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.


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.


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.

Spartans unable to crack Crowe

After Michigan State outhit South Carolina, 9-3, on Friday night, leaving eight runners on base and wasting a complete game from Alex Troop, Michigan State head coach Jake Boss said his team needed to do a better job of taking advantage of the opportunities provided to them.

With a flame-throwing pitcher on the mound, Saturday’s contest between the Spartans and Gamecocks didn’t provide as many opportunities for Michigan State, but the team aided the offensive efforts of the South Carolina with five walks, two hit batters a passed ball and an error.

A combination of South Carolina taking advantage of Michigan State miscues and a dominant performance from right-handed pitcher Wil Crowe was too much for Michigan State to overcome, the Spartans dropping the second game of their three-game set, 5-2.

“The last two nights, those are two of the better arms in the country,” head coach Jake Boss said. “We missed out on some opportunities, again tonight. Credit their guy, he made pitches when he needed to make pitches and seemed to get better as the game went on.”

On an overcast and blustery day in Columbia, with the temperature settled into the mid-50s by the seventh-inning stretch, the dispirited game conditions were matched by a downfallen first inning for the Spartans.

Freshman left fielder Brandon Gleaves opened the game with a grounder through the left side, scored as a fielding error with the ball skidding under the glover of Gamecock third baseman Jonah Bride. The ball dying in shallow left field, Gleaves’ hustle out of the box allowed him to reach second base. One batter into the game and the Spartans had a runner in scoring position.

It wouldn’t happen again until the fifth.

A sharp groundout to first held Gleaves at second, before the Spartan attempted to take third on a ball that escaped Gamecock catcher Hunter Taylor. Taylor recovered in time to throw out Gleaves and the Spartan at-bat soon ended with a strikeout.

Where MSU was unable to take advantage of the USC misplay, South Carolina pounced on mistakes Michigan State made.

Retiring the first batter he faced on a fly out, Michigan State starter Ethan Landon walked Jacob Olson and surrendered a single up the middle to Matt Williams. Olson advanced to third when center fielder Brandon Hughes was unable to cleanly pick up the ball. Two runners on base turned into two runners in scoring position after a wild pitch moved Williams up 90 feet. Landon bounded back to strikeout DH Chris Cullen, but a first-pitch fastball to Alex Destino was sent back up the middle for a two-run single, staking USC to the early lead.

With eight innings left to play, the 2-0 hole wasn’t insurmountable, and Michigan State quickly responded.

Stepping to the plate after Crowe quickly retired the inning’s first two batters, Troop sent the first pitch he saw from Crowe over the right field wall for his first home run of the season. Right fielder Dan Chmielewski followed Troop’s round-tripper with a single to center. But with Crowe running his fastball between 93 and 97 MPH, it would be the last time MSU recorded a hit off the right-handed until the seventh.

A day after Troop pitched a complete game, the Spartans were unable to have Landon make it through two innings.

Consecutive one-out walks ended Landon’s afternoon after 40 pitches in 1.1 innings of work. Senior left-handed pitcher Joe Mockbee escaped the jam and recorded shutout innings in the third and fourth innings. But the fifth inning for Mockbee and Michigan State was the difference.

Michigan State was unable to take advantage of a leadoff walk issued to Troop and a one-out walk drawn by catcher Matt Byars. A fielder’s choice, flyout and strikeout to close the inning stranded two of the game’s six runners on base.

Their turn at the plate, South Carolina did what Michigan State sought to in turning walks to runs.

Williams helped USC regain its two-run lead with a leadoff home run to right, before back-to-back walks to the following batters chased Mockbee from the game. Following a sacrifice bunt, facing LT Tolbert, an offering from right-handed reliever Jake Lowery, hit first base and caromed into right field to score both runners, making it a 5-1 game.

A hit batter and infield single loaded the bases with one out, forcing Boss match-up pitcher against batters and use the third, freshman left-hander Mitchell Tyranski, and fourth, senior right-hander Walter Borkovich, pitchers of the inning to record the final two outs.

“I left Joe in longer than I should have,” Boss said. “I didn’t pull the trigger when I should have, that’s on me…I thought Joe threw well. I wanted to stay with him for the matchup against Destino and shouldn’t have.”

Borkovich pitched Michigan State through the end of the game, tossing the final 3.1 innings without yielding a run, scattering only two hits. But the strong closing effort was too little too late as Michigan State could only muster one run over the final seven innings.

The scoring closed in the eighth when senior second baseman Dan Durkin singled through the left side and moved to third base on an errant pickoff attempt by USC pitcher Josh Reagan. A grounder to second base by Bechina plated Durkin, bringing the game to its final run 5-2 score.

Troop added a single in the ninth, to lead Michigan State with a 2-for-2 game, scoring and driving in a run on his home run.

Crowe held the Spartans to three hits in 6.2 innings, allowing one run, striking out nine batters with three walks. Receiving the loss, Landon allowed two runs, both earned, off two hits in 1.1 innings, issuing three walks.

Playing the Gamecocks tough over the first two games, but without a result to show for it, the series finale is set for a 1:05 p.m. first pitch on Sunday. Inclement weather is in the forecast as Michigan State looks to try to salvage the series and leave Columbia with a win, not just lessons learned or memories made.

“We got behind early, it was disappointing, but I’m proud of our guys for continuing to fight…At the end of the day we need to get better. We didn’t come down here for the experience. The experience isn’t the reason we’re here, hopefully we get one more chance tomorrow.”

Spartans strong, but not sharp enough

Michigan State head coach Jake Boss didn’t schedule South Carolina in a pursuit of moral victories.  A top-25 team, playing in front of more than 6,500 fans, a competitive showing against the Southeastern Conference club would be good enough for a lot of teams. But the Spartans have the same goal as the Gamecocks, to reach the College World Series, and only victories which stand in the win-loss record matter in that pursuit. For as well as Michigan State played against the 2010 and 2011 national champions in Friday night’s 3-2 loss, the loss is just that, a loss, and close isn’t good enough when you’re striving to be the best.

“I thought we had a couple opportunities that we weren’t able to take advantage of and we made a couple mistakes that they did take advantage of and that’s what good teams do, they take advantage of the opportunities that you give them,” Boss said.

Against the eighth-ranked team in the country, Michigan State’s opportunities outnumbered South Carolina’s, and the team capitalized early to score first in Founders Park.

With one out in the top of the third, freshman left fielder Danny Gleaves singled to the left field, advancing to second on a fielder’s choice one batter later. The first runner in scoring position against South Carolina pitcher Clarke Schmidt, Gleaves was batted in by sophomore third baseman Marty Bechina on a liner up the middle, putting the Spartans in front 1-0.

With Schmidt and Michigan State left-handed pitcher Alex Troop locked in a pitcher’s duel, for the first half of the game the lone run stood tall.

Picking up five strikeouts in the first two innings, after Gleaves’ run, Schmidt was back to racking up the punchouts, with two strikeouts in the fourth and another in a three-batter fifth inning.

The K-count wasn’t as gaudy, but Troop was equally dialed in.

The sophomore southpaw sat the Gamecocks down in order in the first two innings and worked around a hit batter in the third and walk on in the fourth. At the game’s midpoint, South Carolina had yet to strike Troop for a hit.

“Alex was lights out, he was one of the best guys in the country tonight,” said Boss, Michigan State’s ninth-year head coach.

But in the blink of an eye, Troop’s no-hitter, shutout and Michigan State’s lead was gone.

A lengthy umpire meeting ended the top of the fifth on a reversal of a safe call that saw Spartan second baseman Dan Durkin reach first on a fielder’s choice, changed to a 3-6-1 double play. With the aid of the umpires to end the Michigan State at-bat, the Gamecocks were spurred by the aid of the Spartans in their trip to the plate.

USC third baseman Alex Destino skied a ball to shallow right field, misplayed by MSU right fielder Dan Chmielewski. The ball dropping beyond Chmielewski’s glove, Destino reached second base on the error. South Carolina second baseman LT Tolbert was unable to successfully sacrifice Destino over, striking out after two failed bunt attempts, giving Michigan State a brief reprieve.

But the quality team they are, South Carolina made the most of the extra opportunity. USC shortstop Madison Stokes stroked the first offering from Troop over the left field wall for a two-run home run, giving the Gamecocks their first hit, run and lead.

The home run would be just one of three hits Troop surrendered in a 99-pitch complete game. A leadoff single in the sixth was erased by next at-bat double play, but the third USC hit led their third run, with the team again taking advantage on an opportunity provided.

With one down in the bottom of the seventh, Bride turned on a 2-1 offering from Troop for a line drive to left center. The ball escaped the outstretched glove of diving center fielder Bandon Hughes, leading to a standup triple. Tolbert again was unable to advance Bride, but striking out on a ball in the dirt, Tolbert forced a throw to first. After MSU catcher Matt Byars threw down to putout Tolbert, Bride broke for home, beating the throw from Zack McGuire to push USC’s lead to 3-1.

MSU responded in their next at-bat, but were unable to fully seize their opportunity.

Durkin led off the eighth with a single to left and moved up 90 feet on a wild pitch with Bechina at the plate. Bechina was hit by a pitch to put the first two runners on base, giving the Spartans two in scoring position a batter later after a successful sacrifice bunt by McGuire. Hughes grounded out to Tolbert at second base, but the ball to the right side was enough to bring in Durkin. Representing the tying run, Bechina was stranded at third base, keeping the game 3-2, the score holding until the end.

Bechina and Hughes each picked up two hits as Michigan State out-hit South Carolina 9-3, but the Spartans left eight runners on base to the Gamecocks’ two.

“We scattered nine hits, and I thought we came in with a good approach, but we struck out 14 times and so when you can’t move the baseball with runners in scoring position, it’s hard to score,” Boss said. “Every time Schmidt needed a big strikeout he got it. Nine hits is fine but when you don’t score off those hits, it doesn’t really matter.”

Schmidt, exiting after the Bechina free base, scattered eight hits in 7.1 innings, but seven were singles, a sixth-inning double by Hughes the lone extra-base hit. Going toe-to-toe with one of the best pitchers in the country, Troop struck out six batters against one walk.

““He made one mistake and the guy got the barrel out on the home run,” Boss said.

“That was a tough loss for Alex, but he was as good as anybody, anywhere in the country tonight and Alex can beat anybody. I’m very proud of the way he pitched tonight, but unfortunately it was kind of a hard-luck loss situation for him.”

Falling to 9-3 on the season, Michigan State looks to receive the same quality start when Ethan Landon takes the ball for Saturday’s game. But also, to better support their pitcher by capitalizing on opportunities when at the plate and not giving extra opportunities to the Gamecocks in the field. Doing so will show that they’re not just close to South Carolina’s level, they are there and with a tally to the win column.

“We’ll need to be better tomorrow, we need to be cleaner tomorrow and we need to take advantage of the opportunities that we get.”

Pitching leads Michigan to Dodger Stadium victory


Amanda Gonzalez reports from Los Angeles where Michael Hendrickson and Alec Rennard held San Diego to one unearned run off five hits, powering Michigan to a 3-1 victory over San Diego on Sunday. Capping a 7-1, 10-day California spring break, the Wolverines, now 9-3, allowed just three runs, one earned, over three games in the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic.

Michigan finishes strong in California

Michigan capped a 7-1 spring break in California with a 3-1 win over San Diego, finishing the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic with a win. Head coach Erik Bakich, a California native, speaks to 10 Innings’ Amanda Gonzalez on the standout starting pitching performances the team received in Los Angeles, the importance of playing and recruiting in California and the fight the Wolverines showed on the weekend.

Michigan’s streak snapped in pitcher’s duel

Spending their spring break in California, Michigan swept through northern California and added a mid-week win at Loyola Marymount to take a five-game winning streak into the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic. Participating in the tournament alongside co-hosts UCLA and USC, and San Diego, Michigan opened the weekend at Jackie Robinson Stadium against the Bruins.

With a pitcher’s duel unfolding between Michigan junior left-handed Oliver Jaskie and UCLA’s Griffin Canning, neither team scored until UCLA walked-off in the bottom of the ninth with a 1-0 victory.

At home at shortstop, McCoy starts strong at home

There’s no place like home…, home is where the heart isTake your choice of cliche, there is a distinct feeling of comfort, peace and being at ease when at home. If cliches aren’t one’s cup of tea, Iowa’s Mason McCoy can provide a first-hand testimony on what it means to be at home.

Back at his natural position, shortstop, McCoy is at home for the Hawkeyes. Playing relaxed and free, the senior is also off to a sizzling start at home plate.

The reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, McCoy has a .407 average, through seven games, picking up 11 hits in 27 at-bats. Iowa’s two-hole hitter is slugging .704 on the strength of three doubles a triple and a home run. Leading the Hawkeyes into the Dairy Queen Classic, McCoy’s prowess at the plate is a benefit of being comfortable all around, starting with the change in defensive position.

“I know Mason, and that’s what he is, that’s what he wants to play, that’s his favorite spot,” Iowa head coach Rick Heller said on McCoy moving from third base to shortstop. “Once we came back in the fall I could just tell how much more happy he was to be over there.”

“I agree with Coach Heller,” McCoy said. “The move to shortstop did comfort me in a lot of ways, not only in the field but at the plate as well.”

With Iowa fielding All-Big Ten shortstop Nick Roscetti, McCoy, a transfer from Illinois Central Community College, manned the hot corner in his first year with the Hawkeyes.

“Unselfishly, last year, he embraced third base and did the best he could,” Heller said. “We had talked and, obviously, he still wanted to play shortstop, but with as well as Roscetti was playing it just wasn’t going to happen. Then this year he stepped in and so far, we’re still pretty early in the season, but he’s playing an outstanding shortstop for us.”

By Heller’s watch, McCoy played an elite-level third base last year for the Hawkeyes. What didn’t occur, at least for the first half of the season, was McCoy performing at the plate at a level he and Heller knew he was capable of.

McCoy arrived in Iowa City with much fanfare. An All-American at ICCC, McCoy received interest from professional teams in the summer of 2015. Playing in the Northwoods League, McCoy set a league record with 112 hits, 80 runs and 168 total bases. Not drafted out of ICC, and spending two years at a JUCO, McCoy was free to sign with any professional club. But McCoy rebuffered all overtures and enrolled at Iowa. With the Hawkeyes coming off of a 40-win, NCAA Tournament season, the expectation was for McCoy to step in and lead Iowa back to a regional.

“I think last year he really pressed, he really wanted to get off to a good start with the accolades he came in with,” Heller said. “Kind of put a little pressure on himself.”

McCoy, who never hit below .300 in his time at ICCC or in the Northwoods, was batting below .250 as Iowa entered May. But as the Hawkeyes rallied in the final month of the season, going from outside of the Big Ten Tournament field to finishing tournament runners-up as the eighth-seed, McCoy caught fire. Finishing the year with a 13-game hitting streak, McCoy picked up 28 hits in last 60 at-bats, a stout .466 average.

“Late in the year he started to figure some things out, closing some stuff up before the conference tournament,” Heller said. “He was going pretty well that last month.”

Though he didn’t have a bad year, batting .291 with 12 doubles, two triples and a pair of home runs, the McCoy Iowa saw in the final month is who the team has seen from the start of the 2017 season. Taking a vested interest in his swing mechanics, the mental side of the game and understanding what opponents are trying to do, McCoy has dedicated himself to being a complete player.

“This fall I really worked with Pete (Lauritson), who was our hitting coached, before getting a job with the Indians,” McCoy, the MVP of the 2016 Northwoods League All-Star game said. “I really worked a lot with him on my swing mechanics. Just seeing the ball and hitting it, just trying to simplify everything.

“Then, Coach Moore, Sean Moore, stepped in in his place and really picked up where he left off. I think that’s been a big thing with me offensively this year, just having those sit-down talks with Pete, talking philosophy with Sean a lot, that kind of cleared my head and helped me offensively.”

Heller echoes McCoy’s change in mechanics and ability to have a better mental understanding.

“He’s really tightened his swing up, he’s cleaned it up. He shortened it up but increased his powered. Closed up holes to both sides of the plate, now he’s driving balls to the opposite field gap off the wall. He’s driving balls pull-side to the gap off the wall. Guys are having a hard time figuring out where to pitch him right now.

“His mental game is much much better, He has a really good plan on how to deal with failure. That’s what I see, he’s able to deal with that in a much more positive way and just move on to the next pitch.”

The maturity McCoy steps to the plate with extends into the locker room. One of four co-captains, McCoy’s comfort allows him to step up and speak when necessary.

“I’ve always kind of been, and I told Coach Heller this, I don’t lead by voice,” McCoy said. “I’ll say what I have to say, when it needs said, but I’m more of a lead by example. I think that’s what those guys were last year, especially Nick Rossetti, he was a big lead by example guy.

“I’m not going to be the guy that’s going to get in your ear all year, but there’s a couple of young guys this year, freshmen, where I’ll have to pull them aside to talk to them, and when I do they know this is important. That’s just the kind of relationship I wanted to be on this year with the younger guys, just to get them to learn.”

Heller oversees the infield during practices and with infielder Corbin Woods, the other non-pitching co-captain, nursing an off-season injury, McCoy is Heller conduit whenever a matter needs resolved or addressed on the field.

“He’s stepped up and done a really nice job with that communication and working with our other captains to make sure that all of the things are getting done that we expect from our guys both on and off the field. He’s done a super job with that since the beginning of the fall.”

A captain, off to a great start with gaudy numbers, it would be easy for McCoy to get ahead of himself, look for more accolades and even take a look at the draft. But from his upbringing to the guys he leads in the locker room, McCoy surrounds himself with people that won’t let that happen.

“I was raised that way by my parents, just to keep my feet on the mound, not to get too high and mighty with myself.

“But also my teammates. I walk into the locker room and they’re all ‘player of the week’, giving me a hard time about it.”

That sounds like a player right at home.


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