year, Krupa’s ability to record a base hit is coming at a better rate, as is his power. Through Indiana’s 18 games, Krupa leads the Hoosiers with a .356 average. Matching his 2016 extra-base tallies with three doubles and a triple, Krupa also has a pair of home runs to slug .600 through the first third of the season.

Maryland Soph. RHP Andrew Miller

It’s reasonable to claim no player has made as big of a jump from 2016 to 2017 as Maryland sophomore right-handed pitcher Andrew Miller. A year ago, Miller was a highly-touted freshman who turned down offers from the New York Yankees, before scuffling to a 11.57-ERA campaign. The 2017 version of Miller is what many expected from the Stratford, New Jersey native. In his first 10 appearances, Miller did not surrender a run in 10.1 innings. Leading the Terrapins with three saves, Miller used 10 strikeouts to hold opponents to a .097 batting average in 31 at-bats. Miller’s scoreless inning streak snapped on Thursday, surrendering a two-run home run in Maryland’s 10-6 win over North Carolina-Wilimington. But it doesn’t look like Miller will stop having success at the back up the Terp’s pen.

Michigan State Soph. RHP Nathan Witt

Unlike the other sophomores on the list, 2017 hasn’t been breakout year building up past performance for Nathan Witt. The Michigan State right-handed pitcher redshirted in 2015 and wasn’t on the 2016 35-man roster. But it’s hard to keep a player off of a team when they possess a 95-MPH fastball, which is what Witt has showed the Michigan State coaching staff in the offseason and continues to have at his disposal, becoming an integral part in the Spartan bullpen. With nine innings under his belt, Witt has a 0.00 ERA, holding 31 batters to just four singles and a double. In seven appearances, Witt has struck out nine batters and walked one. Any doubt of Witt being a fluke was erased on March 8, when he struck out four in 2.2 innings of scoreless relief against nationally-ranked Clemson.

Illinois Soph. CF Jack Yalowitz

Take a look at the Big Ten individual stat leaders and you’ll see Illinois sophomore Jack Yalowitz among the top hitters. And sluggers. And run producers. With a .389 average, .653 slugging percentage, 18 runs, 28 hits, 22 RBI, a pair of triples, 47 bases and even three sacrifice flies, Yalowitz is among the top three players in the Big Ten in eight different offensive categories. Yalowitz hasn’t only broke through in a big way after a freshman season where he hit .227 and posted a .291 slugging percentage, the center fielder is bursting out, providing the Illinois with one of the most potent 1-2 punches alongside senior first baseman Pat McInerney. At 5-12, Illinois’ every-other-year NCAA Tournament streak looks to be in jeopardy, but Yalowitz is putting together a season to continue the Illini’s odd-season stranglehold on the Big Ten Player of the Year honor.

 

March 16-19 Weekend review

 

In the final weekend before Big Ten play begins, teams continued the conference’s strong showing in California, going 6-1. Back in the Midwest, a trio of teams held their home opener with mixed results. Across the country, from the mid-Atlantic to the Bay Area, outstanding starts with big strikeout totals were founds. Here’s a recap of the weekends highlights and look back on the marquee matchup.

Boilermakers steam past Santa Clara for best start in five years

For the first time in five years Purdue will enter Big Ten play above .500. At 10-8 on the season, the Boilermakers are riding a five-game winning streak, the latter four coming in a weekend sweep over Santa Clara.

As first-year head coach Mark Wasikowski looks to rebuild the Purdue program and return the Boilermakers to level of annual conference championship contender, Purdue’s weekend in California was one not seen in a while. The four-game sweep over the Broncos acheived this list of first:

• Swept a doubleheader on an opponent’s home field for the first time since March 2012 at Ohio State
• Swept a series of at least three games for the first time since May 2013 vs. Southern Illinois
• Won a four-game series on the road for the first time since February 2011 at Morehead State
• Swept a four-game series for the first time since April 2008 vs. Minnesota
• Swept a four-game series on the road for the first time since April 2001 at Northwestern

The Thursday through Saturday series opened with a convincing Purdue victory, 12-4. Collecting three triples in a game for the first time in seven years, the Boilermakers pounded out 16 hits to score in all but three innings. Purdue’s 1-2-3 hitters, Harry Shipley, Mike Madej and Nick Dalesandro combined to go 9-for-13 with seven runs and six RBI. Madej picked up a double and a triple in a seven-base game.

Pitching reigned supreme in the second game of the series. Right-handed pitcher Tanner Andrews put himself in consideration for a third Big Ten Pitcher of the Week performance with a strong start, leading Purdue to a 3-0 win. The junior tossed 7.2-shutout innings, scattered three hits, walked three batters and struck out 10. Andrews became the first Boilermaker to reach double-digits in strikeouts since March 2012. Run-scoring doubles in the third inning by Shipley and Dalesandro would be all Andrews and the team needed on the afternoon.

Closing out the perfect run in South Bay, Purdue swept a Saturday doubleheader. Turning back the Broncos 8-7 in the opener and cruising to a 10-5 triumph in the closer. Santa Clara took the first lead of the day, jumping out in front 3-0, in bottom of the second. Purdue evened the scored with a trio of runs in the fourth, to kick-start a back-and-forth contest. The Broncos regained the lead with a tally in the fourth, before Purdue grabbed the lead with two in the fifth. The lead again switched hands with a pair of Santa Clara runs in their half of the fifth. Scoring a run in each of the final three innings, Purdue landed the final punch to move above .500 on the year. Jacson McGowan led the Boilermaker attack with three RBI and in a 3-for-4 day.

The nightcap didn’t make Wasikowski sweat it out, as Purdue erupted for seven runs in the middle three innings. McGowan’s big day continued with two hits, including his third home run of the season. Skylar Hunter, the Big Ten Freshman of the Week, added three RBI in a 2-for-3 game and starting pitcher Mike Kornacker allowed three runs, one earned, in four innings, striking out four batters.

Purdue started their California spring break with three losses to Cal State-Northridge, before winning the series finale en route to winning the final five games of their Golden State run.

Power surges

Sunday was quite the day for power hitters in the Big Ten. Two players hit three home runs in a game, another added a two-home run effort, while yet another had two over two games to cap a three-home run weekend.

Michigan third baseman Drew Lugbauer’s third-inning grand slam was the big hit in a seven-run fourth inning that powered the Wolverines to a 7-4 victory over Northern Illinois. The junior wasn’t done tormenting the Huskies. Lugbauer hit a three-run, walk-off home run to give Michigan another 7-4 victory over NIU in the first game of a Sunday doubleheader, then added a solo shot in Sunday’s second game.

Ohio State’s Jalen Washington saw Lugbauer’s two-home run day, and raised him with a two-home run game. In a 5-4 loss to Xavier, Washington connected twice against the Musketeers. And that wasn’t even the top Ohio State performance of the day.

Buckeye second baseman Noah McGowan one-upped his teammate to tie a school record with three home runs in a game, picking up a pair of solo home runs and a three-run round-tripper to account for all five runs in Ohio State;s 6-5 loss to Xavier.

And yet, that still wasn’t the most impressive offensive performance of the weekend.

Iowa junior first baseman Jake Adams is showing no problem in adjusting to Division I baseball. A transfer from Des Moines Area Community College, Adams was a JUCO All-American last year after hitting 25 home runs, a single-season school record, to end a two-year stay in Iowa’s capital with 42 home runs, also a school record. Adams is right on pace to match his DMACC performance for the Hawkeyes. Adams hit three home runs in an 7-RBI day to lead Iowa to a 12-11, 10-inning win, salvaging a weekend series at Kansas State. With eight home runs on the year, Adams leads the Big Ten and is one off the NCAA lead in home runs, sitting fifth in the country with .44 home runs per game. Only eight batters in the country are driving in more runs per game than Adams’ 1.5 mark.

Ohio State’s late-game struggles continue

Ohio State head coach Greg Beals has time and time again reiterated his belief in his team’s ability to compete. The team’s character will surely be tested in how the three-game, split-site series against Xavier unfolded.

Weather postponed Ohio State’s home opener to Saturday. In a game where little fanfare was to be found, from the dreary low-40 degree weather, to miscues by the Buckeyes, Ohio State dropped its first home opener since 2004, a 3-2, 13-inning loss.

Musketeer starting pitch Zac Lowther allowed two runs, one earned over six innings, striking out 11 Buckeyes. Lowther allowed just one hit, as Ohio State mustered only four on the day. After the reigning Big East champions scored in each of the opening two innings, Ohio State tied the score with a two-out third. Neither team scored again for 10 innings. Xavier struck in the top of the 13th, aided by Ohio State not covering first on a sacrifice bunt attempt which gave Xavier the extra out it needed to eek out the win.

Playing two games in Cincinnati on Sunday, extra innings weren’t needed, but, still, the Buckeyes were struck with heartbreak. Twice.

Xavier grabbed an early lead with three runs in the bottom of the second off OSU starter Ryan Feltner. A single and a pair of walks loaded the bases, before a sacrifice fly, bunt single and single to center field plated three Musketeers. Ohio State cut into the deficit in the top of the third with a leadoff home run to left field by Tyler Cowles. A leadoff home run by Washington in the fourth, inched Ohio State closer and the Buckeyes took their first lead of the series with a two-run home run by Washington in the fifth. Xavier struck for a run in the seventh to chase Feltner, leveling the score, 4-4. In the bottom of the ninth, OSU reliever Kyle Michalik hit the leadoff batter, with Nate Soria moving into scoring position one batter later on a bunt. After an intentional walk and single loaded the bases, a fly ball to center field by Mitch Gallagher was deep even to plate Soria and give Xavier the weekend win.

Another fly ball doomed Ohio State in the nightcap, as the Buckeyes again wasted a multi-home run game. McGowan’s big game started with a first-pitch solo home run to left in the third inning, giving Ohio State the initial lead. Xavier responded with a run in their at-bat in the third, tying the game 1-1. The score held until the seventh. His second home run of the game, McGowan drove in three runs on a homer to left center. Xavier’s Connor Grammes responded with a leadoff home run of his own, trimming Ohio State’s advantage to 4-2. Xavier knotted the game, 4-4, in the eighth, but it was OSU’s turn to answer the bell. With two outs, McGowan connected on his third home run of the game, putting the Bucks back in front.

But the final swing of the game made it a long drive back to Columbus. Closer Yianni Pavlopoulous plunked the first batter his faced, before giving up a game-winning, two-run home run on his next pitch, as Joe Gellenbeck homered to right center for a sweep-clinching hit.

Sending Ohio State to 8-11 on the season, Xavier (10-10) becomes the first in-state team to sweep a series of at least three games against Ohio State since 1975.

Quick hits

Nebraska received three quality starts in its weekend sweep of the College of Charleston. Outscoring the Cougars, 22-4, the Husker weekend rotation was sterling. Jake Honhensee (6.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R), Derek Burkamper (6.2 IP, 1 H, 1 R) and Jake Meyers (6 IP, 4 H, 0 R) were more than good enough for a team that collected 29 hits against CoC pitching. The three victories, 10-1, 6-1 and 6-2, allowed the Huskers finish a weekend with a record above .500 for the first time this season.

Sophomore center fielder Jack Yalowitz had a monster weekend at the plate for Illinois. But it wasn’t enough as the Illini (5-12) went 1-3 in a weekend round robin against Southern Illinois and Toledo. Hosting the Salukies and Rockets, the Illini opened the weekend with a 11-5 win over Toledo. Yalowitz collected three RBI, in a 3-for-5 afternoon where he picked up a double and a home run in the victory. But Illinois lost twice to SIU, 8-5, 3-1, before Toledo split their contests with a 10-5 victory. Yalowitz went 8-for-17 with a double, triple and a pair of home runs on the weekend, driving in nine batters.

Penn State received two outstanding starts on Saturday in a doubleheader against Delaware. But with losses of 6-1 and 5-0, the terrific efforts were for naught. Junior right-handed pitcher Sal Biasi struck out 11 batters over 5.2 innings, scattering three hits in allowing just one unearned run. In the second game of the twinbill, sophomore right-handed Justin Hagenman struck out 10 batters, in six innings, allowing two runs, both unearned off five hits. But Penn State could only claw out seven hits on the day against the Blue Hens.

Maryland held Princeton to two runs on the weekend, earning a three-game sweep to run their record to 12-6. Knocking off the Tigers, 4-0, 6-2, 2-0, the weekend showing for the Terrapins was bookend by a pair of award-winning efforts. Junior right-handed pitcher Brian Shaffer struck out 10 batters in eight innings, allowing just three hits, to earn this week’s Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honor. For a second straight week, freshman right-hander Tyler Blohm is the Big Ten’s top freshman. The rookie pitched seven scoreless innings, conceding on two hits in an eight-strikeout game.

It wasn’t the most dominant weekend on the field, but Indiana (9-8-1) returned from Hawaii with three victories in four games. Three of the four games were decided by one run, with the other decided in 11 innings. IU held on to win the opener, 7-6, and rallied for a 4-3 win in game two, scoring three runs over their final two at-bats. The Hoosiers were victorious, 8-5, in the 11-inning game, pounding out 15 hits as eight or nine batters recorded a hit. The Rainbow Warriors grabbed the weekend finale, 11-10, matching IU with a five-run eighth, before two in the ninth provided a walk-off win.

Andrews, Biasi, Hagenman, Shaffer and Michigan State’s Alex Troop, with 10 in five innings against Campbell, gave the Big Ten five pitchers this weekend with double-digit strikeouts in a start. Minnesota’s Lucas Gilbreath was one punchout shy with nine in six innings.

Weekend Preview March 16-19

The final weekend of action before Big Ten play begins is here. Action will take place on six Big Ten campuses, from College Park to Lincoln, as baseball slowly makes its way back from points south and west and into the Midwest.

Here’s a look at premier series of the week and storylines from around the conference.

Buckeyes look to find stride after tough road run

Ohio State has shown it can play with anyone in the country. The Buckeyes are responsible for the lone loss on the 14-1 record of the second-ranked team in the country, Oregon State.

But Ohio State has also showed when it gets ugly, it’s ugly. The night before they beat the Beavers, Ohio State was blanked 12-0 by Utah. This past weekend, after blowing a five-run, ninth-inning lead Friday night at Florida Gulf Coast, Ohio State was whipped 13-1 by the Osprey on Saturday.

The Jekyll-Hyde nature of the Ohio State season turned again, on Sunday. The 2016 Big Ten Tournament champions salvaged the weekend at FGCU with a 5-4 victory over the #24 team in the country. The victory was the start of a three-game winning streak to bring the Buckeyes level on the season at 8-8. Heading into the final weekend before the start of Big Ten play, for head coach Greg Beals, the hope is a tough non-conference slate allowed the Scarlet and Gray to show its true colors and be the team they’re capable of over the final 40 games.

“We’re on a three-game winning streak, so we feel good about that, but we’re certainly not happy being 8-8,” the seventh-year head coach said. “We’ve had opportunities to get a couple of games we didn’t get, but we did win a couple of big games and beaten some strong opponents.”

Ohio State’s strength of schedule is rated as the 20th-toughest in the country as of March 16 by Warren Nolan. With two games each against Oregon State and Utah, the latter the 2016 Pac-12 champions, plus three at Florida Gulf Coast, albeit early, Ohio State has a top 40 RPI on the strength of playing seven top-50 teams. Looking to reach consecutive NCAA Tournaments for the first time since 2002-03, Beals hopes the experience of playing a tough schedule starts to reap benefits come May with a conference title and NCAA regional in sight.

“Our strength of schedule at this point in the season is really really strong. I think that bodes well for our preparation entering conference play,” Beals said. “I think it’s critical these guys get that top-level experience. Playing the teams we have played will help us be ready to go come conference time.”

There are signs Ohio State is rounding into form. At the end of the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge, the Buckeyes were 3-5 on the year, now the team has won five of its last eight. Through two weekends the team had a .230 batting average and .947 fielding percentage. With twice as many games under its belt, Ohio State sports a .250 hitting clip and the fielding percentage has improved to .954.

For a green team, Ohio State lost six regulars from its Louisville Regional team, Beals has seen a maturation throughout March.

“They’ve struggled a bit, but it’s a natural thing for them to go through as they get their feet wet at this level,” Beals said of the five first-time starters which include three JUCO transfers, a freshman and a sophomore. “We definitely have matured through this season.

“We still have to get better, no question about it, but we’re finding our way. We’re learning how this year’s Buckeye team is going to do it.”

One player who the Buckeyes have been able to rely on from the start is junior Tre’ Gantt. Moving to his natural position of center field, after playing right field for his first two seasons, Gantt is blossoming into a standout all-around player. Leading Ohio State with a .345 average, .451 on-base percentage and .552 slugging mark, the fleet-footed left-handed hitter has been the consistency force Ohio State has needed to tread water as players around him round into form.

“It’s as simple as he’s coming into himself,” Beals said, while also alluding to Gantt having a full year of health and preparation going into the season. “He’s just comfortable with where he is and who he is, which is allowing him to go out and compete and allowing his athleticism and skill to come out for us.”

And for the rest of the team, after four weeks on the road, the comforts of home may be what the team needs to take off.

A look at the opponent

Xavier is set to take on the second of three Big Ten opponents they will see this season. In week two, the Musketeers split a four-game set against Penn State, in Cary N.C., and Scott Googins’ team will be the bye week opponent for Indiana when they step outside of conference play, May 5-7.

Through 17 games, XU’s 7-10 record comes with a .225 team average and 4.93 ERA. Xavier does not boast a batter with an average of .300 or better, but junior Rylan Bannon is a player to keep an eye on. The third baseman leads Xavier with a .284 average, his five doubles and four home runs also team highs. As a team, the Nashville Regional runners-up have stolen 22 bases in 26 attempts, and have a .972 fielding percentage, besting the Buckeyes in both areas.

On the mound, junior left-handed pitcher Zac Lowther entered the season as the top draft prospect in Ohio, according to Baseball America. The southpaw led the Cape Cod League in strikeouts last summer, and so far has been racking up the punchouts. Lowther enters the weekend with a 2-2 record, 2.61 ERA and .171 opponent’s batting average, dialing up 25 strikeouts against 10 walks in 20.2 innings.

Last year, Ohio State defeated Xavier, 11-6, on a March 22 meeting in Columbus. This year’s two-site series has been adjusted with the potential of snow moving through Columbus on Friday. The two will play one game in Ohio’s capital city on Saturday, before wrapping up the weekend with a Sunday doubleheader in the Queen City.

Home sweet home

Along with Ohio State, Illinois and Michigan are set to open their home slate. Being March in the Midwest, weather forced changes throughout the weekend, with teams scrambling to fill the final weekend before Big Ten play begins. One scramble resulted in Penn State canceling the first two games of a four-game split-site set against Delaware. Postponing their home opener, the Nittany Lions will now play three games at Delaware.

For the Illini, Dan Hartleb’s team is set to host Southern Illinois (9-7) and Toledo (2-14) for two games against each. Illinois (3-9) has shown flashes of promise, taking down the defending national champions, Coastal Carolina, last weekend, but the Illini’s youth leads to up-and-down play. Illinois is best in the Big Ten with 15 home runs while batting a respectable .268 average. But on the mound, 85 walks issued by Illini pitchers in 111 innings have contributed to a 7.14 ERA, the second-worst mark in the conference. With underclassmen accounting for 88.3% of Illinois innings on the mound, 98, Illinois lists sophomore Cole Bellar (1-1, 9.24) and freshman Ty Weber (1-0, 2.82), as the weekend’s 1-2, the latter two starts to be determined. Weber carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning of Saturday’s first game against CCU, a doubleheader opener the Illini lost on back-to-back home runs. A year ago, Illinois averaged 1,310 fans per home game, the second-highest season total in Illinois Field’s 29-year history.

The Big Ten’s top team after four weekends will look to continue their winning ways back home. Michigan (12-3) welcomes Northern Illinois (3-12) to Ann Arbor for four games, set to play a single game each day, Thursday through Sunday. Ranked in this week’s NCBWA poll, checking in as the #22 team in the country, the Wolverines have won 10 of their last 11 games. The Maize and Blue have stymied the opposition by way of a deep pitching staff. With 17 pitchers already seeing action on the mound this year, Erik Bakich has a deep pitching staff. And a good one, too. Pitching to a Big Ten-best 2.96 ERA, Michigan leads the conference with 138 strikeouts and in opponent’s batting average at .230. When they are at the plate, Michigan’s .258 batting average rests in the middle of the conference, but their 35 stolen bases in 39 attempts are second to none, with nine errors in the field the fewest committed by a conference team. Michigan has a 109-78 record at the Wilson Baseball Complex, the home of Ray Fisher Stadium since 2008.

Familiar foes

Ohio State isn’t the only team to take on an opponent which has already had a series against a Big Ten team. The weekend series between the Buckeyes and Musketeers is one of four such matchups.

Ohio State’s most recent weekend opponent, Florida Gulf Coast, is set to host Rutgers for three games in Fort Myers. FGCU, ranked #24 in this week’s NCBWA poll, is one of the country’s hottest teams, going 11-2 over its last 13 contests, all games against teams which played in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, including taking two of three games at home against the Buckeyes. But Rutgers enters the weekend with a little momentum of its own. Though the team lost a midweek contest at Florida Atlantic, Rutgers took two of three games on the road last week at North Florida.

It will be the first meeting between Purdue (6-8) and Santa Clara (4-12), with the four-game series an opportunity for the Boilermakers to return home with a .500 or better record. Purdue is looking to rebound from a 1-3 start to their California swing, only able to take Monday’s contest against Cal State-Northridge in the extended weekend set. Purdue will be the third Big Ten team Santa Clara squares off against. On Feb. 26, Michigan defeated Santa Clara, 10-3 in the Jack Gifford Tournament, a week before the Broncos split a four-game set at home against Northwestern. Catcher/outfielder Nick Dalesandro looks to continue a strong run, the sophomore is batting .400 over his last 10 games, picking up four doubles and two home runs to slug .650 alongside a .442 on-base percentage.

Purdue will be joined in northern California by Minnesota, who has a three-game set at Sacramento State. The Gophers are looking to follow the ways of Penn State, as the Nittany Lions took two of three games against the Hornets, two of the teams three losses in 10 games at home. Sacramento State’s 9-6 record is spurred by a pitching staff which has a 3.19 ERA and tossed two shutouts against Northern Kentucky, after opening the season with a weekend victory of Washington State. Minnesota (9-7) will look to right the ways of its pitching staff. Holding a 4.81 ERA, Minnesota has allowed at least seven runs in each of the last three games.

Around the conference

The Big Ten is 15-11 in games played in California this year, with seven more on the docket. But even further west, Indiana has a four-game series at Hawaii. Six hours behind their home Eastern Time Zone, IU opened the series with a Wednesday night victory, used two runs in the third and sixth innings, with three in the seventh enough to fend off the Rainbow Warriors., 7-6. The Hoosiers enter Thursday action at 7-7-1 on the season, hoping 25 runs in their last three games are enough to jump start an offense with a .352 on-base percentage, tied for 10th in the conference.

Iowa (9-6) heads into a weekend at Kansas State (12-5) on the heels of bad news. On Friday, the team announced junior right-handed pitcher C.J. Eldred will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery on Wednesday to repair a partial tear of his UCL. Limited to one six-inning start, Eldred allowed two runs in the season-opening series at South Florida. As Iowa reached 30 wins for a third consecutive season, Eldred tossed a team-high 94.1 innings in 2016. Eldred’s absence is compounded by Iowa missing Friday start Nick Gallagher for the weekend due to arm discomfort. Rick Heller will rely more on an offense which is second in the Big Ten in batting (.289) and slugging (.429).

At 6-8, Nebraska is still looking to get in gear following a season which ended in the NCAA Tournament. Not playing a midweek game, the last time out for the Huskers ended in a 10-0 victory. Junior left-handed pitcher Jake Meyers pitched a shutout against Western Carolina, with every batter recording a hit. Darin Erstad hopes the latter is a sign of the team turning the corner, with Big Red holding a .246 batting average on the season. This weekend, Nebraska continues an eight-game homestand with a three-game set against the College of Charleston (8-9). The two teams met last year to open the season, with the Husker starting the new campaign with a 4-0 win. But the Cougars bounced back to capture the series with victories of 13-5 and 7-3. For the first time this season, Nebraska’s weekend rotation is the same as the last time out, Jake Hohensee, Derek Burkamper and Jake Meyers to toe the rubber in that order.

Required reading

Hartleb, Illinois baseball happy to be home– Thomas Polcyn, The Daily Illini

Brdar, Thomas spark Wolverines as potent infield combo– Jacob Shames, The Michigan Daily

Luis Alvarado holds off on pros to pitch in for the Huskers– Evan Bland, The Omaha World-Herald

Midweek wrap

Settling into mid-March, the Big Ten has reached the part of the college baseball season with midweek games litter the calendar. For those in the Midwest, cold and wintery weather across Big Ten country cancelled games in Champaign and Iowa City, but for teams on spring break, taking to parts south and west there was action to be found.

Buckeyes take two in Port Charlotte

The second of two pre-Big Ten trips to Florida, Ohio State returns to Columbus riding a three-game winning streak after winning a pair of midweek games in Port Charlotte.

On Tuesday, Ohio State topped Lehigh, 7-3. The Buckeyes wasted little time scoring, crossing home twice in the opening inning, with senior DH Zach Ratcliff providing a big hit with an RBI-double. Lehigh responded with a run in their at-bat, but the Buckeye bats weren’t done, matching Lehigh with a run of their own in the bottom of the second.

OSU plated another run in the third, to take a 4-1 lead, but Lehigh cut the deficit to one run with two runs in their fourth-inning at-bat. But, again, Ohio State answered the bell. Junior center fielder Tre’ Gantt connected on his second home run of the season and Ratcliff added a sacrifice fly to give the Buckeyes breathing room and a 6-3 lead, OSU added an insurance run in the seventh to close the scoring.

Leading the team’s 12-hit attack, second baseman Noah McGowan, first baseman Bo Coolen and right fielder Dominic Canzone each picked up two hits in four at-bats. Left fielder Tyler Cowles matcher Ratcliff with two RBI. After freshman right-handed pitcher Jake Vance pitched 3.2 innings in hist first career start, Austin Woodby, Joe Stoll and Curtiss Irving combined to pitch 5.1 innings of three-hit, scoreless relief, striking out seven batters without issuing a walk.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Buckeyes reached .500 on the year, turning back the Bucknell Bison, 5-2, to even their record at 8-8.

The game was scoreless at its mid-point before the Buckeyes broke through with a two-run bottom of the fifth. With two outs, sophomore catcher Jacob Barnwell singled through the left side and moved up 90 feet when Gantt reached on an infield single up the middle. Senior shortstop Jalen Washington provided Ohio State with the game’s first lead, driving an opposite-field double down the right field line scoring Barnwell and Gantt. An unearned run in the bottom of the sixth provided the Buckeyes with further cushion.

Sophomore left-handed pitcher Connor Curlis twirled a gem in his first career start. Curlis struck out eight batters in 5.1 innings of work, holding Bucknell to four hits and one walk. The Bison did strike for two runs in the top of the seventh, but Ohio State leveled the inning’s scoring with two runs of their own, with Gantt picking up a RBI-single then later scoring on a wild pitch.

Running his batting average to a team-best .345, Gantt led Ohio State with a 2-for-4 afternoon from his leadoff position, scoring a pair of runs. Sophomore third baseman Brady Cherry added two hits in four at-bats.

Terps fall to Tar Heels on the road

Maryland’s eight-game winning streak came to an end Tuesday night, falling at #13 North Carolina, 9-2.

Allowing two runs in the bottom of the first, sophomore Right-handed pitcher Hunter Parson was the victim of two unearned runs in the bottom of the second, before exiting after 1.2 innings of work. The two-inning production would be enough for the Atlantic Coast Conference club in the battle against its former conference peer. Maryland was kept off of the scoreboard save a two-RBI single in the third inning, off of the bat of sophomore second baseman Nick Dunn. Dunn’s hit, Maryland’s lone base hit on the evening, halved the Terrapin deficit, but an UNC four-spot in the fourth put the game away.  Tar Heel pitchers struck out 12 batters on the night, only once allowing a runner to second base after the third inning.

Elsewhere

Winning the final two games of a three-game set at North Florida, Rutgers was unable to carry its momentum as the team headed south. Taking on Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton on Tuesday, the Scarlet Knights were downed by the Owls, 14-2. FAU scored in five of their eight at-bats, crossing home 10 times between the fourth and sixth innings. Rutgers could only muster four hits off Florida Atlantic pitching, two coming from Mike Carter, whose on-base streak stretched to 18 games.

Minnesota was held to one run and three hits in a 7-1 loss to Cal, Tuesday evening. Returning to California, after opening the season in Orange County with a weather-shortened weekend at UC-Irvine, the Gophers were quickly on the board. Right fielder Alex Boxwell tripled to right center and scored one batter later on a sacrifice fly from Luke Pettersen. But Minnesota’s scoring ended two batters in. Cal scored three runs in the bottom of the third to take a lead they would not relinquish, striking Minnesota pitchers for 13 hits on the day.

The Prospect Junkie: Q&A with Mike Rooney

In this week’s edition of The Prospect Junkie, I spent some time chatting with ESPN College Baseball Analyst Mike Rooney as he provided perspective on the strength of the Big Ten Conference, and thoughts on some of the prospects within. In addition to providing in-game commentary on ESPN throughout the season, Rooney provides insight as a writer for Perfect Game.

BG: Which Big Ten teams have you had a chance to see thus far this season?

I’ve seen Michigan, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio State, and then I watched recently caught one of the Michigan State and South Carolina games last weekend on the Watch ESPN App. I also feel like I have a good feel for Maryland because I covered their Regional in 2015 when they upset UCLA, and I also sat on them for a series against Cal State Fullerton last year which was a very good series for them.  I feel like I know their roster pretty well.

BG: What are your general thoughts on the strength of those teams?

Michigan looked really good, they stack up with anyone, anywhere. I loved everything about Michigan. I loved their style of play. I loved that they had seniors in center field, at shortstop, and at catcher. I love that they’ve got a little mojo. They were in the Regional a couple years ago and then they faltered last year so I actually like that they have a little scar from last year. So Michigan I think is a threat anywhere or anytime, I love that club.

I had really high hopes for Nebraska, and I feel like I just didn’t see them well. I’m sure with any of the Big Ten teams, you need to temper yourself when you see them in February and early March. I think that league is notorious for clubs playing differently at the end of the year. I think for Nebraska in particular, their older guys weren’t going yet. The junior year is a tough year for a college player and I think a couple of their guys were pressing a little bit, but there was a lot to like. I saw Luensmann struggle, but I still wrote him up as a heck of a prospect. There’s still a lot to like, he just performed poorly. I love Jake Meyers as a college player, [Scott] Schreiber is a monster and I saw Angelo Altavilla was tremendous all weekend. Mojo Hagge is a really good college player; he disrupts the game.  I just saw them on what will ultimately end up being one of their worst weekends all year.

I think for Nebraska in particular, their older guys weren’t going yet. The junior year is a tough year for a college player and I think a couple of their guys were pressing a little bit, but there was a lot to like. I saw Luensmann struggle, but I still wrote him up as a heck of a prospect. There’s still a lot to like, he just performed poorly. I love Jake Meyers as a college player, [Scott] Schreiber is a monster and I saw Angelo Altavilla was tremendous all weekend. Mojo Hagge is a really good college player; he disrupts the game.  I just saw them on what will ultimately end up being one of their worst weekends all year.

BG: Ohio State’s Tre’ Gantt got off to a hot start, in particular in the Big Ten PAC-12 Challenge. Tell me what you saw out of him.

He was good in that weekend. He’s a left-hander who has a feel for his game and a very handsy swing, which I like.  He used the entire field and ran well. I understand he hasn’t played a ton of baseball, but he’s very intriguing. He moves well and has a good feel for how to play the game. He wasn’t really tested in CF in the games that I saw, but he’s definitely a name that you write down because’s he’s left-handed, and he can really run.

BG: Indiana has one of the better pro prospects in the conference in outfielder Logan Sowers. Did he make an impression on you?

Yeah, he was really interesting because while he didn’t play great, he so strong. He was stiffer than I anticipated, but he ran into two breaking balls. They play that tournament in Surprise (Ariz.) which is a Spring Training park that is massive in order to showcase outfield range. He hit a double in the gap and another ball to the base of the wall in centerfield. He was a little nicked up and limping around, but he was very intriguing to me. He’ll play every day and he’ll accumulate stats because he’s so physical. His physical presence is large. He was very competent in the outfield, but I felt like he was not 100%. I’m curious how he will handle real good velocity because he’s not rifling the bat through the zone. But boy, he’s super strong; crazy strong! Even when he’s hitting .167, he gets your attention because the two balls he hit were the loudest contact of the day so even his bad day is enticing.

He was a little nicked up and limping around, but he was very intriguing to me. He’ll play every day and he’ll accumulate stats because he’s so physical. His physical presence is large. He was very competent in the outfield, but I felt like he was not 100%. I’m curious how he will handle real good velocity because he’s not rifling the bat through the zone. But boy, he’s super strong; crazy strong! Even when he’s hitting .167, he gets your attention because the two balls he hit were the loudest contact of the day so even his bad day is enticing.

I’m curious how he will handle real good velocity because he’s not rifling the bat through the zone. But boy, he’s super strong; crazy strong! Even when he’s hitting .167, he gets your attention because the two balls he hit were the loudest contact of the day so even his bad day is enticing.

BG: The Big Ten may not have a top 10 overall talent like Tyler Jay or Kyle Schwarber this year, but Kevin Smith of Maryland might be the best bet at a first-rounder. What are your impressions of him?

I came out of that Regional in 2015 as the president of the Kevin Smith fan club. UCLA was the #1 overall seed, and this kid as a true freshman was so good. He handled every play, the game never sped up on him. And he had some really good at-bats, I think they hit him second in the order, so it was disappointing to see him have such a rough sophomore year.

When I saw him last year, you could tell he was trying to do too much. I was encouraged to hear about the summer. He’s off to a really rough start, and he’s not the first junior in the history of college baseball to have a rough time with the pressures of the draft year. Especially for a kid like him whose tools aren’t that loud but you start getting first round noise around you, I think that would be tough to reconcile mentally. I see he has 17 punch-outs in 14 games. Unless I’m whiffing on this, he’s a way better hitter than that. So to me, that screams that he’s trying to do too much. The things that I like about him is that he’s instinctual, he wore out

The things that I like about him is that he’s instinctual, he wore out right-center field, and he‘s a good baserunner. Also, really good pitching didn’t seem to phase him.

March 10-13 Weekend Review

 

The fourth weekend of the season saw action on multiple Big Ten diamonds for the first time this season as the non-conference slate winds down. From Lincoln to College Park, teams are starting to settle in around the conference, and look to round into form with the conference season approaching.

In Columbia over the weekend as Michigan State fell to South Carolina, 3-2 and 5-2, here’s a look back at the weekend that was for the rest of the Big Ten.

Maryland, Michigan stay hot with sweeps

The Big Ten’s lone ranked team, Michigan, and the only team to begin the season with a ranking, Maryland, are powering through March, living up to the high expectations.

Wolverines continue tear

After eight games in California, Michigan returned closer to home with three games at Lipscomb. Snow and unseasonably cold temperatures for Nashville moved Saturday’s game into a Friday doubleheader. The Wolverines did a bit of everything in taking both games, knocking off the Bisons 11-2 and 4-3.

In the first game, Michigan received an outstanding start from junior left-handed pitcher Oliver Jaskie. Racking up a career-high 11 strikeouts, Jaskie held Lipscomb to one run off three hits in six innings, improving to 2-0 on the season. The bottom of the U-M lineup carried the day in support of Jaskie. Drew Lugbauer, Jonathan Engelmann and Johnny Slater, the 7-8-9 batters, combined to go 4-for-10 with four runs and seven RBI, Lugbauer and Slater each connecting on a home run. Lugbauer’s two-run home run in the top of the seventh followed Lipscomb scoring in the bottom of the sixth to cut Michigan’s lead if half, 2-1.

Michigan grabbed the initial lead in the nightcap, but needed a last at-bat rally to sweep the day. A 1-0 lead in the top of the third was matched by a Bison run in the home-half. Lipscomb added a run in the fourth and one in the eighth to take a 3-1 lead to the ninth inning. Sophomore Miles Lewis opened the inning with a single, followed by Harrison Wenson drawing a walk. Michael Brdar reached on a fielding error that allowed Lewis, cutting the deficit in half. Pinch-hitting, Engelmann’s big day continued in sending game-winner through the left side, scoring Brdar and Wenson and giving Michigan a 4-3 lead. Senior right-handed pitcher Jackson Lamb tossed a scoreless ninth to close the game.

Pitching was the story on Sunday as Michigan shutout Lipscomb, 5-0. In five innings of work, junior left-handed pitcher Michael Hendrickson held Lipscomb to two hits, their only hits on the day. The Lipscomb hitting effort was doubled by Brdar himself, the senior shortstop going 4-for-4 with two runs and two RBI, on a day he hit his second home run of the season. Wenson connected for his fourth longball of the year and leadoff batter Ako Thomas went 2-for-3 with two walks.

The three-game sweep pushes Michigan’s record to 12-3 on the season, winning for the 10th time in 11 games.

Maryland handles Bryant

Before falling to North Carolina Tuesday night, Maryland rebounded from a rocky first two weekends, where the team sat 1-5, with a lengthy winning streak. Taking on Bryant for three games at home at Bob Smith Stadium, the Terrapins swept the weekend to run their winning streak to eight games.

In the series opener, junior right-handed pitcher Brian Shaffer struck out eight batters while allowing one run off five hits over seven innings as Maryland rallied late for a 7-1 victory. Bryant scored first, picking up doubles and singles in consecutive at-bats with two outs in the top of the fourth. Bryant starter Steve Theetge held the Terps in check for five innings, but a Will Watson RBI-single in the sixth tied the game, before Madison Nickens lifted a sacrifice fly to put Maryland in front. John Szefc’s team scored three runs in the seventh behind a two-RBI hit from Watson and tacked on two more in the eighth to close the scoring.

Weather also forced Maryland to sit out of action on Saturday, the Terrapins opting to double-up and play two on Sunday.

With temperatures in the low-30s, Maryland pitchers made sure the Bulldog bats stayed cold. Five pitchers combined to hold Bryant to eight hits in 18 innings, Maryland winning both games on Sunday, 9-2 and 4-0.

Winning the first game decisively, three runs in the bottom of the first would be all junior right-handed pitcher Taylor Bloom needed. Evening his record to 2-2 on the season, Bloom scattered four hits in seven innings, allowed two unearned runs in a 104-pitch effort. Sophomore right-hander John Murphy needed 18 pitches over the final two innings to cap the victory. Starting with an RBI-double in the bottom of the first, sophomore outfielder Marty Costes led the Maryland attack, going 3-for-3 with three runs. In the cleanup spot, first baseman Brandom Gum went 2-for-4 with a home run, two RBI and three runs, as Maryland scored two runs in each of the third, fifth and sixth innings.

Gum provided Maryland with the first run of the night cap, a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the first scoring center fielder Zach Jancarski who drew a leadoff walk. A three-run outburst in the bottom of the fourth ended the scoring on the day, spurred by shortstop Kevin Smith driving a two-run double to right field. As Maryland improved to 9-5 on the season, freshman left-hander Tyler Blohm earned his third win in four decision, tossing six scoreless innings, surrendering only three hits and one walk, striking out six batters.

 

IU and RU show resilency in weekend wins

Two clubs looking to right the ship, the crimson and cream of Indiana and the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers were red-hot at the plate in winning weekends.

For Indiana, the Hoosiers bounced back in a big way after falling to Middle Tennessee State, 5-3 on Friday. In their home opener, a 3-0 deficit after two innings was too big for the Hoosiers to battle back from. But it would be the last time the team trailed against the Lightning. IU erupted for 23 hits en route to a 12-1 win on Saturday. Every

But it would be the last time the team trailed against the Lightning. IU erupted for 23 hits en route to a 12-1 win on Saturday. Every

IU erupted for 23 hits en route to a 12-1 win on Saturday. Every starter recorded a hit, with Matt Gorski, Jake Matheny and Luke Miller picking up three hits, Craig Dedelow led the offense with a 4-for-5 game, picking up two doubles. Indiana scored a run in the second, before erupting for seven in the third, adding a tally in the fourth and three in the fifth. Brian Hobbie pitched six innings of one-run baseball to record his first victory of the season.

Indiana’s offensive output was cut in half in the rubber match, but the third Big Ten team to toss a shutout allowed IU to cruise to a 6-0 victory. Andrew Saalfrank pitched six innings, striking out six batters, allowing just three hit. Matt Lloyd and BJ Sabol allowed one hit each, respectively over two and one innings to clinch the shutout. Leadoff batter Alex Krupa picked up his second home run in as many games, opening the game with a leadoff home run to provide the Hoosiers with all the offense they would need on the day. Ryan Fineman and Jeremy Houston each picked up a pair of hits.

Rutgers followed the Indiana script, dropping the opening game before picking up two straight victories to end the weekend with a series win.

Against North Florida, the Ospreys were too much to hand on Friday night, the Atlantic Sun program rolling to a 15-1 victory.

But the Scarlet Knights showed their mettle, rebounding with a 2-1 victory on Saturday. Making his first start since May 10, 2015, senior right-handed pitcher Gaby Rosa pitched seven innings of one-run baseball, holding North Florida to three hits. The sterling start from Rosa allowed Rutgers to make the most of two runs. In the top of the second, third baseman Milo Freeman was hit by a pitch and scored on a double to right center by Chris Folinusz. The two would be back at it in the fourth, giving RU the winning run. Freeman and Christian Campbell picked up back-to-back singles before Folinusz sent a liner to center field, plating Freeman for the go-ahead run. Freeman and Folinusz each went 2-for-3 to pace Rutgers at the plate. Two scoreless innings of relief from Max Hermann closed the game.

RU carried its momentum into Sunday, where an 18-hit attack powered the team to victory. Rutgers scored in all but the second, sixth and eighth innings, as all nine batters reached base safely. First baseman Mike Carter picked up four hits in five at-bats, driving in five runs, to lead a 3-4-5 heart of the order that went 11-for-17. On the mound, Campbell was the benefactor of the offensive onslaught, moving to 2-0 on the year with five innings of work, allowing four runs, three earned, while holding North Florida to five hits.

 

Opportunities squandered versus ranked foes

The Big Ten has had a rough go against ranked teams this season, and this past weekend was no different. Games against Coastal Carolina, Florida Gulf Coast and South Carolina provided the conference with opportunities to take down the number 21, 24 and nine teams in this week’s NCBWA poll. While Michigan State wasn’t sharp enough to take a game in two tries against South Carolina, Illinois and Ohio State did finish the weekend with a win over a ranked foe. But both were left to stomach ninth-inning collapses that cost each a weekend victory.

Against FGCU, Ohio State carried a 9-4 lead into the ninth inning of Friday’s weekend opener, before several miscues put an end to the Buckeyes upset bid. Ohio State pitchers issued two walks and hit a batter, with two errors, the latter on would-be inning-ending double play, leading to a 10-9 walk-off defeat. Florida Gulf Coast enjoyed a 13-1 victory on Saturday to take the series from Ohio State before Greg Beals’ team bounced back on Sunday. But again having to sweat out a ninth inning. Ohio State scored three runs in the first, and responded to a FGCU run in the third with one in the fifth. An insurance run in the seventh would prove vital as FGCU scored three times in the ninth, but this time OSU left the tying run on base, escaping with a 5-4 win.

The Illini started their weekend with a win over Coastal Carolina, 7-6, giving the Illini its first win over a defending national champion since 1965. The see-saw affair saw CCU score three runs in the second, but Illinois responded with four in the fourth, powered by Anthony Drago hitting a three-run home run in the inning. The Chanticleers regained the lead with two runs in the fifth, adding a run in the sixth, but Illinois crossed home twice in the seventh and score the winning run in the eighth. Four pitchers worked the final three innings to shore up the marquee victory.

With weather moving up Sunday’s game to Saturday, the start of a long day at the park was shaping up to be a special one. Freshman right-handed pitcher Ty Weber carried a no-hitter into the eighth, ending the day after 7.2 innings of one-hit and one-run baseball. Illinois holding a 2-1 lead since the first inning, was unable to clinch a weekend win when back-to-back one-out home runs lead to a walk-off victory for Coastal Carolina, 3-2. Illinois did receive a no-hit start from sophomore pitcher Luke Shilling, the right-hander pitched five hitless innings but also walked seven batters. Two runs in the sixth and four in the seventh gave CCU a 6-0 victory, with Illinois held to five hits and committing four errors in the rubber match.

Elsewhere

Nebraska salvaged a home series against Western Carolina, taking Sunday’s game, 10-0, after dropping the first two games of the weekend. Western Carolina won 5-2 on Friday, and 8-2 on Saturday, but the Catamounts could not crack Jake Meyers, the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week. The Husker starting pitcher tossed a shutout, scattering five hits, walking one batter with four strikeouts, needing 104 pitches to toss the complete game. Every Nebraska batter recorded a hit in a 13-hit output, lead by right fielder Scott Schreiber going 3-for-5.

 

In back-to-back weekends, Northwestern has played its best baseball on the west coast. The Wildcats split a four-game set at Santa Clara in the first weekend of March, and now have their first weekend victory of the season. NU split a Friday doubleheader against Portland, falling 5-2 before rebounding with a 6-4 victory. In the rubber match, a three-RBI game from Ben Dickey propelled the ‘Cats to a 9-5, seven-inning win.

Mark Penn State as another club who fared well in the Pacific time zone. The Nittany Lions only had four hits in their weekend opener at Sacramento State, but it was enough for four runs in a 4-2 victory. Corner outfielders Jordan Bowersox and Nick Riotto each slugged a home run in support of junior right-hander Sal Biasi. Biasi struck out nine while holding Sacramento State to two runs, in 5.2 innings. Nick Distasio tossed the final 3.1 innings, allowing just one hit, to give PSU the win. An 11-3 loss on Friday evened the series, but Penn State returned to State College with a second consecutive series win, picking up a 6-1 victory. Sophomore first baseman Willie Burger went 3-for-5 with two runs and four RBI, hitting his third home run of the season and added a double from the cleanup spot. A quartet of pitchers held Sacramento State to two hits, led by Cole Bartels pitching 3.2 innings in his first career start.

Against Cal State-Northridge, Purdue ended an extended weekend in Los Angeles County with a win. CSUN won the first game, 16-8, but pitchers ruled the day in game two. Each team limited to scoring in only one inning, CSUN’s four-run second topped Purdue’s one-run ninth in the win. Another four-run inning spelled doom for Purdue on Sunday. The Boilermakers scored twice in the top of the fifth to enjoy a 4-1 lead, but the Matadors struck for four runs in their fifth-inning at-bat, en route to a 5-4 victory. On Monday, Purdue’s bullpen and the big bat of Nick Dalesandro produced a 9-3 win. Four pitchers, Ross Learnard, Kyle Schweiger, Cameron Williams and Nick Wojtysiak combined to pitch 6.2 innings of one-run relief. The Purdue ‘pen held a 2-2 tie from the third inning on, allowing for a six-run eighth to be the decisive inning. Going 4-for-5, Dalesandro picked up two doubles and a pair of singles, scoring twice, his double to right field with a runner on igniting the 10-at-bat eighth.

Minnesota started the weekend strong with a 5-2 victory over Missouri State, but the Bears were a tough out at the plate the rest of the weekend, turning back the Gophers 7-2 and 12-3 to win the weekend in Minneapolis. Lucas Gilbreath struck out six batters in five innings on Friday, earning the victory in allowing three runs, one earned. Sunday’s game was the final contest for the Gophers in U.S. Bank Stadium for the season.

Iowa split its weekend in Port Charlotte, Fla., playing four games in the Snowbird Classic. The Hawkeyes dropped a 10-1 game to Villanova on Friday and were topped by Bucknell, 7-1 on Saturday. But after combining for two runs in the two defeats, Rick Heller’s group crossed home 23 times in taking a Sunday doubleheader against Lehigh. Iowa used an eight-run second inning to win 15-7 in the first game and racked up 18 hits to roll to an 8-3 win in the finale.

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