The Weekend 10

As the midpoint of the college baseball season nears, while they may still be freshmen by class, this year’s Big Ten newcomers are turning in performances beyond their years. This season has witnessed first-year players spur Michigan’s turnaround and lead the revival of the Scarlet Knights.

This weekend, freshmen turned in some of the most impressive weekends, including the first double-award winner of the season. The Weekend 10 is led by four freshmen who turned in performances that made opposing coaches miserable knowing they have multiple years to come facing them, as well as a handful of sluggers who are making their case to be all-americans.

Ohio State Soph. OF Dominic Canzone

A big weekend in Ohio State’s first Big Ten series showed why Canzone is leads off the conference’ top hitting unit. In three games against Nebraska, Canzone collected seven hits in 14 at-bats, scoring five runs, driving in four and stealing three bases. Canzone has needed just 76 games to reach 100 career hits.

Michigan State Fr. RHP Mason Erla

Erla continues to shine in a season where a cloud has hung over the Spartans. Earl’s latest gem helped Michigan State to its first conference victory, leading the Green and White to a 6-0 win over Rutgers on Sunday. Erla pitched seven innings and allowed four hits, with three walks and six strikeouts. Moving to 4-1 on the year, Erla is responsible for more than half of MSUs seven victories.

Indiana Jr. C Ryan Fineman

Fineman continued a strong season, a junior campaign which has him batting a team-leading .342 through IU’s 20-5 start. In a three-game sweep of Butler, Fineman recorded seven hits in 12-bats, drove in six runs, and through out two Bulldogs on the bases.

Michigan Fr. 1B/OF Jesse Franklin

Michigan enters April with the nation’s longest active winning streak, extending their run to 12 games with a weekend brooming of Delaware. Leading the Wolverines charge against the Blue Hens, Franklin went 5-for-11 with a double and home run, driving in three runs while scoring another three.

Purdue Fr. RHP Trent Johnson

Purdue recorded its first sweep during the opening weekend of Big Ten play since 1985, and Johnson’s gem was the leading act in the clincher. In State College, over five innings, Johnson held the Nittany Lions to one hit, in Purdue’s 6-0 victory. The rookie struck out six batters and walk three, in the 79-pitch effort.

Northwestern Fr. LHP Quinn Lavelle

Lavelle pitched as fine of an outing as any Big Ten pitcher has this season, leading Northwestern to its first Big Ten victory in the Wildcats’ series-opener at Maryland. Tossing a shutout, Lavelle scattered four hits and struck out eight batters to one walk in Northwestern’s 4-0 win. This week’s pitcher and freshman of the week, Lavelle sports a 3-2 record alongside a 2.10 ERA over 34.1 innings.

Ohio State Sr. 1B Noah McGowan

McGowan helped lead a high-powered Buckeye attack to 25 runs in their weekend victory over Nebraska. In Greg Beals’ cleanup spot, the senior notched six hits, drove in five runs, and scored four runs. McGowan picked up a double in each game and ended hit his sixth home run of the season in the finale.

Indiana Jr. RHP Pauly Milto

After Indiana eeked out a 6-5 victory in their series opener against Butler, Milto made sure the Bulldogs had no bite as IU cruised to a 13-0 victory. Over six innings, Milto scatted six hits, issued two walks and struck out three batters. The victory moved Milto to 4-2 on the year and lowered his ERA to 2.25.

Nebraska Sr. 1B Scott Schreiber

A big weekend at the plate from Schreiber wasn’t enough for Nebraska to leave Columbus with a series win, but it was impressive enough for Schreiber to earn this week’s player of the week nod. Schreiber hit a home run in each of the Cornhuskers three games against the Buckeyes as part of an 8-for-14 weekend. The senior first baseman added a double as he drove in six runs and crossed home five times.

Illinois Jr. 1B Bren Spillane

Iowa was the latest team to run into a scorching hot Spillane. Though the Hawkeyes grabbed the weekend series in Champaign, Spillane was hard to contain, picking up two singles, a double, and three home runs over nine at-bats, before drawing four walks in the weekend finale. Spillane added five RBI and six runs to his eye-popping season statistics.

The Weekend 10

The first weekend of Big Ten play saw two intra-state rivalries, a meeting of two 2017 NCAA Tournament teams, a showdown between the last two conference champions and a border battle. Adding to the intensity of the weekend was Maryland hosting nationally-ranked Stetson during their conference bye week.

With bragging rights across the board on the line, and teams starting to fight for the conference championship, the weekend’s top performances were dominated by pitching, holding the adage true, pitching and defense wins championships.

Here’s who stood out.

Michigan Jr. OF Jonathan Engelmann

Helping the Wolverines to a 3-0 start to Big Ten play, sweep in-state rival Michigan State, and run Michigan’s winning streak to eight games, Engelmann terrorized Spartan pitching. This week’s player of the week, the junior outfielder picked up six hits in 12 at-bats, highlighted by a 4-for-5, two-home run contest on Friday. Englemann added a double and triple in the game, en route to finishing the weekend with seven runs, eight RBI, and added two stolen bases for good measure.

Minnesota Fr. RHP Patrick Fredrickson

In a battle between the last two Big Ten champions, Minnesota freshman Patrick Fredrickson had little trouble with Nebraska, leading the Gophers to a 2-0 victory on Sunday, to claim the series.  Over seven innings, the right-hander held the Huskers to four hits and did not concede a run. Improving to 3-0 on the year, the Gopher struck out six batters while only walking one.

Michigan St. Sr. RHP Ethan Landon

With eight innings of scoreless baseball under his belt, Landon was the victim of spotty Spartan defense, suffering a hard luck loss in Michigan State’s 3-1 defeat on Saturday. Pitching into the ninth, Landon held the Wolverines to four hits and three walks, while striking out nine batters. Two unearned runs were tacked against the senior, as U-M rallied to the last-at-bat victory.

Penn State Sr. LHP Taylor Lehman

A strong performance wouldn’t result in a win, but Lehman held a high-powered Rutgers lineup in check, turning in one of his best performances as a Nittany Lion. Over six innings, Lehman held Rutgers to three hits and one unearned run, striking out two batters and issuing one walk. Providing Rob Cooper with a solid Saturday starter, Lehman’s ERA fell to 2.81 in 25.2 innings on the year.

Illinois Soph. 2B Michael Massey

Massey continues to be one-half of the most dangerous first and second baseman duo in the Big Ten. Hitting in the five-hole, behind Bren Spillan, Massey picked up three singles, a double, and a home run in Illinois’ weekend sweep of Northwestern. Grabbing a walk, and touching 10 bases, Massey posted a .500 on-base percentage and slugged .762 over 14 plate appearances.

Maryland Jr. RHP Hunter Parsons

The season thus far for Maryland has been rocky, uneven, and inconsistent. None of those would describe Parsons on Sunday, as the junior right-handed led the Terps to a series-clinching, 2-0 victory over No. 26 Stetson. Earning 10 Innings’ Pitcher of the Week honors, Parsons twirled a two-hit shutout. Racking up a career-best nine strikeouts, Parsons pitched to only three batters over the minimum, surrendering singles in the fourth and fifth innings, and hitting a batter in the seventh.

Rutgers Fr. LHP Harry Rutkowski

Going toe-to-toe with Lehman, and the reason why Rutgers grabbed the 1-0 victory, was a sterling outing from Rutkowski. The first-year Scarlet Knight did not allow a run, scattering four hits over six innings, punching out seven batters against two walks. Moving to 3-0 on the Rutkowski induced nine groundouts as Rutgers clinched the weekend series.

Iowa Jr. RHP Brady Schanuel

Schanuel’s best performance as a Hawkeye came at an opportune time. With weather disrupting Iowa’s series against Indiana, a Friday doubleheader, and ultimately the weekend, was split, as Schanuel led Iowa to a 5-1 victory after a 4-2 defeat. In seven innings of work, the junior struck out 11 batters to four walks while allowing just one Hoosier hit. The right-hander did not yield a run in his 110-pitch outing.

Nebraska Sr. DH Scott Schreiber

Fredrickson and Minnesota may have grabbed the weekend series in Lincoln, but they did little to contain Schreiber. In 12 at-bats, Schreiber collected seven hits, and had two home runs in Nebraska’s 8-2 victory on Saturday. Schreiber opened and closed the weekend with two-hit games, each included a double, as the senior scored three runs, and plated four teammates.

Illinois Jr. 1B Bren Spillane

Spillane’s offensive outburst showed no signs of slowing down this weekend. Against the Wildcats, Spillane went 6-for-10, with two doubles and a home run, posting a triple-slash of .600/.714/1.100. Helping Illinois to their 15th win in 20 games, Spillane stole three bags on the weekend, running his season total to 10, one more than the number of home runs he has, showing a incredible blend of power and speed.

10 Innings Extra: Cultural blueprint fuels Buckeye bounce back

In mid-September, well before the his team compiled a 14-6 record over the first five weeks of the season, even before the first pitch was thrown in the fall-capping Scarlet and Gray World Series, Greg Beals liked what he saw in what would be the 2018 Ohio State baseball team.

But feeling good in the fall rarely holds much water, In fact, it would be noteworthy if a coach didn’t like what he saw in the fall, if optimism wasn’t falling alongside wind-blown leaves.

Players have a hop and skip in their step, returning to campus after a season of summer baseball. Recruits become freshmen, and in today’s recruiting cycle, it can take up to four years for a coaching staff to reap the fruits of their labor in recruiting, between the start of a recruitment and the time a player dons the school uniform for the first time. Coaches are revitalized, having spent the offseason examining what went wrong the prior season and determined to fix it, or to carry on what went right. And there’s the small fact that you can’t lose a game in October that will hurt your chances to reach Omaha in June.

However, now, in mid-March, the sentiment has only strengthen, Beals likes this team.

“[For us] to get to a national-caliber it’s just being a little cleaner, but there’s a lot to like about this ball club,” said Beals, following Ohio State’s 7-3 victory against Cal State Northridge on Sunday. “I like the depth, I like what we’ve done offensively, and the growth we’ve had.”

On paper, it’s easy to see what Beals likes about the current outfit of the Buckeyes.

A year after batting .260, the fourth-lowest mark in the Big Ten, Ohio State’s offense is hitting at a .295 clip, second best in the conference. A .352 on-base percentage has improved to .382, while the team is has a collective .435 slugging percentage, up .40 points. All together, Ohio State is averaging 7.45 runs through their first 20 games, a year-over improvement of 2.07 runs. And on the mound, Ohio State’s team ERA sits at 4.04, down from 2017’s 5.32 rate.

But to truly know what Beals likes about this team, why the program feels last year’s 22-34 campaign was an aberration and that they’re back on track to reach a regional, it’s what doesn’t show up in statstics, but what’s found in blueprints.

Posted through the coaches offices, coaches and players locker room, is the cultural blueprint of the Ohio State baseball program. It’s simplistic, it’s direct, and for Beals it resonates.

Elite preparation.

Competitive toughness.

The brotherhood.

Nothing more, nothing less. Those three mantras define what it means to be a Buckeye. And after a year where Ohio State suffered its worst Big Ten finish, 11th, in program history, the Buckeyes’ bounce back season has been anchored in the cultivation of that blueprint.

“I dig into our cultural blueprint,” Beals said, as Ohio State welcomes Georgetown to Columbus during their conference bye week. “Win, lose, or draw, we have to respond, behave, and do the things we expect each other to do. We’re going to prepare at an elite level, we’re going to compete with toughness—that’s what we’re starting to see now.”

When it comes to elite preparation, its the commitment to preparation which has spurred one of the Big Ten’s breakout players.

A transfer from McCLennan Community College, Noah McGowan arrived in Columbus last year as a junior expected to fill the offensively voids created with the departure of second-round pick Ronnie Dawson. Like Dawson, McGowan sports No. 4 and looks the part of a linebacker for Urban Meyer, less three-hole hitter for Beals. McGowan flashed brilliance a year ago, recording a three-home run game against Xavier on March 19. But McGowan connected for only two other home runs in his 128 other at-bats, and only 25 other hits in total, to bat .214.

This year, through 79 at-bats, McGowan has 31 hits for a team-leading .392 average. With seven doubles and five home runs, McGowan’s .696 slugging percentage is second in the Big Ten, and his 27 RBI leads the conference.

“[It’s just] trusting what I’m doing,” McGowan said on his strong senior season. “Seeing what I’m seeing, seeing spin, or if I see ball up in the zone, offspeed pitch, put a good swing on it.”

That may explain how McGowan approaches each at-bat, but it’s the work done prior to that allows him to step to the plate relaxed, with a clear mind and trusting himself.

“I’ll hit with coaches, but then I usually like to come back later at night and hit by myself” McGowan said. “Just so I can have time to myself and hit, not have outside distractions and focus on what I do in the cage, get my reps off of the machine.

“Last year I didn’t hit off the machine as much, and when I was in JUCO we hit off the machine a lot, and I think that was a part of my success…off the machine, that’s when you find the flaws in your swing.”

With the preparation established, taking on the opposition with competitive toughness is where results come.

Starting with the season-opening 11-7 victory over Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where Ohio State scored nine runs over their final two at-bats, of the team’s 16 victories, four have come with Ohio State trailing after seven innings. The comeback wins include its two marquee victories, a 9-6 win over Southern Miss, and a 7-5 win at Coastal Carolina, both are ranked teams.

“This team has a lot of fight in them,”  Beals said. “You’ve seen that with comeback wins, late-inning breakouts, those type of things. Our guys are willing to play the whole game, go the long haul and that leads back to the competitive spirit we have.”

McGowan leads a charge of seven players batting .286 or better, on a team with “guys in our dugout that’ll be able to score runs and put up just as many runs as anyone else.” To him, Ohio State is never out of a contest, there’s never a moment to relent.

A beneficiary of Ohio State’s powerful offense is freshman Griffan Smith. Appearing in six games, including one start, Smith has logged 11.2 innings for the Buckeyes.

“You just go out there and pitch and do your thing, knowing that your offense has your back, especially with the way we’ve been hitting. There’s not a doubt in my mind when I step on the mound or go back in the inning that they’re going to pick me up, whether I do bad or good.”

And that’s where the final pillar of the Buckeyes foundation comes together: the brotherhood.

Co-captains for Ohio State are Kyle Michalik and Adam Niemeyer. Fifth-year seniors, the pitchers were part of a prolific high school class of 2013 recruiting haulthat Beals landed. Along with Dawson, Travis Lakins, Troy Montgomery, and Tanner Tully, the recruiting class is one of the Big Ten’s best over the last decade.

But tragically, there was only a glimpse of the unparalleled potential of the best prospect, Zach Farmer.

After a courageous two-year battle with acute myeloid leukemia, Farmer passed away in August 2015. Never prepared to suffer such a loss, the Ohio State players found comfort in each other, found a renewed sense of commitment to each other, and formed an unbreakable bond.

Arising from tragedy, taking the fight Farmer valiantly displayed, Ohio State ended a seven-year NCAA Tournament drought, claiming the 2016 Big Ten Tournament title and leading the Big Ten with 44 wins.

A championship will never replace a life. Whenever a player’s career is over, be it at the end of his senior year or when the professional game passes him by, there is still life to take on. The best in athletics is preparing an individual to succeed in life, to take lessons learned from sacrifice, hard work and selflessness to be an asset to society. It would never be appropriate to compare a losing season to the loss of a life. But the brotherhood, the commitment to others that fueled Ohio State in 2016 has returned to Bill Davis Stadium.

Atop Ohio State’s pitching staff is junior left-handed pitcher Connor Curlis. With a 3-0 record, next to a 3.07 ERA in 29.1 innings, Curlis has ran with the role of weekend ace. But the title means less to him, it’s more what he can do to set the tone for the weekend.

“It feels awesome to have the coaches tell you that you’re the Friday starter, but more it’s to go out there and give it your all for the team,” Curlis said. “Every Friday night, that’s what I’m trying to do.”

McGowan, arguably the Big Ten’s top player over the first month deflects individual glory.

“Our focus this year has been more of a team, to come together and enjoying being around each other.” he said.

And when you have elite preparation, competitive toughness, and each player takes on the life of a brotherhood, to Beals that is what has spurred the Buckeyes to win tough games, go into tough environments and fight and enter the last week of non-conference play with all goals in tact.

“They believe they can do it. That belief goes back to everything we’ve talked about, the competitive toughness, the brotherhood, and it’s the elite preparation that they all know they’ve done. Then to be able to go out and do it, like we’ve done a few times this year early in the season, to prove it on the field also, just really builds that belief and feeling our guys have right now.”

Now, even though it was well before a pitch was thrown, a home run hit, or a game was won, it’s clear what Beals liked about this ball club in the fall. It’s in the blueprints.

The Weekend 10

In the final weekend before conference play begins, it was a big weekend for many teams around the Big Ten. Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State picked up home sweeps, while Minnesota and Rutgers collected big weekend victories on the road.

Who helped power those teams to victory? Here’s a look at the Weekend 10.

Penn State Fr. LHP Dante Biasi

Biasi twirled a gem on Sunday, as Penn State looked to finish a sweep of New Jersey Institute of Technology. The left-hander allowed just one hit and walked a batter, keeping NJIT off the scoreboard while striking out seven batters in six innings of work. NJIT erupted for seven runs over their last three at-bats to avoid the sweep, but not before Biasi made life miserable for the Highlanders

Ohio State Soph. OF Dominic Canzone

Ohio State opened their home slate with a swept Cal State Northridge, running their season-best winning streak to six games. The catalyst for the streaking Buckeyes has been Canzone, their leadoff hitter. The right fielder picked up eight hits over 15 at-bats, with two doubles, to set the table for an OSU lineup that scored 20 runs against the Matadors.

Michigan Fr. LHP Ben Dragani

Grabbing Freshman of the Week honors, Dragani turned in a brilliant, and efficient, performance against Bowling Green to cap a weekend sweep of the Falcons for Michigan. In his first start as a Wolverine, Dragani allowed just one unearned run off five hits, and struck out six batters without issuing a walk, needing only 74 pitches to pitch seven innings.

Michigan State Jr. RHP Riley McCauley

McCauley made sure the Spartans were victorious in their first home game of the season. On Thursday, against Niagara, McCauley pitched seven shutout innings, scattering four hits, to lead Michigan State to a 10-1 victory. McCauley walked three batters and struck out two, in recording his first victory of the season in three decision.

Minnesota middle infielders Luke Pettersen and Terrin Vavra

Minnesota’s middle infield was at the forefront of a headline-grabbing series victory at TCU. Knocking off the nationally-ranked Horned Frogs on the road, Pettersen, a senior second baseman, went 6-for-15 atop the Gopher lineup, while Vavra, a junior shortstop, went 7-for-13 from the three-hole. The two combined for six runs and six RBI.

Iowa Jr. OF Robert Neustrom

Neustrom had a big weekend to help Iowa end a five-game losing streak with a three-game sweep of Evansville. In a Saturday doubleheader against the Purple Aces, Neustrom went 5-for-9 with a pair of home runs, and a double, to score five runs and drive in three. Nuestrom scored his sixth run of the weekend on Sunday, collecting a walk and single in Iowa’s 4-3 win.

Rutgers Fr. LHP Harry Rutkowski

The big weekend for rookie southpaws extends down into Florida, where Rutkowski led Rutgers to a weekend-clinich victory. Helping the Scarlet Knights turn back Florida Gulf Coast, 6-3, Rutkowski struck out seven Osprey batters over six innings, allowing one run off four hits and three walks. Moving to 2-0 on the year, the win ran Rutgers’ winning streak to six games.

Illinois Jr. 1B Bren Spillane

A three-home run game in Illinois’ weekend opener against Southern Illinois was the start of a big weekend for the 10 Innings Player of the Week. Powering the Illini to a 16-6 victory, Spillane’s three home runs were a part of a 4-for-6, six-RBI effort, in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. In the nightcap, Spillane collected four more hits, two were doubles, to collect 19 bases on the weekend in 13 at-bats, for a 1.461 slugging percentage.

Indiana Jr. RHP Jonathan Stiever

Collecting 10 Innings’ Pitcher of the Week honor, Stiever was nearly perfect as Indiana rolled to an 18-0 victory against Northern Illinois. In the series opener against the Huskies, Stiever faced only two batters over the minimum, allowing just two singles in six scoreless innings of work. Moving to 2-1 on the season, Stiever struck out six batters without issuing a walk.

Illinois Jr. RHP Ty Weber

A career outing from Weber helped Illinois grab their road series at Southern Illinois. Over eight innings, Weber allowed two runs, one earned, off three hits and two walks. In the 6-2 victory, eight strikeouts helped Weber moved to 2-1 on the year and lowered his ERA to 3.63.

March 15-18 Weekend Preview

Rutgers in position to turn the corner

Rutgers is off to a 9-6 start, even though top prospect Jawuan Harris has been limited to 10 games.  (Noah K. Murray/Rutgers University)

Blake Dowson-

Last season, as they had in seven of the previous eight years, Rutgers flew down to Miami to start its season against a very good Hurricane team. The Scarlet Knights dropped the first two games before rolling to a 17-6 victory in the Sunday finale.

But any momentum established from the romp in Coral Gables was short lived, Rutgers went 5-7 in their next 12 games following opening weekend, before finishing the non-conference portion of their schedule at 10-14.

This season, Rutgers again started its season at Miami, and again grabbed the Sunday finale after dropping the first two games of the series. The difference, though, has been the Scarlet Knights’ resiliency this season. Following the Miami series Rutgers has bounced back, going 8-4 since.

“So far, we’re playing okay,” Rutgers head coach Joe Litterio said. “That’s the best way to say it. We’re up and down. Our record’s pretty good. There were a couple games out there that we left out there. So our record should actually be much better. It’s been a process.”

The couple of games Litterio referred to were a Feb. 25, 11-6 loss to Boston College, where the Eagles scored seven runs in the ninth inning, and another last-inning lost, on March 4, when Rutgers couldn't hold a 3-0 lead going into the bottom of the ninth, falling to Old Dominion 4-3.  But, on the heels of a four-game winning streak, those tough defeats are the thing of the past, with Rutgers' biggest weekend to-date on hand.

Rutgers is staring at a series against Florida Gulf Coast, a team that contributed to the Scarlet Knights’ rocky non-conference season a year ago by sweeping their three-game set. The Eagles outscored the Scarlet Knights 26-9 last season.

If Litterio and his squad want to completely flip the script from a season ago, a strong showing against FGCU will go a long way.

The thing about that is, strong showings against the Eagles have been hard to come by this year. They sit at 13-3, having won nine of 10 at home thus far.

“They’re a good ball club. It’ll be a good test for us heading into conference season,” Litterio said. “Going in on a Friday night and playing on someone else’s field is always a tough test. I’m excited to see how we compete.”

Compete is exactly what Rutgers has done this season, according to its head coach. Litterio said a deep lineup has been able to cover up any one struggling spot in the order.

If one or two guys are slumping, four or five other guys have come up with multi-hit games to level out the production. More of that this weekend will lead to success, Litterio said.

“Our lineup is deep,” he said. “I think our guys are firing together and when we do that, it gets real deep. We have some key guys struggling, but other guys are picking them up.”

That deep lineup has seen 13 different guys pick up at least two RBI, including four that have reached double-digit runs batted in, and three more that have contributed seven. Five regulars are hitting above .300, led by Kyle Walker (hitting .515 in 33 at-bats) and Luke Bowerbank (.340 in 53 at-bats).

However, the Rutgers lineup has its work cut out for it this weekend, facing a Florida Gulf Coast staff that boasts three weekend starters who have all logged over 20 innings, and all sport an ERA of 2.74 or better.

All of that can be daunting, considering this is one of Rutgers’ biggest series in years.

Although the team has been in Florida for the last week, on spring break, the wear and tear of the travel a northern team faces over the first month can lead to tired bodies, haphazard and inconsistent play. And in some years, that would most likely be the case, according to Litterio.

“[Getting on so many planes] usually does take a toll, but I think this year it’s going too fast, because we’re playing good baseball,” Litterio said. “Everyone is getting along. There are no grumpy faces on the bench. We finished up practice [on Thursday], and everyone had high energy, they were focused. Usually this time of year, it’s a grind. We feel good with where we’re at right now.”

Win a couple games against FGCU, and Rutgers will feel really good heading into Big Ten play.

 

Webb's Words: Statement weekend round two

I often try to avoid putting too much stock into one weekend. First, baseball is a weird game, more than any sport, anyone can beat anyone. But more importantly, one three-game weekend is barely 5% of a 56-game college baseball season. A football fan wouldn't punt on a season after just one game, so I try to remind others that one weekend doesn't make or break a season.

But it's fair to say some weekends are bigger than others.

The first weekend of March saw high-profiled contests take place throughout the country. Michigan had a four-game series at Stanford, Indiana went to San Diego for another four-game set, Texas welcomed Northwestern and the Dairy Queen Classic saw Arizona, UCLA, and Washington take on Illinois, Michigan State and host Minnesota in a de facto Big Ten/Pac-12 challenge. Across those 21 games, the Big Ten went 10-11, lead by Illinois sweeping the DQ field and Indiana taking three games from San Diego. The weekend allowed Indiana to cement their position as a top team, and cause many to take notice of the Illini.

It's time for another significant weekend for the Big Ten.

In addition to Rutgers' series at Florida Gulf Coast, the conference has two more tough road series, Maryland travels to No. 18 East Carolina, while No. 11 TCU hosts Minnesota.

Both Maryland and Minnesota have appeared in the NCAA Tournament within the last two years, and each team has a roster which should put them in position to contend for a spot in another regional. Expectations were high entering the season, with the Gophers and Terrapins predicted to finished third and second, respectively, by D1Baseball.com.

Unfortunately neither team has really lived up to their billing. Minnesota went 1-2 in the DQ Classic, before suffering another 1-2 weekend last week at home against Creighton, to stand a respectable, but not too mighty, 12-7 on the year. Maryland has as many losses as Minnesota, but three less wins, their 9-7 record the result of a very uneven start to Rob Vaughn's tenure in College Park.

But any unfulfilled promise from the first month can be wiped away this weekend. In fact, this weekend is just the beginning of what could still shape up to be a special March, a month that stands tall come May.

Following Minnesota's trip to Texas, the Gophers open Big Ten play at reigning champion Nebraska, then welcome St. John's a preseason ranked team, to Minneapolis during their bye week. Maryland starts conference play in two weeks, but not before Stetson makes a trip to town, a team that is 13-1 and checks in as the No. 28 team in this week's NCBWA poll.

So this week this is a big week, but it won't make or break the season for Maryland, Minnesota, or Rutgers, but it's a weekend that can go a long way in starting something big, and provide another testament to the growth of Big Ten baseball, that Maryland and Minnesota are perennial regional threats, or that Rutgers is just the latest team to take a step forward.

 

Required reading

Former Illinois Coach Augie Garrido Dies -Matt Daniels, Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette

Punxsutawney natives bring lifelong friendship to Penn State -Matthew Knaub, Daily Collegian

Matt Warren appreciating his extra innings for Huskers -Evan Bland, Omaha World-Herald

What to watch for

Avoiding the letdown

What may be most impressive about Indiana's season so far is the Hoosiers ability to avoid a stretch of bad play. The bats may not have been out in full force last week against Pacific, but the pitching was stingy and powered a series victory. Any slight hiccup that may have occurred with a midweek loss to Cincinnati and dropping the first game to Pacific, 2-1, has been swept to the side by three straight victories.

At 12-4 and with a handful of quality victories, IU looks the part of a potential regional host.

A lot was expected of Indiana this season, the coaches' preseason conference favorite, and a veteran team has kept a steady ship.

Now it's time to see how a couple of teams, who many didn't think much of in the preseason, react with the attention upon them growing.

Illinois cracked this week's Baseball America poll at No. 24, and Ohio State caught the eye of DIBaseball.com after a midweek swept of UNC-Wilmington after splitting two games against Coastal Carolina. At 8-4 and 11-6, respectively, Illinois and Ohio State may be the contenders Indiana must fend off, opposed to Maryland and Nebraska, whom received the bulk of the preseason attention.

After picking up quality wins away from home, both the Buckeyes and Illini are playing baseball in their home state this weekend. As Illinois travels to Southern Illinois and Ohio State hosts Cal State-Northridge, but Big Ten teams are favored to win, and taking care of business against the teams they should, will help both sustain their momentum heading into conference action, with a growing eye on the NCAA Tournament.

Whelan's return

With all of Iowa's star power last year,  Jake Adams, Tyler Cropley, Mason McCoy, and Robert Neustrom, helping the Hawkeyes to the Houston Regional, it may take a peak at the Big Ten record book to remember Chris Whelan was selected as the Most Outstanding Player of the Big Ten Tournament.

After starting out 8-2, Iowa has dropped five consecutive games, in part due to an offense batting just .248, the absences of McCoy, to graduation, and Adams, the nation's home run leader, have certainly been felt. But this weekend Rick Heller and the Hawkeyes hope to get a shot in the arm and turn around their recent ways with the return of Whelan.

Coming off of a campaign where he batted .307 with 11 doubles and seven home runs as a sophomore, the outfielder has missed the first four months of the season after sustaining an UCL injury in his throwing elbow, which required surgery. Whelan has been medically cleared to swing and returns to the Iowa lineup as the team's DH this weekend against Evansville.

With only 21 extra-base hits, the fewest in the Big Ten, a bat like Whelan's returning one week before Iowa hosts Indiana to start Big Ten play is exactly what Iowa needs, as it seeks a fifth consecutive 30-win season.

Michigan, the new Florida?

It may be spring break for many teams around the Big Ten, but the action isn't heavy in Florida this weekend, only Rutgers is playing in the Sunshine State. Instead, no state has more Big Ten teams playing in it this weekend than Michigan.

Michigan and Michigan State have kicked off their home slates this week, continuing action on campus this weekend with the Wolverines hosting Bowling Green and the Spartans welcoming Niagara. An hour north of East Lansing, Central Michigan plays host to Northwestern.

There may be a little shifting of schedules in the three series, as Friday temperatures won't break the mid-30s throughout the state, but Saturday and Sunday will be sunny, climbing into the 40s and 50s. As the temperatures rise, all three teams hope they catch fire, Michigan, Michigan State, and Northwestern have struggled to 4-11, 5-10 and 5-7 starts so far.

 

By the numbers

.156- Already a two-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week, Mason Erla is holding the opposition to a .156 batting average.

.333- Opponents have a 33% success rate in stolen base attempts against Indiana, stealing a Big Ten-low five bases in 15 attempts.

0- The Wolverines are the lone Big Ten yet to record a save this season.

1.32- The combined era over 47.2 innings between Purdue starters Tanner Andrews and Gareth Stroh, who respectively rank first and third in the conference.

51- Ohio State senior first baseman Noah McGowan has touched 51 bases this year, 10 more than any other Big Ten player.

203- Minnesota leads the Big Ten in hits with 203, for the conference's best average (.308), while having the best walk-to-strikeout ratio with just 107 strikeouts to 93 walks.

Quarter point review

Did you blink? Just like that we’re already a month into the season, reaching the quarter point of the 16-weekend NCAA college baseball schedule. The Big Ten has compiled a 98-81 record through the first four weeks, sitting fifth in conference RPI, for whatever value that holds at this point.

The Big Ten garnered headlines for taking five or nine games against the Pac-12 in the Dairy Queen Classic, led by a 3-0 showing from Illinois, leading to a split of 24 games against the Pac-12. Indiana has not fallen from the polls, in fact the Hoosiers’ positioning has improved across the board from their preseason pencilings. Mark Wasikowski continues to build up the Purdue program, Rutgers is off to its best start in a decade, while things aren’t as rosy from the two programs from Michigan.

All of that said, what has 10 Innings taken from the first month? Here are the thoughts of Blake Dowson and Chris Webb.

*All stats through March 12

Biggest Surprise

BD: Since we’re looking at “Biggest Surprise” as a good thing, I’m going to go with the Fighting Illini. Dan Hartleb and his squad has gotten off to better starts in the past (they’re 8-4 right now), but the blue bloodedness of the teams they have beat this year can’t be ignored: Coastal Carolina, UCLA, and Arizona have all fallen to the Illini, and all three of those teams have won national titles since 2012.

CW: The Ohio State offense. Last year, the Buckeyes finished 10th in the conference with a .260 average, ninth with a .395 slugging percentage, and eighth with a .356 on-base percentage. Through 15 games, those numbers are up to .301, .450 and .388. The offensive turn-up also hasn’t come against second-rate competition, either. The Buckeyes put up eight runs in a game against Oregon State, 15 in two games against Coastal Carolina, and nine against Southern Miss. With six regulars batting at least .300, the Buckeyes have averaged 6.6 runs and 10.6 hits in five games against ranked reams.

 

Biggest Disappointment

BD: Michigan has done nothing to disprove the notion they are one of the better teams in the Big Ten, but its start is less than inspiring at 4-10. Losing three of four to Stanford is excusable, losing two of three to Lipscomb is not.

CW: Top pitching prospects. Using Baseball America’s preseason top 2018 MLB Draft prospects list, it hasn’t been the best month for pitchers drawing the most scouting attention. Baseball America ranked the top prospects as Ryan Feltner, Brady Schnauel, Jonathan Stiever, Riley McCauley and Will Tribucher. Their seasons thus far:

Feltner- 1-0, 7.50 ERA, 20.2 IP, 10 BB, 20 SO

Schnauel- 2-2, 4.24, 17.0, 14, 19

Stiever- 1-1, 4.81, 24.1, 8 32

McCauley- 0-2, 4.71, 21.0, 8, 27

Tribucher- 0-2, 4.76, 5.2, 5, 8

 

Pitcher of the Month

BD: Purdue needs to get some love on this list. Tanner Andrews gets the nod here. He is two outs away from leading the league in innings right now (he’s at 27.1), and sports a 0.99 ERA through four starts. He’s also fourth in the league in strikeouts.

CW: Where the top pitching prospects have underwhelmed, Andrews has pitched himself into being a very good senior sign, a potential top-10 round draft pick. Undoubtedly, the conference’s top pitcher, Andrews has pitched at least six innings in every start, while allowing just three extra-base hits. With Andrews pitching the way he has, Mark Wasikowski can feel confident on Fridays going into every weekend.

 

Player of the Month

BD: This is tough between Jacson McGowan and Noah McGowan. And no, these two aren’t related. I’ll give the nod to Noah for what he has done to propel the Buckeyes. His .404 average with 12 extra-base hits to go along with a league-leading 24 RBI are right in the middle of an Ohio State order that has absolutely exploded.

CW: McGowan v. McGowan is shaping up to be the toughest POY race since 2013 when Kyle Schwarber and Justin Parr went head to head. The offensive numbers between the two first baseman are equally impressive.

Jacson: .408/.508/.837, 3 2B, 6 HR, 20 RBI,

Noah: .410/.486/.787,  6 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 24 RBI.

I’ll give the edge, barely, to Noah, as he can play first, second, and the outfield, adding an element of versatility, and being a bit more valuable, that beats out. Fortunately we have a May series between the two teams in Columbus, where they can decide this head-to-head on the field.

 

Best Team

BD: The consistency at Indiana is impressive. The Hoosiers are the highest-ranked team in the Big Ten in polls and in my mind. They sit at 11-4 with impressive wins over Kansas State, South Alabama, Coastal Carolina, three against San Diego, and two against Pacific.

CW: I think Illinois has played the best baseball thus far. The Illini are getting it done at the plate, with Ben Troike, Michael Massey and Bren Spillane, and figure to be a team nobody wants to see once Zac Taylor and Jack Yalowitz get going. The weekend rotation has settled in with newcomers Quinn Snarski and Andy Fisher leading the way, while Joey Gerber at the back of the bullpen has shown flashes of brilliance. Oh, and the team is fielding at an insane rate. Illinois has made a strong case to be the most complete team.

 

Most Impacting Injury

BD: It’s been tough for Iowa to ride any sort of momentum from last season’s Big Ten Tournament title without the Big Ten Tournament MVP, Chris Whelan. Besides the tournament, Whelan hit .309 overall last season with 25 RBI. An elbow injury has kept Whelan out of the middle of Iowa’s order this season, but he’s scheduled to debut this weekend.

CW: Chad Luensmann. Especially with how many pitchers Nebraska has lost since he went down in the offseason. As they start to get out of their annual early season slump, the Huskers should have on of the Big Ten’s top lineups, that will be title-defense worthy. Luis Alvrado has nicely stepped into the ace role, the same for Jake Hohensee as the team’s closer. But the Huskers are hurting in depth, where the junior right-hander had the ability to either be a long-inning reliever, lockdown down closer, or spot starter.

 

General Summation

BD: Through the first few weekends, the Big Ten looked like it was going to surprise a lot of people throughout college baseball. Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan State all made statements at the DQ Classic. Purdue won six of its first seven, including a win over Notre Dame. Iowa won eight of its first nine games.

But things have slowed down a bit since. That same Iowa team has now lost four in a row,

Michigan has won two of nine, Michigan State is two for its last seven, and Northwestern squandered a big opportunity in Austin by losing three of four to the Longhorns.

Now comes time for Big Ten teams to start beating up on each other, meaning the conference as a whole can’t rise up too much. If one team is bolstering a resume, it came at the expense of another Big Ten team. Now is when we start to see who the contenders and pretenders are.

CW: It’s been a solid non-conference run for the Big Ten. There hasn’t been anything truly eye-catching, Indiana has held serve, as the top team should, and the showings of Illinois and Purdue aren’t that surprising, the teams had three and five respective 10 Innings’ preseason all-conference picks.

The conference had the potential to really make a statement with splits, but Ohio State saw Oregon State score six runs in their last at-bat and a walk-off three run home run prevented Michigan from splitting with Stanford. Iowa being swept by UNLV, Michigan’s o-for-Tony Gwynn Legacy, Nebraska dropping the series at Wichita State, and Michigan State being swept by Fresno State, are sore spots.

But Ohio State beat Southern Miss and split with Coastal Carolina, Rutgers is 8-6, Northwestern has road wins at Kansas and Texas, and the aforementioned Indiana series at San Diego, and Illinois’ perfect Dairy Queen Classic are certainly bright spots.

All in all, it’s been a month where a good, but not truly great conference, has shown depth and ability. With Indiana, the Big Ten has a likely regional host if the season ended today, joined in the field by Illinois and Ohio State, who both likely with multiple resume-highlighting wins. Maryland and Minnesota have done enough to head into two very important weeks, with Iowa, Nebraska, and Purdue beating who they should have beat to hang around enough. With only a week to go before conference play begins, it appears everything is inline for another half-dozen Big Ten teams to be in the mix for a regional bid.

The Weekend 10

Big Ten play is around the corner, giving teams just one more weekend to tune up and fire on all cylinders before the race for the conference championship beings. Who’s showing their in peak form? This week’s Weekend 10 has a few repeat standout pitchers.

Here’s the rundown.

 

Nebraska Jr. INF Angelo Altavilla

In a weekend where Nebraska scored 47 runs, Altavilla was at the forefront of the Husker attack. Picking up seven hits in 13 at-bats, for a .538 batting average, Altavilla scored eight runs and drove in five teammates. Using six walks, the junior posted a .624 on-base percentage.

Nebraska Sr. RHP Luis Alvarado

After a 14-8, series-opening loss to Cal Poly dropped Nebraska to 6-6 on the season, their ace delivered a leading performance. Spurring a three-game winning streak to take the weekend series, Alvarado pitched seven innings of scoreless baseball, scattering five hits, surrendering one walk, and striking out eight batters. Earning Nebraska’s first 10 Innings weekly honor, the pitcher of the week lowered his season ERA to 2.08, while leveling his record to 1-1.

Purdue Sr. RHP Tanner Andrews

Purdue ace Tanner Andrews continues to have a stronghold on Big Ten Pitcher of the Year honors. Andrews’ latest gem came Friday night at Tulane, where the right-hander scattered four hits over 7.2 innings, allowing one run. Andrews’ ERA rose to 0.99 on the year, in his seven-strikeout, two-walk effort.

Rutgers Jr. OF Luke Bowerbank

Rutgers was able to do something conference peers Maryland and Michigan were unable to: sweep Army. A big part of the Scarlet Knights’ sweep of the Black Knights was the play of outfielder Luke Bowerbank. In three games, Bowerbank went 6-for-12, scoring four runs, driving in five runs, picking up a double and stolen base.

Ohio State Sr. OF Tyler Cowles

Cowles helped a high-powered Ohio State offense split two games against both, Coastal Carolina and High Point, with a memorable weekend. Over 16 at-bats, Cowles collected a pair of singles, three doubles and two home runs, to bat .500 with a 1.063 slugging percentage. Cowles’ five RBI led the Buckeyes on the weekend and the senior added two walks and a stolen base.

Maryland Jr. 2B Nick Dunn

As a Cape Cod All-Star, much was expected of Dunn entering his junior season. One of the Big Ten’s top draft prospects, Dunn’s production has justified the hype. Leading the Terps to a series victory over Bryant, Dunn picked up seven hits in 13 at-bats, collected a pair of doubles, drove in five runs and crossed home five times. The big weekend has Dunn’s average up to .358 this season.

Michigan State Fr. RHP Mason Erla

For a second time in three weeks, Erla is 10 Innings’ Freshman of the Week, logging another scoreless start, this time against a conference foe. Bringing Illinois’ seven-game winning streak to a halt, Erla allowed just one hit, and worked around five walks, to hold the Illini to one run over 6.1 innings. With five strikeouts, Erla moved to 2-0 on the year in Michigan State’s 4-2 victory.

Nebraska Sr. 2B Zac Repinski

Repinski was responsible for nine of Nebraska’s 51 hits against Cal Poly, posting a .529 average. Behind three doubles, Repinski matched Alvarado with five RBI, while leading the Huskers with 10 runs. Repinski added a stolen base and sacrifice fly, to fill up the weekend stats next to his .571 on-base percentage and .706 slugging mark.

Indiana Jr. RHP Jonathan Stiever

Stiever did not record a decision in Indiana’s Friday content against Pacific, but the Hoosier turned in his best performance of the season and kept IU in a tight contest throughout his start. Over eight innings, Stiever allowed just one run off five hits, all singles, striking out 12 batters against two walks. Pacific earned the 2-1 win with a unearned run in the ninth inning.

Illinois Jr. OF Doran Turchin

Earning 10 Innings Player of the Week honors, Turchin found his way on base early and often in Illinois’ three games. Recording 15 plate appearance, Turchin picked up five hits and drew seven walks. With two doubles and a home run, the junior batted .625 and slugged 1.250, next to a whopping .800 on-base percentage. Turchin struck out just once, and did this:

 

 

March 8-11 Weekend Preview

Big test awaits Iowa out west

(The lights of Las Vegas will be the backdrop of this weekend's marquee series)

Blake Dowson-

Before the season started, Iowa-UNLV wasn’t circled as a weekend series to watch by many people. But as the Hawkeyes heads west to Las Vegas this weekend, plenty of eyes will be on Earl Wilson Stadium, as two teams garnering votes in the most recent USA Today Coaches Poll square off.

Iowa head coach Rick Heller has been tasked with replacing much of the production in his order this year, but the Hawkeyes haven’t skipped a beat.

Despite all that, the Hawkeyes have shot out to a 8-2 start, their best since 2015. On top of that, Heller said his team hasn’t played its best ball yet.

But the Hawkeyes haven’t played anyone the caliber of UNLV thus far, although they might not have expected for their series in Las Vegas to be a marquee matchup this early in the season.

“Things have gone well overall from the start,” he said. “We’re still searching for our identity offensively. We had two really big losses [Jake Adams and Mason McCoy], so we knew we were going to be a different team. We haven’t really hit our stride yet offensively...As a team, our best days are down the road.”

Although Iowa has been without many of its contributors from last year, it did get one key contributor back from an injury, that being Friday starter Nick Allgeyer.

The lefty underwent Tommy John surgery after the 2016 season and missed all of 2017, but is back as the ace of Iowa’s staff. Through three starts (all wins), he’s logged 18.2 innings while serving up an ERA under 1.00.

Allgeyer did good work for the Hawkeyes in 2016 before the injury with a 3.44 ERA in 36.2 innings, but it was mostly out of the bullpen. His three starts this year have tripled the number of career starts he had made at Iowa. With a number of rotation spots up for grabs this year, Allgeyer cementing himself as a reliable arm early in the season does wonders for Heller’s confidence.

The Hawkeye head coach said Allgeyer isn’t unlike the rest of the team, in the fact that he’s not yet at his best. That’s to be expected from a guy returning from major surgery.

“Having Nick on Friday, you know you’re going to get a quality start,” he said. “He’s a tough guy. He’s really going to battle. His command has been solid. Everything that we had hoped for with him coming back has come true so far. But he hasn’t been his best yet.”

Allgeyer will have to deal with a revamped UNLV lineup, one that boasts six guys hitting over .300 and two - Kyle Isbel and Max Smith - hitting over .400 through 13 games.

The Rebels have hit .315 as a team as they have bulldozed their way through their early schedule, sweeping Fresno State and picking up a win against Oregon. That Fresno State team has logged a four-game sweep over Michigan State and three wins against Houston Baptist, and is still receiving poll votes.

On top of the offensive outburst, the Rebels have cut their team ERA in half, from 6.54 a year ago to 3.13 this season.

In the two schools’ first-ever meetings last year, Iowa swept UNLV in Iowa City, though those three games were decided by a total of five runs. That was sort of the theme of UNLV’s season in 2017, Heller pointed out. In total, the Rebels lost 11 games by two runs or less. This season, they have already won five games by two runs or less.

“All of us felt like they [UNLV] were close last year. They could’ve won all three games last year [in Iowa City], and they ended up losing all three,” Heller said. “They’ve got two starting pitchers back, a lot of quality pitchers, and they’ve added talent to that team. They lost a couple hitters, but they’ve got four or five guys back that maybe weren’t their main guys last year...They’re well coached, and they play hard for Coach [Stan] Stolte. They’ve been rolling.”

This series didn’t look like much before the season started. It definitely didn’t look like a matchup that would be between two teams with a combined 19-4 record and NCAA implications on the line.

Both teams now have an opportunity to bolster their resume early in the season against a quality opponent.

The atmosphere will be plenty hot in the desert this weekend.

 

Required reading

Spillane leads Illini to hot start  -Gavin Good, The Daily Illini

Phillips returns strong from cancer -Walter Villa, D1Baseball.com

Jahn given chance to reset with Ohio State -Colin Gay, The Lantern

What to Watch For

Familiar foes

Around the Big Ten, action will to take place where the two opponents are quite familiar with the Big Ten.

Ohio State's two games against Coastal Carolina marks the fourth consecutive weekend the Chanticleers will take on a Big Ten opponent. So far Coastal Carolina is 1-3 against the conference, splitting two games against Illinois, and losing to Indiana and Maryland.

Army is 3-3 against the Big Ten thus far, and has three more games against a conference club. The Scarlet Knights of Rutgers will take on the Black Knights, in a three-game series in Fort Myers.

To keep an eye on for future reference, Penn State's desert opponent, Grand Canyon, will travel to Illinois in April. And Michigan's competition in the Music City, Lipscomb, will travel to West Lafayette in two weeks.

And for good measure, Illinois and Michigan State, after participating in the Dairy Queen Classic, square off for two games in Greenville, South Carolina, as the two do not meet during the conference season.

Taking care of business

More games are starting to pop up on Big Ten campuses. As such, the need to secure victories become more crucial.

This weekend, Indiana hosts Pacific, Minnesota welcomes Creighton, Bryant travels to Maryland, and Nebraska takes on Cal Poly in Lincoln. The four are teams that figure to be in the hunt for a regional berth, a group that needs to make sure they take care of business this weekend.

Each of the four Big Ten teams should be viewed as the favorite in their respective series. Wins will not only push them towards the magical 40-win mark, but they avoid the costly home loss which is weighted in the RPI formula. None of the four opponents figure to give the respective Big Ten club a boost in strength of schedule, so it is important they control the portion of the RPI formula they can control: winning. For the Big Ten to continue to be a three, four, five, potential six-bid conference, these weekends are just as important as weekends like last week, where Indiana took down San Diego, Illinois swept through the Dairy Queen Classic and Ohio State knocked off a ranked Southern Miss club.

Heavy workload ahead

A handful of Big Ten universities are set to begin spring break, meaning heavy workloads are on deck for a few baseball teams. Here's a look at is set to start a week of baseball, baseball, and more baseball.

Indiana, Minnesota, and Purdue- Eight games over the next 10 days.

Nebraska- Nine games over 11 days.

Ohio State- Nine games over the next 10.

 

By the numbers

.994- Illinois leads the Big Ten, and sits second in the nation, with a .994 fielding percentage. In 340 chances, the Illini have committed only two errors.

1.000- Purdue's Jacson McGowan leads the Big Ten with a 1.000 slugging percentage, meaning the junior first baseman has as many total bases on the season as official at-bats: 38. McGowan ranks in the top three in: average, on-base percentage, slugging, home runs, RBI, and total bases.

14- Iowa's Big Ten-leading 2.73 ERA is a result of holding the opposition to just 14 extra-base hits on the year. By comparison, every other Big Ten team has surrendered at least 14 doubles.

10 Innings Extra: DQ Classic Showcases B1G Stature

Special to 10 Innings

If one were on a quest to find the most compelling piece of evidence that Big Ten baseball is healthier than ever and reaching new heights annually, they would have choices.

Perhaps the most obvious piece of evidence is the sheer number of teams the league can expect to put into regionals year after year.

Between 1999 (when the NCAA Tournament field expanded to its current 64-team format) and 2014, the most teams the Big Ten placed in a regional was three; occurring in 2005, 2007, and 2009. Since, the conference has placed three or more teams into regionals each of the last three years, including five teams in both 2015 and 2017.

Simply put, the conference has gone from being a one or two-bid league that would get three teams in their better years, to a league that expects to have multiple regional teams each year, with a chance to get more than one-third of their league teams into regionals in their best years.

A better indicator of the overall health of the conference, though, might be the diversity of the teams that get into regionals from the Big Ten. Between 1999 and 2010, for example, of the 22 instances of a Big Ten team getting into regionals, 19 were Michigan, Ohio State, or Minnesota.

In the years since, they’ve had 21 postseason appearances spread across nine different programs. It’s clearly more than just a select few programs making waves on behalf of the league at this point.

The ceiling has also been raised on the quality of the teams that are getting into regionals. With Purdue hosting in 2012, Indiana hosting in both 2013 and 2014, with the Hoosiers earning a national seed in ’14, and Illinois hosting both a regional and a super regional in 2015 as a national seed, the Big Ten hosted regionals for four consecutive seasons, which would have been inconceivable as recently as six or seven years ago. And Indiana, of course, got to Omaha in 2013, giving the league its first College World Series team since Michigan in 1984.

If one were looking for qualitative pieces of evidence, there are those too, such as the boom in facility construction across the league. Just about every team in the league has seen massive renovations (or complete rebuilds) of their facilities in recent years, and that includes some impressive indoor facility improvements.

Of course, one could also look at this weekend’s DQ Baseball Classic as evidence of the Big Ten’s rising presence in the national college baseball landscape.

The Pac-12 teams didn’t just show up to get some games in a unique environment like US Bank Stadium and to get some practice navigating through piles of snow on every sidewalk in the city. They’re here because they know they’re going to get three quality games that will challenge their teams and serve as positives on a postseason resume.

And in fact, the coach of the Pac-12 program in this tournament with the highest expectations is the one who started it all from his league’s perspective.

When Minnesota head coach John Anderson hatched the idea to reinvent the DQ Classic as a league challenge tournament, he called up UCLA head coach John Savage, pitched him the idea, and then asked if he could get a couple of other Pac-12 teams involved.

“I always liked the idea of trying to have a challenge, especially against some of the other power five conferences,” Anderson said. “If we’re trying to improve our image as a conference, and we’re trying to change that perception that’s out there to some degree, you have to get people from some of these conferences, you have to get together with them and play.

“And I think that’s how you improve your image,” Anderson continued. “I think that’s how you change people’s opinions, and also for your own players on your own team, they get a glimpse of what the national picture looks like and how you compare and what you need to do and improve.”

So, as it was over the weekend, a tournament featured a top-15 team from out west in UCLA and two other Pac-12 teams in Arizona and Washington that harbor very real postseason aspirations.

It was a tournament, frankly, that might have been difficult to see taking place at all in a previous iteration of the Big Ten, when the league wasn’t as widely respected as it is now.

Dan Hartleb, the head coach at Illinois for the last 13 seasons, and an assistant at the school for 15 years prior to that, would know about as well as anyone how far the league has come in a short time.

“I think, for both leagues, it’s a really, really good concept,” Hartleb said of the tournament. “It’s really, really important for our league. I feel really strongly, over the past five or six years, our league has really risen, and we have much better players in the league, the coaches are really good. I’m impressed with where we’ve gone.”

Hartleb’s Illinois team highlighted the weekend from a Big Ten standpoint, as they were crowned champions of the event after going 3-0, with close, hard-fought wins over UCLA and Arizona to begin the weekend before earning a comfortable win over Washington to clinch the title on Sunday.

The Illini played the cleanest, most consistent baseball of the weekend, but the event was marked by quality performances all around from the Big Ten representatives, with both Minnesota and Michigan State capturing victories, each in walk-off fashion.

Overall, the Big Ten won the challenge against their Pac-12 foes five wins to four, helping to prove what Anderson has suspected about the comparison between the two leagues.

“I don’t think there’s a big difference between the Pac-12 and the Big Ten currently with where we are today as a conference, the players in this league, the coaches, I don’t think the gap is as wide as some people think it is,” he said.

“I’ll say this, an Oregon State, they played the game at a pretty high level last year, they’re doing it again this year, I think they (the Pac-12) might have an elite team or two up there sometimes that maybe are better than our top team, but I don’t think, as a conference as a whole, there’s a big difference across the conference from top bottom. I don’t.”

Anderson’s hope is that this tournament will continue to be a showcase of what the Big Ten can do on a national scale against teams from power conferences, without having to travel south or west to do so.

“Usually when we play them (other power conference teams), we have to play them on the road early in the year,” he said. “This was an opportunity where we didn’t have to play them in their ballpark, and we could get them (here), and at least in Illinois and Michigan State’s case, on a neutral site situation, and have a chance to play them in a different environment than you normally do, which, I think, is a fair environment.”

In part thanks to the Final Four being in Minneapolis in 2019, the DQ Baseball Classic will be forced to take a year off, but the plan is for it to pick back up in 2020, with Iowa and Purdue representing the Big Ten against teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference. The 2020 edition, in fact, is just the start of Anderson’s hopes for the event.

“We’re going to do the ACC in 2020, and I think it’ll be good,” Anderson said. “I’d like to be able to have it at one of the Pac-12 schools, and then come back here. We could do it in both places in the same year if you wanted to. One year there, one year here, whatever you want to do. I think it’s just great for college baseball. I think it’s good for our conferences to do this. No question about it.”

If that sounds wide-eyed and optimistic about the future of what the DQ Baseball Classic can be, think about how wide-eyed and optimistic it might have sounded in the past for the Big Ten to say that they wanted to get five teams into the postseason.

And look where they are now.

The Weekend 10

Between the Dairy Queen Classic, road series at ranked opponents San Diego, Stanford and Texas, it was a big weekend in the Big Ten. Who came up with the best and biggest performances? Here’s a look.

Michigan State Soph. CF Justin Antoncic

Anchoring the Spartan lineup in the three-hole, Antoncic paced a Michigan State lineup that appears to be turning the corner after their showing in the Dairy Queen Classic. In MSU’s 4-3 win over Arizona, Antoncic went 3-for-4, a part of a .462 weekend which included two doubles and hist first career home run.

Maryland Sr. 1B/RHP Kevin Biondic

Biondic did a bit of everything for Maryland this weekend, earning this week’s nod as the 10 Innings’ Player of the Week. At the plate, Biondic batted .533, collecting two doubles, a triple, and a home run, en route to driving in nine RBI. In the Terps’ 11-4 victory over Ball State, on Sunday, Biondic drove seven runs, a day after earning the save in Maryland’s 7-6 win over Coastal Carolina. On Friday, Biondic pitched a scoreless inning in Maryland’s 11-4 win over Radford.

Purdue Jr. C Nick Dalesandro

Leading a Purdue outfit that scored 29 runs in three games, Dalesandro recorded a base hit in eight of 11 at-bats, recording a pair of doubles, four RBI and scored three runs. Dalesandro also showed his ability from behind the plate, throwing out three runners on the bases in Purdue’s Sunday contest at Stetson.

Indiana Soph. OF Matt Gorski

Gorski powered an Indiana lineup that took three of four games, on the road, against San Diego. A part of a team that batted .329 on the weekend, Gorski led all Hoosiers with nine hits over 17 at-bats, to bat .529. With a double and a triple on the weekend, Gorski drove in five runs.

Rutgers Fr. LHP Eric Heatter

For the second time in three weeks, Eric Heatter is 10 Innings’ Freshman of the Week. Against Old Dominion, the Scarlet Knight rookie pitched seven innings of scoreless baseball, scattered four hits and struck out six batters, while walking two. Old Dominion rallied with four runs in the ninth to win, 4-3, leaving Heatter with a no-decision, after the freshman lowered his ERA to 1.59 over 17 innings to start his career.

Michigan Soph. LHP Tommy Henry

Henry did not receive a decision in Michigan’s 3-2 loss against Stanford, in the first game of their Saturday doubleheader, but the southpaw’s performance earned him this week’s top pitcher honor. At No. 5 Stanford, Henry held the Cardinal to five hits over a career-high, seven scoreless innings, striking out five batters while only walking one.

Michigan Soph. RHP Karl Kauffmann

Michigan did win the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader, due in large part to another strong start, this time by Henry’s classmate, Kauffmann. In 6.2 innings, Kauffmann struck out 10 batters, keeping the Cardinal off the scoreboard while scattering three hits and issuing five walks. Kauffmann’s strong start lead to the first loss for Stanford this season, in Michigan’s 5-0 victory.

Purdue Jr. 1B Jacson McGowan

McGowan saw an 11-game hit streak end on Sunday, but the Boilermaker put together a weekend that has him the conference’s player of the year front-runner. McGowan picked up two of McGowan’s five hits over nine at-bats were home runs, the slugger drew four walks, drove in six runs and crossed home six times. For the season, McGowan has a triple-slash of .447/.533/1.000.

Illinois Soph. 2B Michael Massey

The Dairy Queen Classic MVP, Massey tortured Pac-12 pitching to lead Illinois to a 3-0 weekend and the tournament title. Massey collected two hits in every game, finishing the weekend 6-for-12, with half of his knocks being two-baggers, to slug .750 in Minneapolis.

Illinois Soph. RHP Ryan Thompson

Joining Massey on the All-Tournament Team, Thompson was received the victory in Illinois’ first two games. Against UCLA, Massey came into a bases loaded, one-out situation. Against Arizona, the reliever stepped on the mound with a runner at first, no outs and the game tied, 3-3. Thompson did not allow a base runner over his four innings of work.