Weekend preview March 3-5

The calendar has turned over to March which means the college baseball season is starting to pick up steam. The Big Ten didn’t have the best showing in February, seeing its lone ranked team, Maryland, stumble to a 1-5 start,  as the conference went 2-16 against ranked teams. But it’s a new month and there’s a new leaf to turn over as teams hit the mid-way point of pre-Big Ten play.

From California to the Carolinas, up to Minnesota and down the Texas, there’s noteworthy tournaments throughout the country with a Big Ten team in the fold, spotlighted in this week’s weekend preview.

Aggressive, clean play leads to Michigan’s hot start

Michigan’s 2017 season is off to a strong start, sporting a 7-2 record heading into the third weekend of play. Set to take part in a strong Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic field, joined by San Diego (4-2) and co-hosts UCLA (4-3) and USC (6-2), the Wolverines will take to the diamond in Los Angeles riding a five-game winning streak.

So far it’s been a complete effort for Michigan. Behind seniors Michael Brdar and Harrison Wenson both batting .371, the team boasts a .282 average, third-best in the Big Ten. Wolverine pitching also ranks third in the conference with a  4.22 ERA. Committing only four errors, the team’s .988 fielding percentage trails only Minnesota, with their 26 stolen bases in 27 attempts 10 clear of the conference’s second-best effort.

From the outside, it appears everything has come together for Michigan to be playing good baseball, ready to take on a weekend with quality competition. But, according to MLB’s once long-time home run king, what Michigan has done means little.

“We’re very fortunate with some of the speakers we’ve had in the fall, but Hank Aaron came and spoke to our team,” said Michigan head coach Erik Bakich. “One of the quotes he told our team is that ‘what you did yesterday is only good for wrapping a dead fish.’ That’s something that stuck with our guys. They know the games we’ve already played out here have no impact on the next game.”

What has made an impact on the game is Michigan’s ability to throw strikes, hit with power, run the bases and play clean defense, Bakich speaking to the completeness Michigan has shown thus far.

“We’ve gotten good performances, good efforts from our starting pitchers since we’ve been in California…The lineup is balanced, there’s speed at the top and bottom, there’s power in the middle, really the area that I would say as a coaching staff we’re most impressed with is the defense.”

For Bakich, the defensive showing is due to the team fielding a veteran lineup. Michigan returned its entire starting infield and two of three outfielders. The lone newcomers being junior DH Nick Poirier, a transfer from San Joaquin Delta College and outfielder Miles Lewis, a redshirt-sophomore transfer who was the Western Atheltic Conference Freshman of the Year at North Dakota last year.

“To come out and play on natural grass and dirt surfaces, you don’t always know how it’s going to go in the early part of the year in terms of securing the ball. The position players have shown their experience. They’ve done a nice job of not only making routine plays but making the web gem plays as well. That’s been a good sign.”

Michigan’s ability to field the ball, limit the opposition to chance, pairs nicely with an aggressive style of offense, continually putting the opposition in pressure situations. The Wolverines’ 26 stolen bases are tied for the most in the country, the fruits of an everyday-labor in the fall.

“The investment in the running game was made in the fall,” Bakich said. “We worked a lot on it. The running game isn’t something you can put in in the spring, that was something that we trained for every day in the fall. There wasn’t one day where we didn’t work on baserunning.

“I would say very rarely do I give the steal sign. The guys that have earned the green light, they knew who they are. They’ve become savy baserunners where they look for opportunities to run, they know the situations they should run and shouldn’t.”

The stolen base tally catches the eye, but to the fifth-year head coach, it is just a byproduct of how his team is playing.

“I just like the aggression with which our guys are running. It’s aggressive but it’s also smart,” Bakich said. “They’re taking good chances, they’re taking the extra 90, they’re moving up, they’re looking for any opportunity to advance, it’s put some pressure on teams where we’ve had big innings because of it.”

With each of Michigan’s three weekend opponents having winning records through three weekends, big innings may be hard to come by. But the way the Wolverines play will not change throughout the season, regardless of facing a college blueblood or mid-week regional opponent.

“Whatever the other jersey name says on the front of their chest really doesn’t matter. We’re going to have to fight, it doesn’t matter who you play. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day so we’re going to have to play well, compete, fight, execute. It’s a great tournament, we’re looking forward to it but it’s going to come down to our ability to execute.”

DQ Classic returns to Minneapolis

Get ready for free dilly bars as the Dairy Queen Classic is back. After a four-year hiatus, the Dairy Queen Classic, which started in 1987, returned to Minneapolis as the host Gophers welcome Hawaii, Oral Roberts and Big Ten brethren Iowa to U.S. Bank Stadium. Since it’s inception, the Dairy Queen Classic has had 145 Major League players participate in the tournament, and it was one of the first televised regular-season college baseball games on ESPN in 1989.

Minnesota entered the classic 4-2 after suffering a midweek loss to North Dakota State on Tuesday. The Gophers boast the second-best offense in the Big Ten, batting .339, led by Luke Pettersen’s .667 average through 21 at-bats. Four other Gophers are batting .300 or better as Minnesota sports a .463 slugging percentage behind 11 doubles, five triples and two home runs. Minnesota has yet to receive a quality start from a pitching staff that has a collective 5.26 ERA. As starts Lucas Gilbreath and Toby Anderson look to return to their 2016 form, as Minnesota weekend opening and closing tandem, young Minnesota pitchers have shined. Freshmen Nolan Burchill and Brett Schulze have combined to pitch 13.1 innings, allowing four runs.

Not scheduled to meet in the conference season, Iowa will take on their neighbors to the north on Sunday. The Hawkeyes enter the weekend 4-3 on the season, winning three of their last four games after going 1-2 at South Florida to start the season. Senior shortstop Mason McCoy, the Big Ten Player of the Week, leads Iowa with a .407 average, using three doubles, a triple and a home run to carry a 1.204 OPS through two weekends. The Hawkeyes .245 team average is in the middle of the Big Ten, but their 3.84 team ERA ranks second. Junior right-handed pitcher Nick Gallagher is Rick Heller’s ace and is performing at that level. In two starts Gallagher has a 1.93 ERA over 14 innings.

Oral Roberts is the hottest team entering the tournament, sitting 7-1 on the season. Last weekend, Oral Roberts went on the road and swept Alabama, before returning home to take a midweek contest against Kansas, turning back the Jayhawks, 12-1. Oral Roberts is led offensively by junior outfield Noah Cummings. Cummings has a .469 average with two doubles and four home runs. On the mound, Oral Roberts is pitching to the tune of a 3.32 ERA.

Hawaii heads to the Twin Cities with a 3-4 record. The Rainbow Warriors don an impressive 2.69 ERA on the season, but the opposition has pitched to a 1.69 ERA and .202 batting average against. Hawaii and Minnesota will play a Thursday night game, before the tournament kicks off.

All times Central, the rest of the weekend’s schedule follows.


  • Iowa vs Hawaii – 12:15 p.m.
  • Minnesota vs Oral Roberts – 6:30 p.m.


  • Iowa vs Oral Roberts – 12 p.m.
  • Minnesota vs Hawaii – 6:30 p.m.


  • Hawaii vs Oral Roberts – 11 a.m.
  • Minnesota vs Iowa – 3 p.m.

Around the conference

Florida Atlantic (4-3-1) welcomes another Big Ten opponent to Boca Raton as Illinois takes on the Owls a weekend after the Indiana Hoosiers split a three-game set. Illinois enters the weekend 2-5, behind an all-underclassmen weekend rotation. Taking their lumps early in the season, Illini pitchers have a 6.82 ERA spurred by walking 6.97 batters a contest. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Luke Schilling will take the ball on Friday night, to be followed in the rotation by freshmen righties Ty Weber and Ryan Thompson to round out the weekend. At the plate, the Illini are holding their own, batting .277, featuring six batters with a .300 average or better, led by Jack Yalowitz (.393) and Ben Troike (.385). Behind two doubles and a pair of home runs, senior first baseman Pat McInerney is the team’s leading run-producer with 10 RBI.

The Hoosiers are looking for an offensive spark. Falling to 3-4-1 on the season, Indiana dropped a home midweek contest to Cincinnati, 6-1, the third time this season IU has scored one run or less. Sophomore catcher Ryan Fineman is picking up where a solid freshmen season left off, batting a team-leading .333. Junior outfielder Laren Eustace is hitting .320 with four stolen bases, but fellow outfielders Craig Dedelow and Logan Sowers have yet to find their stroke, respectively batting .176 and .129. IU’s .230 team average is curtailing the efforts of the Big Ten’s top pitching staff, Indiana pitchers holding a 3.21 ERA. Indiana travels to Samford for three games, the Bulldogs coming off of a 7-6 win over Auburn on Wednesday to run their record to 4-3. Kevin Williams is the big bat in the Samford lineup, already with four home runs under his belt next to a .409 average.

Michigan State heads to Greenville, S.C, to play in the First Pitch Invitation. With one of the nation’s most potent offenses, the Spartans are batting .368, best in the Big Ten, ranking third in the nation. MSU is led by four players batting .400 or better through seven games, senior second baseman Dan Durkin (.452), sophomore third baseman Marty Bechina (.429), junior DH Zack McGuire (.406) and freshman outfielder Danny Gleaves (.400). The Spartans are slugging a gaudy .588 on the strength of 29 doubles and nine home runs, averaging 7.2 runs a game. Gleaves ranks fourth in the country, scoring 1.86 runs per game. The slugging Spartans will play in a tournament field of four teams, none with a losing record. MSU opens the weekend against Furman (6-2), before taking on Presbyterian (5-5) on Saturday, closing the weekend on Sunday against Tennessee-Martin (5-1).

Nebraska went 1-3 in the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge, dropping both games against #4 Oregon State while splitting two games against #24. As the Huskers look to get back on track, there is no dropping off in the competition. Nebraska heads to Frisco, Texas to play in the Frisco Classic, alongside #9 Arizona, #20 Arkansas and #30 Oklahoma State. Darin Erstad’s team is looking to get sluggings Ben Miller and Scott Schreiber going, as well as settle down a rotation which had difficulties with command and pitching beyond the fourth inning last week. Nebraska’s weekend rotation will go Derek Burkamper, who made his first start last week and was on a 50-pitch watch after a slight end-of-offseason arm issue, Jake Hohensee, who started Nebraska’s 4-3 win over Utah in his first action since May 2015 following Tommy John surgery, and two-way player Jake Meyers, resumes his Sunday role.

Northwestern and Penn State hopes to match Michigan’s undefeated showing in northern California, with Penn State taking on Pacific for three games with Northwestern travels to Santa Clara for four contests. Penn State’s showdown with Pacific in Stockon, Calif., is the start of a seven-game run in the Golden State for the Nittany Lions, while Northwestern returns home for their home debut on March 7 against Illinois-Chicago before heading out west for a three-game set at Portland. Penn State is looking to build off of a 2-2 showing against Xavier in Cary N.C., Northwestern is looking for their first win of the season, falling in their first six contests. Both teams hope weekend #3 is where the offense turns around, Northwestern enters March with a .167 average with Penn State sporting a .237 clip.

Rutgers was unable to take a road game at a ranked Atlantic Coast Conference foe for the second consecutive weekend, being swept at Virginia, after going 1-2 on opening weekend at Miami. A 9-2 midweek win over Wagner allowed Joe Litterio’s team to get back on track, in advance of returning to Virginia for three games at Old Dominion. Rutgers center fielder Jawuan Harris is stuffing the stat sheet, batting .346 with three doubles, a triple, three home runs and three steals. Milo Freeman and Mike Carter are contributing robust .375 and .370 respective averages. But as a team RU is batting .251 with a 7.14 ERA, hoping a step down in competition leads to better numbers and wins.

Required reading

Youth of Illinois baseball team continues to shine -Thomas Polcyn, The Daily Illini

Freshmen impress as Northwestern drops 3 in Mule Mix Classic -Evan Augeri, The Daily Northwestern

Connor Pohl’s Story All-Too-Familiar -Sonny Fulks, Press Pros Magazine

Penn State baseball’s offense sees significant improvement– Matt Martell, The Daily Collegian

Purdue’s Logan Poisall honors his father -Nathan Baird, Lafayette Journal & Courier

10 Innings Extra: Huskers need “screw it” moment

Nebraska exceeded expectations in 2016. The Big Ten’s western-most program was not expected to be among the top three contenders for the Big Ten championship in the preseason, the favorites being Indiana, Maryland and Michigan. But the team finished a half-game behind champion Minnesota and reached the NCAA Tournament. For head coach Darin Erstad and the Huskers, it was a second regional appearance in three years, after claiming their third second-place finish in four seasons.

A program with great tradition, Nebraska seeks consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 2007-08. Through two weekends of play, the team has an uphill battle in their quest to be a part of the field of 64. The Huskers sit 2-4 on the season after a rain-shortened opening weekend resulted in a two-game split versus UC Riverside and a 1-3 showing in the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge. Through the half-dozen games, Nebraska is batting .243 and the Huskers have crossed home plate only 20 times, averaging 3.3 runs per game.

A six-game start isn’t doom to a team’s postseason odds. But a year after exceeding expectations, the weight of what’s expected this season has Erstad waiting for his team to just play baseball.

Nebraska’s returned its top three hitters from its 37-22 club, a .281-hitting outfit a year ago. With juniors Jake Meyers and Scott Schreiber and senior Ben Miller, the top of the Husker order was expected to be potent. Meyers led the team with a .326 average, barely eclipsing Schreiber’s .325 mark, while Miller hit to the tune of .317. Schreiber’s 16 home runs were a Big Ten-best with Meyers and Schreiber combining for 28 doubles. Add junior left fielder Luis Alvarado and sophomore catcher Jesse Wilkening, a strong offensive core was expected to lead the Huskers.

But through six games, the abilities shown prior have yet to come through.

Alvarado is batting .308 with three doubles, a nice start to his third season in Lincoln. But he is the lone returning starter performing at an expected level. Schreiber is batting .250 without an extra-base hit, with Meyers and Miller a combined 8-for-48 on the season, a .166 average. Wilkening showed well as a freshman, batting .270 in 111 at-bats, but has only recorded two hits in 11 at-bats.

The sample sizes are small, it’s not unusual for a player to have a slump over the course of a half-dozen games, but when many key contributors are in a rut it’s hard for a team to get going.

What’s causing the funk? Did the returning players suddenly lose skill? Not to Erstad. Following Friday’s 7-5 loss to Utah, where the team left the bases loaded to end three of the first four innings, Erstad mentioned the slow starts may be a result of the players attempting too much to build off of the strong 2016 seasons.

“Right now we have some guys in their own heads a little bit, trying to have the seasons they’re supposed to have,” Erstad said. “I just want to get back to the bottom line of competing.”

For Meyers and Schreiber, as juniors, it is a draft year, while Miller opted to return to Nebraska after being a 32nd-round pick in last June’s draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But while the offensive output yet to come from the heart of the lineup, the players stepping into the spotlight for the first time have had no such problems. Nebraska closed out the weekend with a 4-3 win over Utah, spurred by a new-look 1-2 punch.

Batting leadoff, freshman outfielder Mojo Hagge went 3-for-5 while sophomore infielder Angelo Altavilla added two hits in five at-bats in the two-hole. On the young season, the two have combined for 16 hits in 33 at-bats. Altavilla and Hagge can’t be expected to continue to hit at their respective .444 and .533 clips for the rest of the season, but their emergence and shown ability against very good pitching gives Nebraska seven capable bats in the lineup, welcomed contributions as Erstad says  “we’re going to need it from all different parts.”

Now it’s time for the veterans to do their part.

“The guys that have a track record haven’t started to hit yet,” Erstad said. “It’s one of those things where we’ll keep throwing them out there and they’ll do their thing. We just need to get back to the basics with a lot of those guys and quit trying to do too much.”

The parts are there for Nebraska to have a season which ends in the NCAA Tournament. Knocking off the defending Pac-12 champions shows what the Huskers are capable of. It’s just a matter of time for it all to come together, newcomers and returners alike to contribute up and down the lineup.

“Our returners are putting so much stinking pressure on themselves right now to have big years, and sometimes that happens. At some point, they’re going to hit the tilt button and it’s going to be ‘screw it, let’s just play baseball.'”

Assistants Anonymous: Early-season grind

It’s time to give assistant coaches some love. From compiling scouting reports, sleeping in terrible hotels on the recruiting trail, tossing batting practice and making sure camps with hundreds of kids run without a hitch, the job of the assistant coach never ends. With the duties the job entails and time and effort put in, the insight an assistant coach can provide is second to none, Assistants Anonymous is an opportunity for assistants to bring us closer to the game.

The first assistant to step to the microphone is a pitching coach, who gives insight on what it’s like during the early season with weekend after weekend of travel, limitations on practice and how he prepares a staff to be ready for the season.

Assistants Anonymous #1

We’re two weeks into the season. For Big Ten programs, that means two weeks on the road. What steps are taken to make sure players able to handle the travel, manage their academics with missed class time and still be able to perform at their best?

Before the first week of school has even finished for our guys, we have our academic advisor compile a missed class time sheet for each player to give to their professors. This helps inform them as early as possible about time missed and puts the responsibility of scheduling tests, quizzes, etc. early if need be so they continue to do their job in the classroom.

In the Big Ten and at our school we are only allowed so many missed days, which in turn means that you may be flying out late on Thursday nights so that you do not miss an extra day of class. This is taxing on all parties, but it is part of the gig here in the Big Ten.

Just how tough is it to leave on Thursday, get back late Sunday, then get ready to do it again three days later, for up to five consecutive weeks?

It is definitely tough at times, especially when are flying to the west coast as so many teams in our league have done over the last couple years. If you are a program that is flying private, it certainly helps you get to your destination quicker….however we are not a program with that luxury, so it means that we are getting home many times between 1-3 a.m., but the players are still going to class the next morning at 8 or 9 a.m.

Do you think the overall wellness of the student-athlete is compromised with the current baseball calendar?

I do think that the calendar being so condensed is certainly tough on the student-athlete, especially in our league with all of the travel. But I do think that the more your schedule takes place with students in school, the better for college baseball. I understand that in the Big Ten that can be tough with the weather.

I don’t know the solution at this point in time, or could I give a detailed answer in one paragraph, however, I think some subtle changes could be made improve things overall.

Has the NCAA’s new rule that a travel day cannot be considered a day off change how you practice?

At this point in time, this rule is not going to really affect us, because that is a change that can be managed over the course of a full year. However, I think that some of the rules in terms of adding extra mandated days off and such are something that makes the job of coaches very difficult.

In my opinion, many players are wanting the ability to be coached and assisted all of the time, and when you limit the ability of coaches to be able to “coach”, then I feel that is a problem. Many rules are put in place because of the 2-3% who abuse them.

When it comes to arm care, do you implement strict guidelines on pitch counts early in the season? What is the process for building up an arm?

The process for building up an arm is not just a start-of-season plan, but rather something that takes place on a 12-month cycle. You have to get these guys into a position where they are ready to roll when the season begins, but one bad move (100 pitches day one, or three straight days of live games early) can set them back over the course of the season.

We progress our guys and pull them early in the year because we want them to be peaking in May and June when everything is on the line. The key to me is to keep daily arm care protocols in place during the season, as well as making sure you monitor how often they hit the mound during each and every week. The more you hit the mound without reason, the higher your chances become for injury during a season.

While you may have a general idea going into the season, at what point in the season do you know what a player is capable of, that he can or cannot succeed in a role on the mound?

The early part of the season for our program is about putting certain guys in a position to purely succeed because we want to build their confidence. Other guys you may put in some circumstances that are difficult and may be more troublesome for simple success.

Although you would like to go into conference knowing exactly what you have in a pitching staff, it is ever-evolving, making it impossible to know how the end of the season will look compared to the beginning. One thing that we really try to continue is to coach the heck out of our arms so that when they are thrust into a new role or position, they are as ready as possible to answer the bell. 

However, when you look at your staff as a whole we would love to have nine guys you fully trust, two wild cards, and one surprise. If you are fortunate to have this collection of arms, then we believe that you have a chance to make a real run in June. 

The Prospect Junkie: Early season review

With two weekends of the young season now in the books, we’re starting to starting to see some early returns on prospects for whom we’ve been patiently waiting through this long, if not mild, Midwest winter.

It’s important to note that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions based off a few games.  There’s a reason why we associate mid-season form with peak performance.  It takes time for players, much less teams, to round into form.

For those reasons, we’re not going to overreact when a player gets off to a hot or cold start.  However, February games count just as much as the games in May, so we’re not going to ignore them either.  Also, some of these early non-conference matchups provide the best opportunity to size-up prospects against some of the more highly regarded players in the nation.

Strong starts

Luke Miller, Indiana

A draft-eligible sophomore, the Hoosier third-basemen was an All-Big Ten Freshman Team selection in 2016 where he produced a slash line of .284/.352/.368 while finishing second on the team in hits (54).  While power was lacking for Miller last season, he’s already topped his 2016 home run production (one) by hitting two in just 14 at-bats to open the season.

Brian Shaffer, Maryland

The start has been less than ideal for the Terrapins.  Tabbed as a preseason top 25 team by several publications, Maryland stands at just 1-5 after being swept at LSU last weekend. Shaffer has been one of the few bright spots.  Matching up against potential first round pick Alex Lange last Friday, Shaffer held his own by allowing six hits and three runs over 6.2 innings.  He struck out six Tigers and walked three.  Shaffer gets great extension on a three-quarter delivery and pounds the strike-zone with sinking fastballs and has the confidence to throw his tight late-breaking slider in any count.  While Shaffer took the loss in the contest, I came away impressed.

Tre’ Gantt, Ohio State

Gantt teamed with Ronnie Dawson (Astros – 2nd Round) and Troy Montgomery (Angels – 8th Round) in the Buckeye outfield last season and could join them in pro ball next season.  Setting the table as the Ohio State leadoff hitter this season, Gantt is hitting .300/.382/.567 with a pair of stolen bases and three doubles thus far.


Looking to turn the corner

Logan Sowers, Indiana

Sowers’ star has dimmed some over the past two seasons but as noted last two weeks ago, I’m intrigued by his power potential.  He’s yet to show much of anything on the young season, hitting just .143/.200/.143 with 13 strikeouts compared to just 2 walks in 30 plate appearances.

Kevin Smith, Maryland

If there was a knock on Smith coming into the year, it was uncertainty about his ability to hit for average, having produced acceptable but unspectacular batting averages of .273 and .259 his freshman and sophomore years respectively.  Through six games this season, Smith is hitting just .130/.200/.174 with 11 strikeouts and just one walk.  The sample size is small, but not insignificant.  Smith had contact issues last year including 33 strikeouts in 143 at-bats in the Cape Cod League.  An encouraging sign is that he went 2-3 with a double against the aforementioned Lange.

Lucas Gilbreth, Minnesota

After a sophomore campaign where he dazzled with a team best 1.36 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 33 innings out of the bullpen, Gilbreth has allowed more earned runs through two starts (eight) than he did all of last season (five). Gilbreth was able to grind out a victory against UC Irvine on opening weekend despite allowing seven hits and five runs in just three innings.  He followed that up with six walks in another three-inning start against a prospect-laden Seattle University team.

Feb. 23-27 Weekend Review

From Arizona to Virginia the Big Ten took its lumps in the second weekend of action. The docket was littered with showdowns against ranked teams, but the Big Ten heads to March with only two victories on the season against a ranked club in 18 opportunities.

But it wasn’t all bad.

Michigan swept through northern California while Minnesota held a ring ceremony before the defending Big Ten champions opened its home slate with three wins. Here’s the Feb. 24-27 weekend review.

Marquee Series: Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge

The marquee matchups of the weekend occurred in Surprise, Ariz. as Surprise Stadium, the spring training home of the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers, played host to the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge. Nebraska and Ohio State played two games each against Oregon State and Utah. Feauting three 2016 NCAA Tournament teams and a top-five club in Oregon State, it was a strong quartet of teams, but the Pac-12 had the upper-hand.

The Big Ten suffered a pair of  blowout defeats on day one, outscored 22-1 on a forgettable day for the conference’s participants.

On Friday, Ohio State rebounded to knock off Oregon State and Nebraska showed better fight against Utah, as the Huskers play improved with each game over weekend.

After the weekend-opening 10-1 defeat, Nebraska played Oregon State closer on Saturday but was unable to overcome an early deficit, falling 5-2. On a day where Surprise Stadium played three games, the Rangers and Royals meeting before the Huskers and Beavers squared off, Ohio State and Utah played late into the night. With eight errors and 22 hits between the teams, Utah outlasted Ohio State in a 6-4 victory.

Finishing the game with the Utes near 11 p.m., the Buckeyes had a quick turnaround, playing a 9 a.m. local time on Sunday against Oregon State. A sleepy Sunday affair saw neither team score until a three-run fourth for Oregon State. The 2006 and 2007 national champions upped their advantage to 4-0 in the sixth. Ohio State junior center fielder Tre’ Gantt hit his first career home run in the eighth to put the Buckeyes on the board, a two-out solo shot, but Oregon State responded in the bottom of the inning to conclude the weekend with a 5-1 victory.

Oregon State was matched by Utah with a 3-1 showing as Nebraska ended the weekend with a victory, turning back the Utes 3-4. Pitching for the first time since May 15, 2015, missing the 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery, sophomore right-handed pitcher Jake Hohensee pitched 4.1 innings, holding Utah to three runs, one earned, off two hits.

For the first time all weekend Nebraska supported its starting pitcher with a run in the first. Junior DH Scott Schreiber stroked a two-out single up the middle to score Mojo Hagge, who started the game with a single. The teams traded three-run innings in the fourth to cap the scoring. A walk by Schreiber in front of back-to-back walks loaded the bases, before a single, fielder’s choice and a Hagge RBI-single made it 4-0.

In the bottom of the fourth, with three runs in and Utah having runners at second and third, Nebraska turned to Chad Luensmann. The right-handed sophomore picked up a strikeout and fly out to end the threat. Luensmann pitched 3.2 hitless innings before two-way junior Luis Alvarado went to the mound from left field to toss a scoreless ninth, closing the game with his first career save.

Both teams with new faces  throughout the lineup, Ohio State (3-5) and Nebraska (2-4) each showed flashes of being quality teams at times, but too often self-inflicted wounds prevented the clubs from mounting much of a threat or aided the opposition. More will come on the weekend in the desert in this week’s 10 Innings Extra.

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Rough go against the ranked

A grand opportunity was at hand for the Big Ten to make a statement with 11 games on the weekend against ranked teams. But the conference went a combined 1-10 in the games against Houston, LSU, Oregon State and Virginia.

Two big innings saw Illinois lose a 5-0 lead over Houston. Jumping out to a 5-0 lead, Illinois allowed seven runs in the fourth and four in the eighth for an 11-5 defeat.

In Baton Rogue, the third-ranked Tigers had their way against the Terps. LSU grabbed the weekend opener, 6-1, before rolling over Maryland 14-0 on Saturday. In the shutout, LSU left-handed pitcher Jared Poche carried a no-hitter into the ninth before Zach Jancarski picked up a leadoff single in the eighth.

Oregon State’s 3-1 showing in Surprise against Nebraska and Ohio State wasn’t the lone stout effort by a team in orange against the Big Ten. Virginia picked up a three-game sweep over Rutgers, outscoring the Scarlet Knights 37-9.

Wolverines picking up steam in California

The Wolverines opened the season in a tepid way, splitting four games against Seton Hall. But heading to the Golden State for spring break, Michigan has gotten hot. Playing in the Jack Gifford Memorial Tournament, Michigan went 3-0, and added a victory on Monday to leave northern California with a 4-0 showing.

On Friday, Michigan cruised to a 6-1 victory in the tournament opener against Saint Louis University. Junior left-handed pitcher Oliver Jaskie pitched six scoreless innings, allowing three hits while striking out six batters and classmate Nick Poirier added a two-run home run in support. U-M was the benefactor of control issues by Billiken pitchers, drawing eight walks in the game, including three out of the gate in a two-run first inning.

Michigan picked up a 7-6, 10-inning win on Saturday, scoring the winning run on a wild pitching during an intentional walk. Jake Bivens, Miles Lewis, Harrison Wenson and Poirier each picked up two hits, to push Michigan to victory, withstanding a three-run ninth from SLU which sent the game to extras.

Michigan scored a run in the first for a third consecutive game en rotue to a 10-3 win over Santa Clara on Sunday. Drew Lugbauer and Wenson connected on their first home run of the year, and the Wolverines scored seven runs over their final three at-bats to take home the tournament title. But Michigan wasn’t done in NorCal yet.  On Monday, against San Jose State, Wenson picked up his second home run in as many games, joined by shortstop Michael Brdar dialing up a home run in a four-run second inning as Michigan picked up a 6-2 win to improve to 6-2 on the season. Junior right-handed pitcher Alec Rennard picked up the victory, tossing six innings of two-run baseball, striking out nine batters.

Hot corner hot shots

The Big Ten was expected to be deep at third base this season. Through two weeks it appears the conference may be exceptionally deep. After several third basemen enjoyed strong weekends, here’s a rundown of the impressive seasons the conference is seeing from the hot corner handlers.

Indiana Soph. Luke Miller: 5-for-14, .357 AVG; 2 HR

Iowa Jr. Matt Hoeg: 6-for-18, .333; 3 2B, 1 3B

Michigan State Soph. Marty Bechina: 12-for-28, .429; 4 HR

Minnesota Jr. Micah Coffey: 9-for-22, .409; 2 2B, 1 3B

Nebraska Soph. Angelo Altavilla: 8-for-15, .533; 3 2B

Ohio State Soph. Brady Cherry: 8-for-26, .308; 2 HR

Rutgers Jr. Milo Freeman: 8-for-20, .400

Quick hits

Spartans continue offensive onslaught

Michigan State entered the weekend batting .401 with 51 runs scored in four games. The Spartans saw their team average dip below .400, as well as suffered their first loss of the season, but Jake Boss’ crew continued to punish the baseball, taking two of three games at UNC-Greensboro. In a 5-4 win on Friday, six of MSU’s nine hits were for extra-bases. The team erupted for 20 hits in a series clinching 22-16 win on Saturday, highlighted by the Spartans sending 17 batters to the plate in a 13-run fourth inning. UNC-G salvaged the weekend with a 4-1 win on Sunday. After seven games, Michigan State has a .368 average, scoring 11.28 runs per game.

Splits earned against quality clubs

A split in a three-game set is unusual, but that’s what Indiana earned in their weekend matchup against Florida Atlantic. The Hoosiers grabbed the first game of the weekend, knocking off the Owls, 8-4, behind home runs from Austin Cangelosi, Craig Dedelow and Ryan Fineman. Sophomore Jonathan Stiever struck out seven betters in six innings to earn the victory. It would be the lone win on the weekend as Indiana fell 6-2 on Saturday, squandering a three-hit day for Miller and a travel curfew ended Sunday’s rubber match, squared at 6-6 when the action was called after 11 innings. Dedelow and Miller connected on home runs for the second time in the series, as IU pounded out 14 hits in the weekend finale.

After going 0-3 at #1 TCU, Penn State rebounded with a split against a Xavier team. Penn State used a solid showing by junior right-handed pitcher Sal Biasi to open the weekend with a 7-5 win. Biasi held Xavier to three runs in five innings, striking out five without a walk, keeping XU in check until PSU scored five runs between the third and fifth innings. The Musketeers rebounded to sweep a Saturday doubleheader, taking the first game 10-4 before winning a 7-5 game of their own. In the weekend capper, after both teams were held scoreless through seven innings, Penn State broke through with six runs in the eighth to level the weekend’s series with a 6-1 win. A two-run single by Willie Burger and two-run double by Jordan Bowersox were the big hits in PSU’s last at-bat victory.

Gophers sweep in U.S. Bank Stadium debut

Minnesota opened baseball in U.S. Bank Stadium with a boom and a broom. The Gophers swept visiting Seattle University, concluding the team’s first indoor action since 2013 with victories of 13-4, 6-3 and 11-7.  A weekend attendance of 4,609 saw the Gophers pick up 42 hits to bump their team batting average to .371 on the young season.

Early offense eludes Huskers

Nebraska played it’s best game of the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge on Saturday evening, but it wasn’t enough to take down the fifth-ranked team in the country. Nebraska (1-4) suffered a third consecutive loss, falling to the Oregon State (6-1), 5-2, in a game where the Huskers, fell behind early, again, and were unable to muster offense of their own early in the game or early in their plate appearances.

“Just have to keep grinding,” said Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad. “This game is going to throw a lot at you. We’re playing quality teams and every little mistake that you make is going to get exposed. We’re not making huge mistakes, we’re making little ones that can cost us.”

The first Husker mistake put Nebraska in a deficit before they could step to the plate for their second at-bat, for the third time this weekend.

With two outs and a runner on first, Nebraska left-handed pitcher Jake Meyers tossed an offering into the wheelhouse of Oregon State first baseman KJ Harrison, a 1-0 pitch that went out of the ballpark to left field for a quick 2-0 Oregon State lead.

“First inning, two outs, they get a home run. Right there, (if we) get out of that, we have a chance to get rolling,” said Erstad. “But that wasn’t the case.”

Oregon State’s 2-0 lead after the first inning comes two days after the Beavers seized a 4-0 advantage in their first at-bat against the Huskers. It took Oregon State two innings this time to jump to a 4-0 lead, doing so on a bases loaded hit batter and sacrifice fly in the second. While Oregon State jumped on early opportunities, Nebraska was unable to respond in kind.

Nebraska matched Oregon State in having nine at-bats with a runner in scoring position, bettering their one hit with two, but when the runners reached second and third base was the difference in the game.

Junior right fielder Scott Schreiber singled to lead off the second, but two strikeouts kept him at first before Jesse Wilkening singled to left field to put two on. But with two outs, senior second baseman Jake Schleppenbach skied out to center to end the inning. In the third, left fielder Mojo Hagge doubled to right center, but it was with two outs, the inning coming to an end one batter later. Wilkening doubled in the fourth, one batter after sophomore third baseman Angelo Altavilla singled to left, but both of those hits were with two outs. Nebraska again left a runner in scoring position with Schleppenbach grounding out after the sophomore catcher’s two-bagger ending the Husker threat. When Nebraska put Oregon State in a danger zone, it often came with two outs, limiting their chances of capitalizing on the opportunity.

“We didn’t generate anything with zero outs and getting anything started where you have an opportunity to build on something,” Erstad said as Nebraska went 4-for-22 batting with less than two outs. “When you have to always get two-out hits, that makes it even harder. That’s where we put ourselves in a tough position offensively today.”

Struggling to find a way to strike early in their trips to the plate against Oregon State pitchers, the Huskers received a stout relief effort to keep the game in striking distance. After Meyers exited with one out in the fourth, sophomore left-handed pitcher Jake McSteen pitched into the seventh, putting zeros on the board in the process.

“Unfortunately when those guys come in we’re playing from behind,” Erstad said on McSteen’s strong relief effort. “They are doing a nice job with that. We are seeing them way too often in those situations.”

With McSteen holding the Beavers at bay, Nebraska finally broke through in the sixth. And it occurred with offense generated with less than two outs.

Singles from Schreiber and center fielder Luis Alvarado put the first two Huskers on base before a run-scoring knock from Altavilla plated the Nebraska’s first run. The prospect of a big inning dimmed with a Wilkening strikeout and Schleppenbach fly out, but junior shortstop Brison Cronenbold doubled down the left field line to bring home Alvarado and make it a 4-2 game. A four-pitch walk to Meyers loaded the bases, but a line out to left by Hagge ended the rally.

“That’s kind of been the story of our season so far. With two outs (and nobody on), we get two hits, because they’re not trying to walk you. Then we get guys in scoring position and they go to work on you. We haven’t done as good of a job of staying aggressive when we have those runners in scoring position.”

The lone batter to reach base for Nebraska over the final three innings was Schleppenbach, drawing a two-out walk in the eighth, a batter before the inning ended on a fielder’s choice. Oregon State tacked on a run in their half of the eighth to give the game its final 5-2 score.

Knocked around for four runs off four hits in the first two innings, Nebraska pitchers held Oregon State to one run and six hits over the final six at-bats. But the early deficit was too much to overcome for an offense still in search for a consistent approach, from the first inning through the ninth, with no outs or two.

Altavilla, Schreiber and Wilkening each picked up two hits for a club which has totaled 20 over the last two games, but only seven runs to show for it. Meyers received the loss in allowing four runs off six hits in 3.1 innings. Harrison went 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored to paced the Beavers. Oregon State starting pitcher Sam Tweedt went five innings, allowing the two Nebraska runs while scattering seven hits, striking out four batters without issuing a walk.

Nebraska closes the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge, set to play Utah at 1 p.m. on Sunday, looking the salvage the weekend with a victory.

“I do like where our energy is, I do like where our effort level, or focus, all of those type of things I think are fine,” Erstad said. “We talked early and I said we’re going to be good, it’s just how quickly we can get there. We’re not quite there yet.”

Huskers still in search for winning ways

Not possessing a killer instinct, timidness or a lack of competitiveness, there are options for how one may describe Nebraska’s inability to come through with a big hit in a key situation, capitalize on opportunities provided and play winning baseball. And each one was how head coach Darin Erstad described his team’s offensive performance on Friday night, falling to Utah, 7-5. The loss dropped Nebraska to 1-3 on the season while Utah improved to 4-1.

“It was a game we had a chance to win,” Erstad said. “They got the big hits and we didn’t.”

As Nebraska did in Thursday’s 10-1 loss to Oregon State, the Huskers fell behind right off the of bat, but this time the team fought back.

After Utah loaded the bases on back-to-back singles and a walk off Nebraska started Derek Burkamper, the Utes put the first run on the board with the third single of the inning. A strikeout and fly out to center allowed Burkamper to exit the inning with no further damage. When his teammates stepped to the plate, they reset the game for the senior right-hander.

Leadoff batter Jake Meyers singled up the middle on the first pitch of the game by Ute Jayson Rose. A stolen base and fielder’s choice moved Meyers to third with two outs. Junior DH Scott Schreiber drew a walk before Luis Alvarado singled to left field to plate Meyers and tie the game, 1-1. Nebraska had an opportunity to take the lead and put space between them and the Utes when Jake Schleppenbach walked to load the bases, but a pop up to center off the bat of Alex Raburn ended the inning with the bases loaded.

The three runners left on base would be a sign of things to come for the Cornhuskers.

Both teams sent three batters to the plate in the second inning, in a scoreless inning. In the top of the third, three consecutive singles to start the inning led to a pair of Utah runs. Where the Utes made the most of their baserunners, Nebraska did not.

Three consecutive walks to open the home-half of the third loaded the bases for Nebraska. But two strikeouts around a fly out to left field saw the threat evaporate as quickly as it mounted. For a second time in three innings the Huskers left the bases loaded.

“They’re timid. You can tell they weren’t aggressive,” Erstad said. “Those are the parts of the game that swing either way, we weren’t able to do it.”

In their very next at-bat Nebraska had an opportunity to atone for the failed upon opportunity.

Nate Fisher relieved Burkamper and tossed an eight-pitch 1-2-3 inning to quickly bring the Huskers back to the plate. A one-out double to left center field by third baseman Angelo Altavilla put a runner in scoring position. Meyer collected his second single to center field to put the tying run on base, before moving to second on a full count walk drawn by right field Mojo Hagge. With the bases loaded for the third time Nebraska had it’s three-hole and cleanup batters up. But like Houdini, Rose escaped yet another jam, striking out Ben Miller and Schreiber. Again, Rose sat down Nebraska with three runners left on base to the displeasure of Erstad.

“You have to smell blood in those situations. I thought we had a good opportunity, to get to a good pitcher in those situations, we didn’t take advantage of it.”

After respectively batting .325 and .317 in 2016, Schreiber and Miller have struggled in starting out the 2017 season. Schreiber, a top draft prospect after a 16-home run sophomore season and Miller, returning to school after being selected in the 32nd round of June’s draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, are a combined six-for-33 on the season. The season is young, only four games deep, but what’s to come in June may be shaping what has happened in February.

“Right now we have some guys in their own heads a little bit, trying to have the seasons they’re supposed to have,” Erstad said. “I just want to get back to the bottom line of competing.”

Though Nebraska left nine runners on through the first four innings, they did find a way to claw back in the fifth.

With two outs, senior shortstop Alex Raburn singled to his Utah counterpart in front of catcher Brady Childs drawing a walk. This time the inning would not end with multiple Huskers on base as Altavilla hit a towering double to the left field corner, tying the game, 3-3.

The score held until the seventh when a two-out single to right field scored a runner at second and a runner at first. The latter runner crossing home ahead of a throw, a tally none too pleasing for Erstad.

“We had first and second two outs, there’s a single and the guy scores from first. I didn’t think there was much sense of urgency when it came to taking care of the baseball there. Those are things we have to clean up.”

But the Husker showed their mettle in rallying in the seventh, again behind the bat of Altavilla.

Leadoff singles by Alvarado and Schleppenbach put two Huskers on with nobody out. A sacrifice bunt by Raburn put them both in scoring position, where two batters they scored on a two-out double to right field by Altavilla. Seeing action in just 14 games in 2016, the sophomore finished the game 4-for-4 with three doubles and four RBI.

“We’re getting good at playing from behind, which is not a good thing to do,” Erstad said. “You want to go out and set the tone, you can continue to play from behind, it’s impossible to play good baseball that way.”

Nebraska was unable to follow Alatavaill’s seventh base of the game with another hit to take a lead for the first time in the game. Meyers popped out to shortstop to end the innings as the Huskers settled for squaring the game for the third different time. But that would be the final time the score was level. Two Utah singles, a walk and sacrifice bunt led to the winning run scoring for the Utes in the eighth, before they tacked on an insurance run in the ninth for the 7-5 victory.

At the game’s end, 16 hits led to seven Utah runs while 11 hits produced five Nebraska runs. Each team left 11 runners on base, but the multiple bases loaded situations left Erstad wanting his club to get back to one thing: competing.

“I don’t think we’re competing like we can and that’s going to be our focus going into tomorrow.”

On a pitch count in his 2017 debut, Burkamper pitched three innings, allowing three runs off six hits, walking one batter with three strikeouts. Utah starting pitcher Jayson Rose pitched 4.2 innings, allowing three runs off six hits and seven walks, striking out six batters. Nebraska reliever Reece Eddins received the loss, allowing three runs in 1.2 innings, yielding six hits while walking two batters. Utah first baseman Hunter Simmons led the Utes at the plate going 4-for-4 with three RBI.

Nebraska returns to action in the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge with a Saturday afternoon contest against #5 Oregon State. The Beavers suffered their first loss of the season on Friday, falling to Ohio State 6-1. First pitch is set for 4:30 p.m. MT.

Buckeyes bounce back to top Beavers

SURPRISE, Ariz. – The difference between Ohio State’s first two games in the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge was night and day. Literally and figuratively.

Falling to Utah on Thursday night, 12-0, Ohio State (3-3) bounced back to knock off #5 Oregon State (5-1), 6-1, on Friday afternoon, giving the Buckeyes a signature early season victory and the Beavers their first loss of the season.

“The same team. It’s unbelievable isn’t it?” said seventh-year head coach Greg Beals. “As frustrated as I was last night in not being able to be productive offensively, not being able to make plays on defense, just all of the little things, today was the flip side of that.”

From their first at-bat a different Ohio State showed up in Surprise.

Junior center fielder Tre’ Gantt worked a 10-pitch at-bat before doubling to right field. Moving to third on a single by second baseman Noah McGowan, Gantt scored on an errant pickoff attempt by Oregon State starter Bryce Fehmel. Less than 16 hours after being blanked by the Utes, in a game where Ohio State was twice picked off in the first inning, the Buckeyes grabbed the lead in the opening inning against the Beavers.

“Tre’ Gantt set the tempo of the ballgame with that at-bat in the first inning,” Beals said. “A 10-pitch double, he came and showed us what we wanted to do, the toughness, the competitiveness.”

For most of the game, it appeared Gantt’s run would be enough for the Buckeyes.

Senior right-handed pitcher Yianni Pavlopoulos was dialed in, shutting down an Oregon State offense which averaged 6.4 runs in their first five games.

With Oregon State looking to quickly counter and atone for the early unearned run, Pavlopoulos worked around a one-out double in the first inning by Christian Donahue, stranding the Oregon State right fielder at third base. Oregon State would advance another runner to third with two outs in the third inning, but again the Buckeye starter escaped the inning unscathed. Leaving the two runners 90 feet away would be the closest Oregon State would come to pushing a run across on Pavlopoulos.

“Just getting ahead with the fastball,” Pavlopoulos said on what was key to his strong start. “The changeup for the middle innings was pretty good, I’ve been working on that a lot. Just getting timely groundballs and timely outs when I needed to was the big thing.”

“He pounded the strike zone, got ahead in counts,” Beals said on Pavlopoulos’ second career start. “He was able to use his breaking ball and mixed enough changeups to keep guys honest. The thing I liked was the action on his fastball, he was able to roll a lot of groundballs not necessarily with velocity, but with action. Then mix in the tilt of his breaking ball, it was a great outing for us.”

“The thing I liked was the action on his fastball, he was able to roll a lot of groundballs not necessarily with velocity, but with action. Then mix in the tilt of his breaking ball, it was a great outing for us.”

Keeping Oregon State off the scoreboard for six innings, Pavlopoulos induced eight ground outs, with the Buckeyes playing strong defense behind him. A game after committing four errors in the loss to Utah, Beals noted the support his errorless fielding unit gave their pitchers.

“It started on the mound, we got a great start but we made plays,” Beals said.

The Buckeyes’ standout pitching performance and clean defensive showing was complimented by an offense which received contributions up and down the lineup.

After Ohio State scored the game’s first run, Fehmel retired the next seven batters, keeping the score 1-0 through the fourth inning. But in a matter of two pitches, that changed.

Working a full count, Buckeye senior DH Zach Ratcliff reached first on an infield single which deflected off Fehmel. In the next at-bat, Ratcliff moved to second on a failed pickoff attempt. On Fehmel’s first pitch home to third baseman Brady Cherry, the sophomore sent a hanging breaking ball to the left-field bullpen, putting the Buckeyes up 3-0.

“There’s a man on second, nobody out, he’s trying to drive the ball to right field,” Beals said. “He gets a hung breaking ball and drives it out of the park to left field. That’s the product of a good approach.”

An RBI-single in the seventh scored right fielder Shea Murray, making it a 4-0 game, but the Buckeyes weren’t safely out of danger.

Pavlopulous was relieved at the start of the seventh inning by junior right-handed Seth Kinker. Forcing a pop-up in his first at-bat, Kinker surrendered a single up the middle to Elliott Cary and a double to deep right field to Michael Gretler, as Oregon State made it a 4-1 game. A walk in the next at-bat put runners on first and second, with the tying run at the plate, But Kinker buckled down,  inducing a 6-4-3 double play end the inning.

“We got some double play balls. We didn’t help Adam last night with our defense, we helped out pitcher today with our defense,” Beals said. “It was really good Ohio State baseball today.”

Ohio State scored two more runs in the ninth to close the scoring in the 6-1 victory. Eight of Ohio State’s nine batters reached base, seven via a hit, with six multi-hit efforts in the 13-hit Buckeye attack. Cherry and Ratcliff combined to go 4-for-8 with two runs and two RBI.

In an 85-pitch start, Pavlopolous scattered three hits and struck out four batters with three walks. Kinker pitched the final three innings to receive the save, allowing one run off two hits and a walk, with one strikeout. Fehmel received the loss, conceding three runs on seven hits over five innings.

On a team with 14 newcomers, Ohio State’s ability to not only bounce back from a top defeat but to knock off one of the best team’s in the country is something Pavlopoulos hopes resonated with the club.

“It just shows the guys anyone can beat anyone, no matter the situation, on any give day. It was a big confidence booster for the younger guys to just know what we’re capable of when we play a clean game.”

Weekend preview Feb. 23-26

And just like that, we’re already at the second weekend of the college baseball season. Another big weekend is on hand for the Big Ten. From a big time showdown in the Bayou, to the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge, Rutgers looking to slay another Goliath, there’s opportunities abound for the Big Ten to make noise. The Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge, where the Big Ten got off to a woeful start, will be covered on-location by 10 Innings. For more of what’s happening elsewhere, here’s a weekend preview.

Big weekend in the bayou for Terrapins

Maryland opened the season ranked #25 by the NCBWA, tabbed as Big Ten favorites by Big Ten coaches, D1Baseball.com and Baseball America. The Terps welcome back right-handed juniors Taylor Bloom and Brian Shaffer, while touting a middle infield duo of sophomore second baseman Nick Dunn and junior shortstop Kevin Smith, two Cape Cod League all-stars. Expected  to return to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years, a quality season-opening tournament in Clearwater, Fla., joined by Alabama State, Ball State and Louisville was to show Maryland has what it takes to make it through a regional-like field.

By the end of the tournament, there were questions on whether Maryland can be in a position to be considered for a regional.

Maryland dropped an 8-3 game to Ball State to open the season, Maryland’s bullpen woes of 2016 rearing their head in a five-run sixth for the Cardinals. On Saturday, Maryland showed it’s offensive capability, but, still, the pitching wasn’t good enough, falling to #8 Louisville, 10-7. The story held true on Sunday, a potent group at the plate but concerns on the mound, however, Maryland finished the weekend with a 9-7 win over Alabama State. Going 1-2 with a 7.27 ERA isn’t the start anyone in College Park envisioned. But that can quickly be erased this season.

The Terrapins will play #3 LSU this weekend for three games, going toe-to-toe with a blueblood of college baseball. A yearly contender to reach the College World Series, expectations are high as always in Baton Rogue and the Tigers have a team capable of winning it all.

LSU opened the season with three victories, sweeping a doubleheader against Army, 9-0 and 6-0, before turning back Air Force 10-3. LSU dropped a Tuesday game against New Orleans, 11-8, but rebounded to beat Hofstra on Wednesday, 8-1.

Circled in the offseason as a series that could be a potential super regional matchup, a measuring stick for both clubs, the series now has a different feel. Another rough weekend, while it’s too early to dismay their NCAA Tournament chances, back-to-back potential resume-building weekends will have come and gone without Maryland working to build a case for inclusion in the field of 64. But, with a weekend victory, Maryland throws their name right back in the mix as a team to keep an eye on, worth of being preseason conference favorites.

A look at the opponent: LSU

LSU is led by preseason All-American, potential first-round pick, junior right-handed pitcher Alex Lange. Entering the weekend with a 21-4 career record, Lange has everything you want in an ace. Last year, Lange struck out 125 batters in 111.2 innings, going 8-4 with a 3.79 ERA. If there’s a dropoff between ace and LSU’s number two, it isn’t much of one. Left-handed Jared Poche’ returned to school for head coach Paul Mainieri, turning down an opportunity to sign with the Dodgers, who drafted him in the 14th round of last June’s draft. All Poche’ did to start his senior season was toss a 79-pitch, seven-inning no-hitter against Army. At the plate, LSU has a .340 team average with 13 doubles and home runs. Junior right fielder Greg Deichmann is LSU’s top power threat, already with three home runs on the year next to a .375 average. Senior shortstop Kramer

At the plate, LSU has a .340 team average with 13 doubles and home runs. Junior right fielder Greg Deichmann is LSU’s top power threat, already with three home runs on the year next to a .375 average. Senior shortstop Kramer Robertston is pacing the club with a .500 clip through 18 at-bats, with three doubles, a triple and a home run. Mainieri is in his 10th season as LSU’s head coach, leading the Tigers to three Southeastern Conference titles, four College World Series appearances and the 2009 National Championship.

Mainieri is in his 10th season as LSU’s head coach, leading the Tigers to three Southeastern Conference titles, four College World Series appearances and the 2009 National Championship.

Rutgers looks to make noise

Rutgers garnered headlines and made people around the country take note of the Scarlet Knights after their last game. On Sunday, concluding a weekend series at Miami, Rutgers salvaged the weekend in Coral Gables with a 17-6 romp over the Hurricanes. The victory over #17 Miami came six years to the day of their last triumph over the Atlantic Coast Conference power.

Now Rutgers has a chance to do it all over again.

A tough start to the season doesn’t relent for Joe Litterio’s team this weekend as Rutgers travels to #13 Virginia for three games. Meeting on the diamond for the first time since 1962, Virginia provides another test to see how far Rutgers has come in year three under Litterio. With the new Fred Hill Training Complex, Rutgers expects to open seasons here on out, better prepared than ever before. The showing at Miami may be a testament to that.

Rutgers batted .275 against the Hurricanes, while commenting four errors in the field, tied for the fourth-fewest among Big Ten teams on opening weekend. Rutgers will need to keep the bats rolling and play solid defense to keep pace with a Cavalier team that enters 4-0, with a .358 average.

A good offensive showing in Florida, a tally in the win column with a chance to show Sunday’s win wasn’t a fluke, Rutgers is ready for what’s ahead in Charlottesville.

“Our confidence level is through the roof right now,” outfielder Tom Marcinczyk told the Daily Targum, Rutgers’ student newspaper. “We know UVA is going to be a very strong team, just as Miami was, pitching-wise and hitting-wise so I think we are prepared.”

What to watch for

Minnesota’s US Bank Stadium debut

Minnesota has an indoor home again. The Gophers open their home season with a three-game weekend set against Seattle University, the first baseball games played inside US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Minnesota last had an indoor home in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome through the 2013 season. The home of the Minnesota Vikings, US Bank Stadium allows Minnesota to stay at home and play games in the early part of the season when Minnesota winters prevent baseball from being played at Siebert Field.

The Gophers are the reigning Big Ten champions and opened the season with a two-game split at UC Irvine.

Who stay’s hot

Three Big Ten teams opened the season with a team average of .300 or better, as conference teams combined for 15 games of scoring nine runs or more.

Michigan State leads the way with a .401 average, after scoring 51 runs at Abiliene Christian. Purdue showed well at the plate, in Texas, too, batting .314 over four game. Minnesota left Irvine with an even record, but their offense dialed up 27 hits in 18 innings. Can UNC-Greensboro, Arkansas-Little Rock or Seattle, respectively keep the Spartans, Boilermakers and Gophers in check? Michigan State and Minnesota have their eyes on an NCAA Tournament trip, while Mark Wasikowski looks to rebuild the Purdue program, the week one indication is that all three may possess the offensive punch to reach their goals.

Quality foes

The Big Ten will play a combined 10 games against #3, #5 and #13 teams in this week’s NCBWA poll, but there are several quality opponents without a ranking that the Big Ten will see.

Penn State hosts Xavier for four games at USA Baseball’s National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. The Musketeers are the reigning Big East championships and opened the season with a split at Troy.

Indiana heads to Florida Atlantic for three games in Boca Raton, Fla. FAU is expected to contend for the Conference USA championship and opened the 2017 season with a three-game sweep over Monmouth, scoring 34 runs.

Illinois will take part in the Kleberg Bank College Classic, alongside Houston, Missouri and Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

Big Ten bruised in Surprise on day one

The 2017 Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge features two teams from each conference, three of which are coming off of an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2016. The lone team to not play in a regional just happens to enter the challenge ranked fifth in the country in the latest NCBWA poll. As Nebraska and Ohio State play two games each against #5 Oregon State and Utah, the eight games over four days at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Ariz., was expected to be a quality tournament with a field of four strong teams.

The quality games may yet come, but on Thursday the Pac-12 duo easily handled their foes from the Big Ten in blowout victories.

Oregon State explosive early in win over Nebraska

Nebraska opened the challenge with an afternoon game against designated hosts Oregon State, looking to knock the Beavers from the ranks of the undefeated. Oregon State entered after a perfect 4-0 opening weekend, which included a pair of victories in Surprise against Indiana, while the Huskers split a two-game rain-shortened weekend against UC Riverside in Tempe, Ariz.

In their first at-bat, two Husker strikeouts were followed by an infield single off the bat of first baseman Ben Miller and double inside the right field line by left fielder Luis Alvarado. With two in scoring position, Oregon State starter Luke Heimlich struck out Nebraska catcher Jesse Wilkening, to strike out the side, all looking.

“We get two quick strikeouts, very passive at the plate, then all of the sudden second and third with two outs, a chance to put some runs on the board and we don’t do it,” Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad said. “Against guys like that, teams like this, when you get opportunities like that you have to take advantage of them.”

The inability to capitalize on the scoring opportunity was quickly punished as Oregon State took command of the game in their first at-bat.

Oregon State sent nine batters to the plate, using six hits and a Nebraska error to score four runs off Husker right-handed pitcher Matt Waldron.  Nebraska responded with a run in the second when third baseman Mike Waldron reached on a single and scored on a two-our single up the middle by second baseman Jake Schleppenbach.

The 4-1 deficit would be as close as Nebraska could get the rest of the game as Oregon State punched back.

Two runs in the bottom of the second stretched the Beavers’ lead to 6-1. After both teams were held scoreless in the third, Oregon State scored a run in the four, tacked on two in the fifth and plated one more in the sixth to make it a 10-1 game. From there, three relievers between the two teams, including Alvarado making his collegiate pitching debut, held the score 10-1, pushing Oregon State to 5-0 on the season, dropping Nebraska to 1-2.

“We were good before the game, I thought everything was fine, they just came in and jumped all over us,” Erstad said.  “It wasn’t a lack of effort or lack of focus, we just got out butts kicked. The way we respond, those are the things that define you as a ballclub.”

Heimlich held Nebraska to one run off seven hits in seven innings in the victory. Miller was the lone Husker to record multiple hits, going 2-for-4, while a pair of Beavers went 3-for-4 in Oregon State’s 12-hit attack, led by first baseman KJ Harrison’s 3-for-4, three-RBI showing. Waldron received the lost, pitching 3.1 innings, allowing seven runs off 10 hits and two walks. Each team committed two errors, Nebraska pitchers also hit two batters.

“It’s a great learning experience for us,” Erstad said. “You can preach it all you want, but until you got out and see it, have it happen to you and have it sting a little bit, that’s when it really sets in. Obviously, Matt’s going to pitch better in the long run, defensively, we have to play well and offensively, we’ll get the bats rolling.”

Ohio State outmatched by Utah

Ohio State didn’t fare any better than their Big Ten brethren in Thursday night’s game against Utah.

Like Nebraska, Ohio State had a chance to strike in the first inning, putting the first two batters on base. But both were wiped away on pick-offs at first by Utah left-handed pitcher Josh Rebar, setting the tone for a forgettable night for the Buckeyes.

“The two pickoffs in my opinion was not letting the game come to ourselves,” said Ohio State head coach Greg Beals. “We’re forcing things.”

Going quietly in the first, Ohio State wasn’t able to match Utah in putting together a clean inning.

A throwing error on a bunt attempt stretched an infield single into two bases for Utah leadoff batter DaShawn Keirsey. A pair of groundouts advanced Keirsey 90 feet each time, giving the Utes a 1-0 lead after one at-bat. The game still in the balance, with eight innings to go, the wheels fell off for Ohio State in the second.

After Rebar needed nine pitches to retire the Buckeyes in order in the second, his teammates broke open the game at the plate. Five hits and an Ohio State error led to five runs for Utah, with second baseman Oliver Dunn providing the big hit, connecting on a bases loaded double to drive in three runs. The Utes added two runs in the fourth, three in the fifth and plated their final run of the game in the sixth to send the Buckeyes to a 12-0 defeat.

“What concerned me the most is our ability to show up and play the way we’re capable of playing,” Beals said. “Our ability to have the proper energy, the proper approach, the proper readiness on gameday. We can out yesterday to take batting practice and had an incredible air, energy and excitement about ourselves. That didn’t happen.”

Shortstop Jalen Washington picked up two of Ohio State’s five hits in the inning, with catcher Jacob Barnwell recording the lone extra-base hit with a double. Utah picked up five doubles and a home run by Josh Rose, in a striking the Buckeyes for 16 hits. Oliver led the Utes with four RBI and Hunter Simmons paced the club with three hits.

On the mound, Rebar, a freshman, stymied the Buckeyes to the tune of 5.2-scoreless innings, holding the Bucks to three hits. Niemeyer received the loss, pitching four innings, allowing eight runs, four earned off nine hits.

“Nemo wasn’t as good as he can be, but none of us were,” Beals said. “We have to support our pitching staff better than we did today.”

The four teams will be back in action on Friday, with Ohio State taking on Oregon State at 1 p.m. MT, and Nebraska tangling with Utah at 5 p.m. MT. For Beals, the quick turnaround is a blessing.

“Tomorrow’s exactly what we need,” the seventh-year head coach said. “We need something that like, something to pique our interest, spark ourselves, try to fire ourselves off. We’re going to play one of the better teams in the country and it’s a great opportunity. It’s a great test, but also a great opportunity.”


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