The 10 Spot: Webb’s Wonders

A wild Big Ten season is set to come to an end in nine days, with the final two weekends of play set to bring high drama and tense moments as six teams battle for the conference championship. Gearing up for a frantic finish, this week’s 10 Spot takes a look at 10 thoughts 10 Innings’ Chris Webb has on the season thus far.

Maryland’s Jekyll & Hyde Act

While it may not please head coach John Szfec, it is quite impressive how Maryland can be two different teams based on where a game is played. When playing in College Park, Maryland has the country’s best home record at 19-1. But away from Bob “Turtle” Thomas Stadium, the Terrapins are just 8-12 in road games. Avoiding home losses has helped Maryland keep a stout RPI, but the inability to play at the same high level looks to have cost the program a shot at its first Big Ten championship, dropping their last two series, at Indiana and at Illinois.

Gilbreath’s Pitcher of the Year claim

Minnesota junior left-handed pitcher Lucas Gilbreath entered the season with much attention, moving into the Gophers’ Friday role after excelling in relief last year and boosting his prospect stock in the Cape. Strangely, Gilbreath hasn’t received a lot of attention as the year has gone on, even though he’s performing at a Big Ten Pitcher of the Year season. Overall, Gilbreath is 5-0, with a 2.30 ERA, third-lowest in the Big Ten, with 74 strikeouts in 62.2 innings, and the conference’s stingiest batting average against at .167. In conference play, Gilbreath’s 1.86 ERA is second among starters, his batting average against drops to an incredible .141 with 47 punch-outs in 39.2 innings. Maryland’s Brian Shaffer and Michigan State’s Alex Troop have also had strong seasons and garner more attention in respect to prospect status, but Gilbreath is right there and it’s undeniable he’s having one of the best seasons among pitchers in the Big Ten.

Standout freshman

Quite the race is unfolding for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, with several players, not only having strong debut seasons, leading the way for their teams. Minnesota infielder Jordan Kozicky stepped into the lineup due to injury and has not relinquished a spot on the Gophers’ lineup. The redshirt freshman is second in the Big Ten with a .357 average. On his heels is Ohio State right fielder Dominic Canzone, leading the Buckeyes with a .356 average and 10 stolen bases. Illinois second baseman Michael Massey is batting .321 with 10 doubles and six home runs, adding a superb glove up the middle. Michigan State left fielder Bryce Kelley is batting .347 with three triples and 10 stolen bases and Purdue center fielder Skylar Hunter sports a .325 average. Each of the five players have shown the skill and ability to be a force in their teams lineup for the next few seasons.

Harris’ prospect status primed to climb

The back-half of the Big Ten season has not been kind to Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights have dropped five consecutive conference games after reaching .500 in Big Ten play through 10 games. But the season has seen center fielder Jawuan Harris continue to climb as one of the conference’s top draft prospects for the 2018 season. As a freshman, Harris’ used elite speed to lead the conference with 35 stolen bases. But as a two-sport standout for Rutgers, starring at wide receiver on the gridiron, Harris was more athlete than baseball player. With a year of at-bats under his belt, as well as year of collegiate strength and conditioning, Harris’ overall game has blossomed. He’s still the Big Ten’s premier base stealer, with 23 swipes in 29 attempts, but he is now adding power with the speed. Batting .279, Harris has connected on eight home runs. Being a two-sport player does limit Harris’ ability to take on the summer circuit and engage in fall ball, but what he has done this spring has been noticed and could force a decision on which sport to pursuit a year from now.

Kinker a bright spot for the Buckeyes

It’s been a tough year for Ohio State. After reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years, leading the Big Ten with 45 wins a year ago, it’s been a step backward for the Buckeyes, all but looking on the outside of the Big Ten Tournament. Injuries have hampered OSU pitching to go with an offense needing to retool after the graduation or drafting of seven starters. But there’s been a bright spot in right-handed pitcher Seth Kinker. The junior has been a rock for Greg Beals, closing, providing long relief and now emerging as a starter. In his first career start, Kinker tossed six innings of two-run baseball in the series finale at Michigan, leading the Bucks to a 4-2 win. In conference play, Kinker has the sixth-best ERA of qualified pitchers at 2.21, striking out 20 batters in 20.1 innings, giving Beals and the Buckeyes an anchor in the pitching staff to build around next season.

A tough Coach of the Year call

With two weeks to go, it’s shaping up to be a tough call for Big Ten Coach of the Year. Nebraska’s Darin Erstad has been a calming and steady force in guiding the Huskers through a turbulent start to their perch atop the Big Ten standings. Purdue’s Mark Wasikowski has overseen the best turnaround in the country, taking last year’s last place Boilermakers into an all but Big Ten Tournament participant with a winning season. Considering where teams where a month ago, Indiana’s Chris Lemonis and Illinois’ Dan Hartleb deserve recognition for in-season coaching, and Northwestern’s Spencer Allen has the Wildcats competitive, fighting for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time in seven years. There’s still two weeks to go and the standings are sure to have a final shakeup or two, but there’s been several outstanding jobs done by coaches in the conference this year.

Meyers is MVP, but Player of the Year?

Nebraska junior left-handed pitcher and center fielder Jake Meyers isn’t the best position player in the conference, nor is he the most dominant or outstanding pitcher. But in being able to take the mound on Sunday, leadoff Nebraska’s lineup, play defensively up the middle and be a terror on the bases, it’s hard to argue a player is more valuable than Meyers. On the mound, Meyers is 7-1 with a 2.96 ERA, striking out 45 batters against just eight walks in 70 innings. At the plate, Meyers sports a .301 average, a .422 on-base percentage and has stolen 18 bases in 19 attempts. Last year, Minnesota’s Matt Fiedler was named the top player, serving as the Gophers DH and Friday starter. He wasn’t the best player on the mound nor at the plate, but he helped Minnesota to the conference championship as a two-way force. Meyers may not jump out as the top player, but the precedent is there for him to take home the honor.

IU the new OSU?

The Hoosiers are rocking and rolling hitting mid-May with a head full of stream. From scuffling near .500 to being the top Big Ten team by way of RPI, the Hoosiers have caught fire. The run of Indiana is not unlike what the Big Ten saw last year with Ohio State. At one point, the Buckeyes were 2-5 in conference play before controlling their championship destiny in the last weekend. The Buckeyes blitzed through the Big Ten Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament, a thought unfathomable two months prior. Ohio State slugged their way through the 2016 season, hitting a conference-best 57 home runs. Indiana leads the Big Ten in home runs, also at 57, reaching the total in just 47 games, 18 less than last year’s Buckeyes. With Craig Dedelow, Matt Lloyd and Luke Miller, IU has a trio of players with at least 10 home runs, giving Chris Lemonis the Big Ten’s most dangerous lineup, one never out of a game.

Travel curfew madness

The Big Ten season has already experienced one tie, Nebraska and Indiana playing to an 11-inning, 1-1 tie on April 2. The game ended in a deadlock due to Nebraska’s travel curfew. The conference nearly saw a second tie due to a travel curfew this past Sunday, when Illinois and Maryland were in the bottom of the ninth, tied 6-6, as Maryland’s travel curfew hit. A tie was averted as Illinois hit a two-out, two-run walk-off home run, to avoid needing a new half-inning, which would not have played. But, the close call came a week after Maryland did not play nine innings, as a travel curfew ended their Sunday final in Bloomington, after eight innings. That game did experience a weather delay, but it may be time the Big Ten goes to 11 a.m. starts for select Sundays, when teams on the boundaries of the Big Ten border, Nebraska, Rutgers, Maryland have to get away from locations without easily accessible airports. The games deserve a just completion.

Rebuilds continue Big Ten’s competitiveness

There’s no set blueprint to rebuilding a program, each task is different. How a rebuild unfolds hinges on the dynamics of a roster, is it an underclassmen-heavy roster or one that will experience a significant turnover with the graduation of a large senior class. How scholarships are allocated throughout the roster and things such as recruiting budgets, admission requiring and scheduling can slow or expedite a change in win-loss fortune. This year, the Big Ten is home to quicker-than-expected competitiveness from two clubs. Behind Wasikowski, Purdue is leading the country in improvement from 2016 to 2017 winning percentage, sitting in the middle of the Big Ten after finishing last two of three years. Northwestern hasn’t fared much better of late, and to be just a tiebreaker from inside the Big Ten Tournament’s field heading into the weekend, is a testament to the job Allen has done. The last five seasons have witness the top of the Big Ten compete with any team in the country. Now, those who have lagged are stepping up creating an ultra-competitive conference top to bottom.

Friday April 21 roundup

A big weekend is taking place around the Big Ten with three series featuring six teams in the mix for an NCAA Tournament berth squaring off. And with a congested Big Ten standings, the race for the conference crown is picking up steam, evident in a new conference leader for the first time in four weeks after Friday’s action.

Meyers leads Nebraska’s rally past Minnesota

A pair of two-run innings powered Nebraska (22-14-1, 6-3-1) by Minnesota (22-11, 7-3), 5-3, knocking the Gophers out of first place.

The Huskers started the scoring in the top of the first. Junior center fielder Jake Meyers scored on a sacrifice fly, after he kicked off the game with a single and stole second and third base. Minnesota leveled the score in the second, when senior catcher Matt Stemper crossed home on a groundout, two batters after he opened the inning with a double to left. A two-run home run to right field by sophomore shortstop Terrin Vavra gave Minnesota a 3-1 lead after three innings.

But behind Meyers the Huskers battled back.

In the top of the fifth, Meyers lined a two-run single to right, tying the game 3-3. Leading off the eighth, Meyers singled up the middle on the first pitch of the inning, then scored the winning run on a one-out single to left field by junior right fielder Scott Schreiber. An RBI-single by senior first baseman Ben Miller scored sophomore shortstop Angelo Altavilla, giving Nebraska an insurance run.

Atop the Nebraska lineup, Meyers went 4-for-5 with two runs and two RBI, accounting for half of the Huskers hits. Junior right-handed pitcher Jake Hohensee improved to 5-2, with a seven-inning outing. Hohensee allowed three runs off six hits, walking two batters with three strikeouts.

Nebraska’s winning runs came off of Tyler Hanson, who allowed two runs off two hits in 1.1 innings. Junior left-handed pitcher Lucas Gilbreath pitched six innings, allowing three runs off three hits, striking out seven batters. Minnesota’s day at the plate was led by Vavra, going 2-for-4 with a run and two RBI, and sophomore center fielder Ben Mezzenga, who also went 2-for-4 and scored on the Vavra home run.

Butler’s blast carries Indiana past Michigan

A leadoff home run by senior second baseman Tony Butler would be all of the offense seen in the opener between Indiana (20-15-2, 7-5-1) and Michigan (30-8, 6-4), with Hoosiers picking up the 1-0 victory in Ann Arbor, Friday night.

Against Michigan junior left-handed pitcher Oliver Jaskie, Butler sent the second pitch of the game over the left-center field wall for his first home run of the season. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Jonathan Stiever benefited from Butler’s blast, receiving his second win in four decisions with seven innings of six-hit, scoreless baseball. Stiever struck out seven batters while walking just one Wolverines. Sophomore left-handed Tim Herrin pitched two perfect innings to close the game and earn his second save of the season.

Jaskie received the tough-luck loss with Michigan’s bats held in check. The southpaw pitched 6.2 innings, allowing three singles and a double outside of the Butler home run, walking two Hoosiers while striking out 10. Senior shortstop Michael Brdar went 2-for-4 to lead the Michigan charged, Butler also picked up a hit to go 2-for-4.

Maryland routs Michigan State

After scoring two runs in the bottom of the first, a two-run double by Kevin Smith and a two-run home run by Nick Cieri were parts of a six-run second inning as Maryland (26-11, 10-3) cruised to a 12-2 victory over Michigan State (20-14, 5-5).

Moving to the top of the Big Ten standings, Maryland roughed up Michigan State sophomore left-handed pitcher Alex Troop. Entering the game as the Big Ten’s ERA leader,  at 1.50, Troop allowed 11 runs, eight earned, off 10 hits in four innings. In the heart of the Terrapin lineup, second baseman Nick Dunn and DH Will Watson combined to go 4-for-7 with four runs and five RBI.

Junior right-handed pitcher Brian Shaffer reaped the rewards of Maryland’s mighty day at the plate. With seven innings of one-run baseball, Shaffer scattered six hits and struck out seven batters to improve to 5-2 on the year. Michigan State was led at the plate by freshman Bryce Kelley with two hits in four at-bats.

Boilermakers overcome control issues

Two runs in the first pushed Purdue to an early lead, helping the Boilermakers take down Illinois, 4-2, in West Lafayette. With the win, Purdue (20-18, 7-6) kept pace with the top half of the conference and picked up a win over an Illinois (15-20, 3-7)  team trying to fight its way to a top-eight finish.

A two-out, two-run double down the left field line by DH Mike Madej put the Boilers in front in their first at-bat. Illinois answered with a run in the second, taking advantage of 10 walks issued by Purdue pitching on the day, crossing home on a bases loaded free base to cut the deficit in half. Purdue regained a two-run advantage in the fifth, when second baseman Evan Warden scored on an errant throw to third after he stole the base. Illinois made it a 3-2 game with a run in the sixth, but in a 2-for-4 game with three runs, Warden led off the seventh with a double and scored two batters later, making it 4-2, a score that held through the end.

Freshman second baseman Michael Massey paced the Illini with three hits in five at-bats. Illinois left 14 runners on base, allowing Purdue starter Tanner Andrews to surrender just one run off four hits with eight walks.

Hawkeyes fly by Scarlet Knights

Rutgers scored first, grabbing a run in the top of the first inning in Iowa City, but a quartet of two-run innings overwhelmed the Scarlet Knights as Iowa (23-13, 6-4) rolled to an 8-3 victory.

Drawing a walk, then stealing his 20th base of the season, sophomore center fielder Jawuan Harris scored on a single by senior right fielder Tom Marcinczyk in the first. But it would be six innings until Rutgers (13-22, 2-5) next scored with Iowa taking control of the game in the meantime.

A two-run double by third baseman junior Matt Hoeg put Iowa in front, 2-1 in the second. After sophomore right fielder Robert Neustrom picked up a two-run home run in the third, Hoeg did the same in the sixth. Before Rutgers scored a run in the seventh, and one in the ninth, a triple by senior shortstop Mason McCoy and double from Neustrom led to two more Iowa runs in the seventh.

Iowa pounded out 12 hits on the evening, led by McCoy and junior DH Austin Guzzo going 3-for-4. Hoeg, Neustrom and junior left fielder Chris Whelan each picked up two hits. Guzzo, McCoy and Neustrom each scored two runs. For Rutgers, senior first baseman Mike Carter recorded three hits in five at-bats to up his batting average to a Big Ten-leading .404.

Wildcats take down Nittany Lions

A nine-run sixth inning, spurred by Nittany Lion mishaps, was the decisive frame in Northwestern’s 12-5 win over Penn State, pushing the Wildcats to 15-22 on the year and 4-6 in the Big Ten, dropping Penn State to 12-25 overall, 1-9 in conference play.

Before Northwestern erupted in the sixth, Penn State held a 4-1 lead, thanks two runs in the second and one in the fifth, after the teams traded runs in the fourth. On his way to a 4-for-4 game, left fielder Nick Riotto gave PSU the 3-1 lead with his second home run of the season.

But Riotto’s perfect day at the plate wasn’t enough. In rallying, Northwestern sent 12 men to the plate in the sixth, taking advantage of two Penn State errors, four wild pitches and five walks. Both teams finished the game with 12 hits, but Penn State pitchers issued eight walks and tossed eight wild pitchers to aid the Wildcat attack.

Ohio State falls to UNC-Greensboro

Stepping out of Big Ten play, Ohio State (15-23) spotted UNC-Greensboro (23-14) six runs before the Buckeyes plated a run in the bottom of the fourth, ultimately losing 11-4, Friday night in Columbus. Three runs in the fifth trimmed OSU’s deficit to 7-4, but the Spartans struck for four runs in the top of the sixth to cruise to the victory. Junior center fielder Tre’ Gantt went 3-for-5 with a run and RBI to lead Ohio State at the plate, freshman right fielder Dominic Canzone added two hits in four at-bats to improve his team-leading average to .348.

April 13-16 Weekend Preview

It’ s statement weekend in the Big Ten with big series littered across the conference. From a marquee non-conference showdown in Ann Arbor between two ranked clubs, to the battle of Illinois, a pair of top-50 RPI teams battling it out in Bloomington and a border battle with Big Ten championship implications, many teams have a chance to make a statement this weekend.

Here’s this weekend’s preview.

Huskers and Iowa native Miller provide a challenge for Hawkeyes

When Rick Heller was hired in the spring of 2013 to head the Iowa baseball team, he made a vow that he said would turn the program around. He said it was a simple plan: keep the best players from the state of Iowa in house, in black and gold.

He’s done pretty well with that. Former two-way standout, Tyler Peyton, though a JUCO transfer from Iowa Central Community College, is a Grimes, Iowa native and played a big part in turning the program around the past three years. Ben Norman and Grant Judkins, both true freshmen from central Iowa, have made big contributions this season.

Heller has only been in Iowa City for about three and a half years now, though, which means the final round of top high school players of 2013 that Heller couldn’t get his hands on are now seniors elsewhere.

One of those players is Ben Miller, the 2013 Class 4A Player of the Year in Iowa, playing for West Des Moines Valley High School. The accolades don’t stop there, either. Miller was named first-team All-State by multiple organizations, named a top-50 left-handed pitching prospect, and was the No. 4 recruit from the state of Iowa in his senior year, according to Perfect Game.

Miller left Iowa, and has been an all-conference performer for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, starting almost 200 games in his career. This weekend, Heller has to deal with Miller, the lead man in the final class of “the ones that got away” for the Iowa program.

The Clive, Iowa native has been on a tear lately, to make matters worse for the Hawkeyes. This past weekend, against a ranked Maryland team with arguably the best starting staff in the Big Ten, Miller went 10-for-13. In Tuesday’s game at Kansas State, where he also pitched three innings receiving the midweek start, Miller went 2-for-5 with a pair of doubles. From a .211 average a week ago, he now stands at .283 after multi-hit performances in his past four games, and seven of his last 10.

Miller is a good representation of which direction the Huskers are headed. Nebraska picked up its 20th win of the season on Tuesday against Kansas State, and sits at 4-1-1 in the Big Ten with series against Indiana and Maryland out of the way.

“This was a great challenge to build an identity. It was a pleasure to watch them go about their business today,” Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad said after his team’s Sunday win over Maryland. “I honestly did not have to say hardly anything today. You could hear, the right voices were the loudest, and the guys that we want to be leading the charge did a nice job and it was fun to just sit back and watch them do it. It’s to their credit. It’s a group of players that took it upon themselves to take the challenge and they did it.”

Iowa headed in the other direction last weekend, losing 2-of-3 to Northwestern in Evanston to move to .500 in conference. The Hawkeyes were generous in giving out an extra 90 feet to the Wildcats over the weekend, but cleaned that up a bit in their midweek win over Western Illinois.

“A big reason we got beat on Saturday and Sunday was that we gave up a lot of free bases on the mound,” Heller said. “Tonight we didn’t. If you look at basically every game…when you give up a lot of free bases there’s usually an ‘L’ on the other side of the column, when you don’t, it’s usually a ‘W.’ “

Iowa is good enough to beat anybody in the conference when Nick Gallagher is on the mound, as he will be on Friday. Gallagher has produced a 2.15 ERA and a 4-1 record over 46 innings, only giving up nine free passes all year (eight walks, one hit by pitch.)

Ryan Erickson will likely get the ball for Iowa on Saturday, and Cole McDonald on Sunday. Both of them have double-digit walk numbers this season in less work than Gallagher. McDonald will share the mound with Nebraska’s Jake Meyers on Sunday, who has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the Big Ten this season. Meyers has a 2.25 ERA over 44 innings, highlighted by his 7.1-inning performance against Maryland in which he scattered seven hits and three earned runs to earn the win.

According to junior catcher Austin Guzzo, though, Iowa won’t be looking at Meyers or any other Husker on the mound and worrying. To the Hawkeyes, it’s not Meyers or the Huskers they are competing against.

“It doesn’t really matter who we’re playing,” he said. “…We’re playing the baseball. We’re not playing the other team. We’re trying to beat the baseball, trying to hit the baseball, field the baseball, no matter who’s hitting it or throwing it at us.”

And if they can beat the Huskers by beating, cleanly picking and throwing the baseball, a weekend victory will keep the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten title hunt, an accomplishment that will surely help Heller put a fence around Iowa and keeping the Millers of the world at home.

Blake Dowson

Oklahoma gives a big opportunity for Michigan, Big Ten

Michigan has a 26-7 record, #13 overall ranking by D1Baseball.com and #18 in the NCBWA poll. But a look at this week’s NCAA Tournament projections by Baseball America has the Wolverines traveling for regional play, not worthy of hosting a regional.

The problem is, as much as Michigan passes the eye test, albeit early, the Wolverines aren’t rated highly in the RPI, checking in at #39 by Warren Nolan. Michigan won two of three games in the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic, taking down San Diego and USC, two wins that should feel good, but a closer look has San Diego #44 in the RPI and USC #70.

Similarly, with more to follow in the weekend preview, Minnesota, who sits atop the Big Ten and has a 20-8 record, is one of the last four teams in Baseball America’s field, their strong season thus far doesn’t have them in a comfortable position, according to Baseball America.  The publication’s projected field that does include four conference teams, and has one, Indiana in the first four out, and another, Michigan State, in the next four out. The signs are there that the Big Ten is a quality conference this year. But what’s missing, on both, Michigan’s resume and the overall perception of the Big Ten this year, is a marquee non-conference victory.

Michigan State had a chance to give the conference a boost with a series at South Carolina. The Spartans played the Gamecocks tough, but ultimately fell short. Iowa had a chance to take a road series to open the year at upstart South Florida, but could only take one game. In week two, Maryland was handily swept in their series at LSU. Penn State was no match for TCU, the same for Rutgers at Virginia. The conference’s signature victory, a 6-1 win over #1 Oregon State, is by an Ohio State team just fighting for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament, .500 games under .500. Taking away games from intra-conference victories, the Big Ten

All of that can change this weekend in Ann Arbor.

For their Big Ten bye week, Michigan hosts Oklahoma in a non-conference series garnering national attention. The Sooners are ranked #10 in this week’s NCBWA poll and are rated No. 16 in the RPI. In falling to Maryland on the road, Michigan is still in search of that premier win. This can be it. It can also be what the Big Ten needs to truly show their best can match up with the best of the best around the country, and give the conference the benefit of the doubt when looking forward, trusting the eyes, not the numbers.

Prospect showdown of the week

It isn’t one of the top series of the weekend, but there won’t be a better a head-to-head matchup of pitching prospects than Friday’s pairing of Maryland junior right-handed pitcher Brian Shaffer and Penn State junior right-handed pitcher Sal Biasi.

Viewed as the Big Ten’s top pitching prospect by D1Baseball.com in their Midseason top 100 college prospects, Shaffer is having a season worthy of being the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year. Just one out shy of averaging seven innings per start, in eight starts, Shaffer holds a 1.94 ERA with 56 strikeouts against 13 walks. At 6’5, Shaffer has long arms to create a good downhill plane, using a heavy low-90s fastball to attack hitters at the knees.

Biasi matches Shaffer with 56 strikeouts, but has racked up his total in just 39 innings. However, 22 walks have hurt the Nittany Lion, who sports a 4.15 ERA. Where Shaffer has a fluid delivery with little stress, to have above-average command of his pitches Biasi is a power pitcher, reliant on a fast arm. Biasi checks it at only 6′, but can empty the effort tank and run his fastball up to 96 MPH, and sit 93-95.

Around the conference

Minnesota (20-8, 6-0) at Indiana (17-13-2, 4-4-1)

Minnesota heads to Indiana with the Big Ten’s top conference mark and riding an 11-game winning streak. The reigning Big Ten champions are looking the part of potential back-to-back title holders, but in their pursuit of a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, the Minnesota’s resume is lagging, so say the numbers.

Though the Gophers started Big Ten play with a pair of road sweeps at Ohio State and Michigan State, Minnesota only has one win against a top-50 RPI team, the series opening victory against Missouri State. As a result, Minnesota’s RPI is only 46, though they are the current Big Ten leaders. It is still early to be too concerned with RPI and strength of schedule numbers, there are still seven weekends left in the season, but a golden opportunity is at hand for Minnesota to impress the computers.

Although there overall record is not as impressive as Minnesota, Indiana sits No. 37 in Warren Nolan’s RPI. And though they are just .500 in Big Ten play, Indiana is looking to gather a bit of momentum and put together a winning streak so they can be in position to receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Hoosiers have played five games against the RPI’s top 50, but are 0-4-1. With Minnesota in the last four in, in this week’s field of 64 projection by Baseball America, and Indiana one of the first four at, it’s going to be a big weekend in Bloomington.

Ohio State (14-19, 3-6) at Michigan State (18-11, 3-3)

Two teams with inconsistent offenses will square off in East Lansing with Michigan State hosting Ohio State. Uneven results over the last three weeks are having both teams in search for consistency and build momentum heading into the second half of the season.

Michigan State ended a five-game losing streak with a sweep over Fresno State last weekend. During their slide, MSU scored only 14 runs, an output nearly doubled in the 27 runs the Spartans scored against Fresno State. But the bats were quite again in midweek action, falling to Notre Dame, 2-1, a fourth straight midweek loss by a run.

Ohio State knows all too well the troubles of midweek games, scoring just two runs off nine hits in losses this week to Cincinnati and Eastern Michigan. The offensive outage comes after sweeping a Sunday doubleheader at Penn State where the Buckeyes scored 16 runs.

Michigan State still has a shot at the Big Ten title and an NCAA Tournament berth while the Buckeyes are playing for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament. A weekend win is critical to both in their respective pursuits.

Purdue (17-15, 5-4) at Rutgers (11-18, 0-3)

Rutgers hopes to keep their slugging ways going as they host a series critical to their Big Ten Tournament aspirations. With the team experiencing travel issues last weekend, wiping away their three games at Minnesota, the Scarlet Knights have less of a margin of error in trying to build out of an 0-3 start to Big Ten play.

One of the teams they’re chasing, Purdue, heads to Piscataway this weekend. Rutgers is coming off of a school-record, 28-run performance in their midweek win against Lafayette, and have a key number in mind. Rutgers is 9-0 this year when scoring at least six runs, sitting 38-8 since 2015 when scoring sextet of runs.

For Purdue, as they look to continue their turnaround campaign, the weekend provides an opportunity to firmly take grip of a top-eight spot, current the Boilermakers have a two-game advantage, and a tiebreaker in hand, over Ohio State. The series will feature a pair of the Big Ten’s hottest hitters with Scarlet Knight senior first baseman Mike Carter leading the conference with a .409 average and Purdue sophomore catcher Nick Dalesandro sporting a .362 clip.

Northwestern (12-20, 2-4) at Illinois (12-18, 1-5)

This weekend’s series in Champaign between Illinois and Northwestern comes too early to call this an elimination game in a pursuit for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament. But it’s hard to see the loser picking up enough wins to garner a spot in the eight-field tournament by season’s end. However, the winner can start to make a climb up the standings, keeping eighth place in striking distance and both teams enter the weekend playing their best baseball of late. Illinois did lose two out of three against Michigan, but the Illini are 6-2 in their last eight games. After winning their home series against Iowa last week, Northwestern has won seven of their last 10. Both teams can put up a crooked number, the key this weekend will be minimizing free bases and extra opportunities for the opponent.

Home Run Chase 2017

Iowa Jr. 1B Jake Adams: 13 home runs in 31 team games, 56-game pace of 23. School record: 22 (John Knapp, 1986)

Illinois Sr. 1B Pat McInerney: 11 home runs in 30 team games, 56-game pace of 20. School record: 26 (Josh Klimek, 1996)

Required Reading

College Spotlight: Week 8 -PerfectGame.org

Wildcats pick up fourth straight win, look to add to streak -Joseph Wilkinson, The Daily Northwestern

Hawkeyes back on track after upending Western Illinois -Dargan Southard, Des Moines Register

The heroic feats of Kyle Schwarber -ESPN

Michigan to see first test in No. 18 Oklahoma -Robert Hefter, The Michigan Daily

Do Or Die Time For Buckeyes…? -Sonny Fulks, Press Pros Magazine

Midweek wrap

It was a heavy midweek slate around the Big Ten with every team in action, including 12 games on Tuesday. The Big Ten went 11-5 for the midweek.

Gophers stretch streak to 11

Losing a weekend of action didn’t slow Minnesota’s momentum. With Rutgers unable to fly into Minneapolis due to a cancelled flight on Thursday, nixing the weekend series, there was a week between games for John Anderson’s team. But in taking on North Dakota State on Tuesday night, the Gophers picked up right where they left off.

Improving to 20-8 on the season, junior first baseman Toby Hanson spurred Minnesota to a 6-1 road victory. Hanson went 4-for-5 with a two-run home run and double, driving in three runs and scoring twice out of the cleanup spot. Sophomore catcher Cole McDevitt picked up three hits in four at-bats, anchoring Minnesota’s lineup in the nine-hole.

Due to their inactivity, Minnesota used seven pitchers in the win. Senior right-hander Tim Shannon earned the victory, pitching 1.2 innings of scoreless relief, striking out three batters. Senior right-handed closer Brian Glowicki also struck out three batters in a scoreless ninth inning. Minnesota scored two runs in the first, seventh and ninth, with North Dakota State (14-18)  scoring their lone run in the home-half of the first.

Rutgers sets school record in Tuesday rout

The off weekend didn’t slow Minnesota’s momentum, nor did it cause Rutgers’ offense to go missing.

On Tuesday, in a road game at Lafayette, Rutgers set a school record for most runs in a game, picking up a 28-4 victory. Rutgers (11-18) scored seven runs in the first, six in the second and third, crossed home once in the fifth and two times in the sixth, before another six-run inning in the eight closed the scoring. Lafayette (3-32) scored a run in the bottom of the first and plated three in their sixth inning at-bat.

With 15 players stepping into the batter’s box, 13 picked up hits, led by DH Mike Carter going 5-for-5 with three runs and three RBI, running his Big Ten-leading batting average to .409. Carter and outfielder Mike Martinez each recorded a home run, with right fielder Tom Marcinczyk and catcher Nick Matera both connecting on two home runs. The six home runs were part of RU’s 11 extra base hits, 24 total hits for the afternoon.

Miller does it all in Husker victory

Senior left-handed pitcher Ben Miller provided Nebraska with a one-run, three-inning start Tuesday at Kansas State, then swung a good bat from the left side, going 2-for-5 with two doubles and two RBI to lead the Cornhuskers to a 6-1 victory. The victory gave Nebraska (20-11-1) the season sweep over Kansas State (16-16) as Nebraska picked up an 11-1 home victory on March 28.

The Wildcats plated their lone run in the bottom of the first, putting Nebraska in an early hole. Darin Erstad’s team tied the game with the fourth, on an RBI-single by Luis Alvarado, and grabbed the lead in the fifth, on a sacrifice fly to left by Angelo Altavilla. The Huskers put the game away with a four-run seventh, spurred by a two-run, ground rule double by Miller. After Miller exited the game on the mound, Jake McSteen pitched three scoreless innings of two-hit baseball, earning his third win of the year in three decisions.

Terps split

In Tuesday action against West Virginia (19-12), Maryland overcame a 4-0 deficit after five innings, to rally for a 7-6 victory over the Mountaineers.

Leading the Terrapin charge was senior Madison Nickens, driving in four runs in a 2-for-4 game that included his fourth home run of the year. With the game tied 5-5, Nickens recorded a two-run single in the seventh for the game-winning hit. Sophomore Dan Maynard also picked up a home run, leading off the game-turning seventh inning with his second home run of the season.

Maryland (21-11) was unable to go 2-for-2 in midweek play, falling to George Mason (14-20), 8-5, on Wednesday. Sophomore Marty Costest which based safely in all five plate appearances, picking up a pair of walks alongside three hits, including his team-best eighth home run of the year. Junior Kevin Smith also notched a home run, his seventh, but it wasn’t enough to take down the Patroits who scored seven runs in the first two innings.

Elsewhere

A quartet of Indiana pitchers held Indiana State to six hits in the Hoosiers’ 2-0 victory, Tuesday night. Tim Herrin, Cam Beauchamp, Andrew Saalfrank and Austin Foote each pitched at least two innings in the combined shutout. All of Indiana’s offense came in the fifth inning, when sophomore third baseman Luke Miller scoring on a double by junior right fielder Logan Sowers before Sowers scored on a sacrifice fly by freshman shortstop Jeremy Houston.

Michigan maintained a perfect record against in-state foes with a 13-inning, 2-1 victory over Eastern Michigan on Tuesday. Junior right-handed pitcher Jayce Vancena pitched five innings of three-hit baseball to start the low-scoring affair. Michigan pounded out 11 hits of Eagle pitchers but left 14 runners on base. Finally, in the bottom of the 13th, Jonathan Engelmann doubled in Jake Bivens to run Michigan’s record to 26-7 on the season, 3-0 against teams from Michigan.

Michigan State (18-11) held Notre Dame (14-17) to six hits, but the Spartans couldn’t string together their eight hits to score more than one run, falling to the Irish, 2-1, on Tuesday. Junior center fielder Brandon Hughes went 2-for-2 with a double, driving in MSU’s lone run in the first inning, scoring freshman left fielder Bryce Kelley. Notre Dame scored a run in the bottom of the second and one in the sixth to grab the victory.

The Atlantic Coast Conference wasn’t kind to Big Ten teams on Tuesday, with Purdue joining Michigan State in falling at an ACC school. Against #2 Louisville, Purdue (17-15)  fell into an early hole, trailing 4-0 after one inning and 8-0 after three frames, before the Cardinals (28-4) cruised to a 13-2 victory. Sophomore catcher Nick Dalesandro went 4-for-5 to raise his batting average on the season to .362.

Iowa was outhit by Western Illinois on Tuesday, 10-7, but the Hawkeyes made the most of their opportunities in a 4-1 victory. Iowa’s 6-7-8 batters, Tyler Cropley, Austin Guzzo and Matt Hoeg combined to go 4-for-8 with three runs and three RBI, Cropley and Hoeg each recorded a double. Iowa grabbed the initial 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second and tacked on two runs in the fourth to seize control of the game. Elijah Wood pitched three scoreless innings to start the game for Iowa, and Drake Robinson matched with three scoreless innings of middle relief.

Sophomore pinch-hitter Tyler Engel provided sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th to push Illinois to a 6-5 victory over Illinois State on Tuesday night. Improving to 12-18, sophomore right fielder Jack Yalowitz went 4-for-5 with two doubles and two runs, pacing a 12-hit Illini attack. Matthew James pitched five innings to start the game for Illinois, allowing one run off two hits. After losing a 4-1 lead after six innings, as Illinois State (9-21) scored three in the seventh and one in the eighth, Illinois scored in the top of the ninth to extend the game before Engel’s game-winner.

After Bucknell grabbed the game’s first lead with two runs in the top of the fifth, Penn State responded with a four-spot, en route to a 5-3 victory, Wednesday night. In a 2-for-4 game, sophomore shortstop Conlin Hughes drove in three runs on a triple in the decisive innings. Senior second baseman Christian Helsel added a pair of hits to push Penn State’s record to 12-20 on the season, dropping Bucknell to 13-18.

Northwestern continued its run of good baseball, picking up two victories in midweek play, extending their winning streak to four games, and winning for the seventh time in 10 games. The Wildcats erupted for 11 runs on Tuesday, taking down Western Michigan (12-15), 11-4. Wednesday’s contest with Bradley (9-17) was closer, but Northwestern (12-20) recorded a 6-2 victory.

Ohio State (14-19) dropped a pair of midweek games, falling 7-1 to Cincinnati (16-16), on Tuesday, before Eastern Michigan (13-20) rebounded from their tough loss in Ann Arbor to grab a 3-1 win on Wednesday, in Columbus. The Buckeyes picked up just nine hits over the two games.

 

The 10 Spot: Pitching performances

It’s been the year of the home run in the Big Ten, but that shouldn’t outshine the stellar pitching performances the conference has seen thus far. This week’s 10 Spot takes a look at the best of the best gems, shutouts and pitching-powered upsets from Big Ten teams to date.

Indiana’s one-run effort against Oregon State to start the season

Indiana’s offense was completely stymied in a 1-0, season-opening loss to Oregon State, but Jonathan Stiever and Pauly Milto were almost equally as nasty for the Hoosiers. Stiever threw 5.2 innings, allowing three hits and one earned run, while Milto threw the final 2.1 innings, allowing only one hit and no earned runs.

Pavlopoulos, Kinker knock off Oregon State

Oregon State is the overwhelming #1 team in the country this season, with only one blemish on its record thus far. That blemish came at the hands of Ohio State and Yianni Pavlopoulos. Pavlopoulos, the Buckeye closer in 2016, threw the first six innings in only his second career start. He allowed only three hits and shut out the Beavers. Seth Kinker threw the final three innings, giving up two hits and one earned run, and the Buckeyes won, 6-1.

Andrews dominant in Cape Girardeau

Purdue’s turnaround campaign has been one of the leading headlines so far the 2017 season. In the season’s third weekend, a serious at Southeast Missouri State gave early notice to Purdue’s changed fortunes. Leading the Boilermakers to a 4-0 win, junior right-handed pitcher Tanner Andrews pitched a four-hit shutout, striking out eight batters without issuing a walk, en route to his second Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honor in just three weeks.

Oliver Jaskie deals in LA

Jaskie, pitching against UCLA and potential first round pick Griffin Canning, during the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic, looked like he belonged in a big league stadium. In his six innings of shutout work, Jaskie only allowed three hits while striking out six Bruins. Tommy Henry relieved Jaskie in the seventh and gave up only one unearned run, but that was ultimately enough for Canning, who went eight innings allowing three hits and zero earned runs while striking out 12 in UCLA’s 1-0 victory. Jaskie proved, however, that the Big Ten elite could compete with the rest of the country.

Wolverines stay hot in SoCal

Michigan continued it’s run of stellar pitching against Pac-12 teams in a contest at USC the next day. Ryan Nutof started the game on the mound for Michigan, and the Wolverines got everything they could have asked out of him. Nutof threw 6.1 innings, allowing only three hits, one earned run, and struck out eight Trojans. The bullpen combined for the final 2.2 innings, allowing only one hit in Michigan’s 4-1 win on the road against the most storied program in the country.

Taylor Bloom leads dominating win over #6 NC State

Maryland has put together a quality season to this point, finding itself in the discussion to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years. Leading the Terrapin’s postseason résumé may be against #6 North Carolina State in early March. Junior right-handed pitcher Taylore Bloom was a big reason for that, throwing seven innings of five-hit ball, allowing the only two runs of the game for the Wolfpack in a 9-2 Terrapin win.

Nebraska blanks Arizona

Jake Meyers has put together a really good season already for the Huskers, but his performance against Arizona may be his best. Meyers went five shutout innings allowing only six hits and striking out four on his way to the win. Chad Luensmann earned the rare four-inning save, allowing only two hits over those four innings. Nebraska scored one run in the first inning, and held on to beat the Wildcats, 1-0. It was Arizona’s first loss of the season.

Alex Troop duels at South Carolina

Michigan State sophomore left-handed Alex Troop matched up against potential first rounder Clarke Schmidt and the No. 10 South Carolina Gamecocks in a top-tier pitching duel much like Jaskie-Canning. Troop went eight innings against the Gamecocks high-powered bats, allowing only three hits and two earned runs. Troop, a two-way player, hit a home run the next day against South Carolina, making what he did both on the mound and at the plate even more impressive.

Ty Weber quiets the defending national champs

Coastal Carolina lost quite a few players to the draft after last season’s national championship run, but there was plenty of meat left on the bone when Weber and the Fighting Illini traveled to Conway, South Carolina to take on the Chanticleers. Weber went 7.2 innings, allowing only 1 hit and 1 earned run, striking out six hitters. If it weren’t for his high pitch count (105 pitches), Weber might have sealed the win. However, Ryan Schmitt gave up two solo home runs in the bottom of the ninth and the Chanticleers walked off with a 3-2 win.

Meyers curtails Catamounts

When a pitcher has a 2.25 ERA over seven starts it’s likely they have had a few quality starts, and that’s certainly the case for Meyers. Building off of his effort against the Wildcats in the Frisco College Baseball Classic, Meyers twirled a five-hit shutout against Western Carolina the following weekend. In striking out five batters while only issuing one walk, Meyers added to a scoreless innings streak which ultimately ended two weeks later at 25.2 innings.

April 12 Power Rankings

The third weekend did not see a sweep, for the first time this season, as tight series from State College to Lincoln were played out. Weather conditions and a cancelled flight left Rutgers in New Jersey, unable to fly to the Twin Cities to take on Minnesota, but even with the conference leaders idle, there were several flip-flops this week’s power rankings.

Previous rankings: March 28 April 3

Records through April 11

#1 Minnesota (20-8 overall, 6-0 Big Ten) Last Week: #1

Minnesota’s Big Ten home opener must wait until next weekend with a big series against Nebraska, after the Gophers were unable to take on Rutgers due to a cancelled flight and no found viable options to get the Scarlet Knights to Minneapolis. The weekend off didn’t hurt Minnesota as the Gophers picked up a 6-1 win at North Dakota State on Tuesday, running their winning streak to 11 games.

#2 Michigan (26-7, 6-3) LW: #2

The Wolverines picked up a pair of victories in their weekend series against Illinois. Michigan’s starting pitching was a bit shakier than it has been thus far, but, as good teams do, they still found a way to defend their home turf. Michigan hasn’t had a bad weekend through eight weeks, showing the consistency expected of one of the country’s top 20 teams.

#3 Nebraska (20-11-1, 4-1-1) LW: #4

Nebraska’s 1-6 start seems like last year. The Cornhuskers are rolling, picking up a big series victory over Maryland. With Jake Hohensee leading the Big Ten’s most consistent rotation, Nebraska is ready to continue a tough slate with back-to-back series against Iowa and Minnesota, in pursuit of a Big Ten championship and second straight NCAA Tournament bid.

#4 Maryland (21-10, 6-3) LW: #3

Just as Michigan’s series loss at Maryland didn’t take from the good Michigan built up throughout March, the weekend loss at Nebraska doesn’t take from Maryland’s strong play of late. Taking one game in Lincoln was crucial, and Maryland did that. Another big weekend has sophomore center fielder Marty Costes quietly putting together a Big Ten Player of the Year season.

#5 Michigan State (18-11, 3-3) LW: #6

The Michigan State put an end to a five-game losing streak with a weekend sweep of Fresno State. The Spartans were able to break through for 27 runs against the Bulldogs, after scoring 14 over their losing streak. The parts are there for Michigan State to make a run, it’s just a matter of Jake Boss’ team having the “it” factor.

#6 Iowa (20-11, 3-3) LW: 5

Iowa’s uneven season away from Duane Banks Field continued with a weekend loss to Northwestern. The Hawkeyes are now 10-10 in games played outside of Iowa City. Jake Adams picked up two more home runs to grab sole lead of the conference’s home run chase with 13, but Northwestern did a good job of making sure his production had as little impact as possible, keeping the supporting cast at bay.

#7 Purdue (17-15, 5-4) LW: 8

The Boilermakers added a bullet to their turnaround season with a weekend win over in-state rival Indiana. Purdue ruined IU’s first trip to West Lafeyette since 2011 by taking the first two games, with Saturday’s contest featuring an Alexander Field record crowd of 2,312. Even in the series finale that Indiana won, 14-9, Purdue battled from a 13-1 deficit showing Purdue’s ever-building mentality no-quit mentality.

#8 Indiana (17-13-2, 4-4-1) LW: 7

Indiana’s offense came alive in the Sunday game against Purdue, but growing concerns of the IU bullpen continued. Indiana lead Friday’s opener 5-2 going into the bottom of the eighth, before four Boilermaker runs carried Purdue to victory. Indiana took down Indiana State, 2-0 on Tuesday night, giving the team a chance to build momentum heading into the weekend’s big series against Minnesota.

#9 Illinois (12-18, 1-5) LW: #9

Illinois saw a four-game winning streak end in the opener against Michigan, a game where they lost a 7-0 lead, but salvaged the weekend with a win in the finale and started a new winning streak with a 6-5 win over Illinois State on Tuesday. Illinois has the offense to win any weekend series, it’s just a matter of how fast can the young pitching staff grow up.

#10 Ohio State (14-18, 3-6) LW: #10

It’s another week where the Buckeyes are responsible for the lone loss on the record of the consensus #1 team in the country, and it was another week where the Buckeyes showed flashes of brilliance but inconsistency. Ohio State battled back to beat a good Kent State team, 9-8, last Wednesday and rebounded from a series-opening loss take take two of three in State College. But on Tuesday, Ohio State was held to four hits in a 7-1 loss to Cincinnati, continuing an up-and-down season.

#11 Northwestern (11-20, 2-4) LW: #12

The Wildcats were able to build off of their weekend win against Air Force with another home series victory in turning back Iowa. Against Indiana, Spencer Allen’s team showed they would be a tough out and now they have the results to show for it. Northwestern has won five of their last seven games, and is

#12 Rutgers (11-18, 0-3) LW: #11

It probably helped Rutgers’ pursuit of a Big Ten Tournament spot to not play the three games this weekend against the conference leader. Regardless, Rutgers made up for any loss of scoring from the weekend, racking up 28 runs in a 28-4 midweek win over Lafayette on Tuesday, snapping a four-game losing streak.

#13 Penn State (11-20, 1-5) LW: #13

Penn State grabbed the first game of their home series against Ohio State, 6-2, for their first conference win. But in a Sunday doubleheader, the Nittany Lions could only manage two runs in each game, while the Buckeyes broke out racked up 16, more than they scored in either of their two previous three-game conference series. Injuries have depleted Penn State’s depth, making winning two of three games a tough task.

 

Weekend preview April 7-9

As college baseball starts the second half of the season, this weekend’s Big Ten action is headline by a rivalry been a recent power and budding rebuilding program, a top-flight home run chase, two hot teams squaring off and conference teams trying to navigate everything Mother Nature throws its way.

Ahead of rivalry weekend, a culture is changing in West Lafayette

There’s no way around it, it was an ugly game.

Purdue’s 13-2 loss to Ohio State on March 31 featured eight walks, six wild pitches and five errors, in addition to several misplayed balls lost, on an evening where the gloomy weather conditions mirror the play of the Boilermakers. On the road for the seventh consecutive season, what changes Purdue enjoyed in winning 13 games over the first six weeks, after winning all of 10 in 2016, wasn’t evident to one watching in the stands. It was the same old Purdue team, the one that went 20-75 in Big Ten play over the prior four seasons.

But in how the Boilermakers responded the rest of the weekend showed times are changing in West Lafayette. Purdue rebounded to walk only two batters and commit just two errors over the final two games, collecting victories of 6-1 and 2-1 over the Buckeyes, giving the Boilermakers three wins in their first six Big Ten games, best their 2-22 conference mark of a year ago.

“I would have liked to have done it in a different way,” joked first-year head coach Mark Wasikowski on signs of a different clubhouse culture in the team’s ability to rebound from such a bad game. “Friday night we quit, we were soft, we were scared, we were timid, we got overwhelmed by bad elements. Anything you can say on a negative side is who we were and that was our identity that day. And that wasn’t the players, it was the coaching staff, the players, it was the bus driver, it was everybody involved. That’s who we were and we had to own it.

“I guess the culture part of it, is that we can all hang out heads and mope around for the rest of the year because we played a bad game or we can shake it off. When we left the dugout that night, the encouragement was can we get passed the day today? And don’t get off this bus, literally, when we got to the hotel, don’t get off this bus until you can get to tomorrow.”

Purdue was able to get to tomorrow, pick up a win, and now they stand 15-31 on the year, set to host in-state rival Indiana (15-11-2) for the first time since 2011.

In 2011, it was Purdue that appeared to be the state of Indiana’s top Big Ten program. The Hoosiers did have the 2009 NCAA Tournament appearance, but Purdue showed more consistency, appearing in four straight Big Ten Tournaments at the season’s end. A year later, the Boilermakers would go on to win the Big Ten for the first time since 1909, win the Big Ten Tournament, defeating Indiana in the tournament championship game, and host the Big Ten’s first regional in four years.

That was the last time Purdue had a winning season.

In the meantime, Indiana has appeared in the NCAA Tournament three times, captured two Big Ten championships and were the Big Ten’s first College World Series participant in 30 years, breaking through in 1983. As Indiana flourish Purdue bottomed out, leaving Wasikowski to pick up the pieces in hope of returning the Boilermakers to past promise.

“On day one, we couldn’t take an infield-outfield (practice), said Wasikowski, who was hired after serving on staffs at Oregon, Arizona, Florida and Southeast Missouri State. “We couldn’t do that. We didn’t have the ability to take an infield-outfield or literally play catch without the ball flying all over the park.”

Needing to completely revamp the Purdue program, Wasikowski started with the absolute basics, and it wasn’t on-field instruction.

“We started with locker room, how are we going to keep our lockers here at Purdue. How are we going to maintain our shoes, make sure that things are clean. Make sure that this is how screens go. We started from the beginning.”

With an emphasis on educating, in an effort to have players in positions for greater chances of success by having an understanding the why behind every actions, both on and off the field, Wasikowski set out in rebounding of the program. There wasn’t any expectation on what Purdue would do on the field, Wasikowski’s sole goal was to make sure his culture was in place by the end of the season.

As they showed at Ohio State, Purdue is working towards that, laying the foundation to once again reign supreme in the Hoosier State. Now, this weekend’s rivalry series against Indiana is another opportunity.

“I think we’re all fighting for the same thing and I think this weekend is going to be another fight in that battle of who is in charge of this state. I know it’s not us yet. But this is an opportunity for us to kind of chip away at getting at that point. That’s what we’re trying to do, start chipping away at whoever is the best team in the state, and eventually that’s going to be us is our mindset.”

Adams and McInerney evoke memories of Sosa and McGwire

It’s been nearly 20 years since Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire captured the nation’s attention with their pursuit, and eventual passing, of the 61-home run, 1961 season of Roger Maris. Resetting Major League Baseball’s record book, the home runs Sosa, of the Chicago Cubs, and McGwire, of the St. Louis Cardinals, racked up during the 1998 season had fans on the edge of their seat, holding their breath with each at-bat and continually checking newspaper box scores to see who was still on pace for the record, who hit the latest home run and had the leg on.

Now, two sluggers who were just learning to swing a bat during that unforgettable summer are locked in a home run chase of their own.

Iowa junior first baseman Jake Adams and Illinois first baseman Pat McInerney each have 11 home runs heading into the weekend’s action. Both are on pace to produce the Big Ten’s first 20-home run season since Indiana DH Alex Dickerson hit 24 in 2011, giving the conference a genuine, headline-grabbing home race.

“I’ve surprised myself a little bit,” said McInerney, who has a .727 slugging percentage on the strength of six home runs in Illinois’ last eight games. “It is a result of getting a good pitch and putting a good swing on it, but I wouldn’t have guessed I would have 11 at this point, especially with the home run totals I’ve had in the past, and through the summers when you’re thinking it’s going really well.”

McInerney, batting .333 with a .427 on-base percentage, contributes his stellar senior season to a few offseason changes to his swing, where, as simple as it sounds, he hoped to hit the ball harder and in the air. The native of Glen Elyn, Ill. is also taking note of current conversation and dialogue throughout baseball on launch angles, and the results of balls hit higher in the air. But even before McInerney steps to the plate for a high, towering hit, the continued exposure over his career of seeing some of college baseball’s best pitchers in practice is paying off in a big way.

“When you have the experience of practicing against the guys we have faced on a daily basis in guys that have pitched at Illinois, between Cody (Sedlock), Tyler (Jay),  (Kevin) Duchene, where our pitching staff has been so good the last couple of years, we got to see that every day at practice. You’re obviously going to get better when you face those guys.”

Adams, who is batting .340 with a .417 on-base percentage and .698 slugging percentage, hasn’t had the same fortune as McInerney when it comes to standing in the batter’s box against a pair of first-round pitchers. A transfer from Des Moines Area Community College, Adams is in his first season with the Hawkeyes, but came with quite the legacy. After hitting 25 home runs in 2016, leaving DMACC as the career home run leader with 41, the Iowa coaching staff knew Adams had power unlike they’ve ever seen, it was just a matter of how much would it translate to the Division I level. So far Adams has had no issues continuing his home run-hitting ways.

“Baseball is baseball,” said Adams, who hit his 11th home run of the season on Tuesday, helping Iowa 4-3 win over South Dakota State running their record to 18-9 on the season. “Going from a JUCO to the DI level, the pitchers have about the same velocity, but at the DI level they have a bit better off-speed pitches. Coming into Iowa I had to train a lot harder in the weight room, get stronger. I knew I could come in at this level and still put up some pretty big numbers.”

Where McInerney has paid attention to launch angles and noticing his home runs, outside of a time early at DMACC where he accepted he can’t hit a home run in every at-bat, Adams hasn’t changed a thing about his approach or plan of attack at the plate.

“I got into the flow of having to step up to the plate and look for the base hit. When the guys leave it over the plate, that’s when I have to hammer it,” said Adams, who has a three-home run game under his belt, doing so March 26 against Kansas State. “There will be occasions where, if there’s someone in scoring positions and I have two strikes, I’ll move up to the plate a little bit because I stand off the plate, and I just have to get the ball in play. But otherwise I don’t change up if I have two strikes.”

Wasting little time to establish himself as one of the Big Ten’s premier power threats, Adams is aware of how teams are trying to pitch to him and know it is on him to adjust. McInerney looks to continue to be as aggressive as possible in hitting the ball as hard as he can. With the two tied at 11 home runs, with no end in sight of their slugging ways, it’s shaping up to be a second half to remember in the Big Ten.

“It’s kind of cool because growing up in Chicago, I would always remember the home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire,” McInerney said.  It’s not like we’re at five or six home runs, we’re putting up one every other game so it’s cool to go back and forth.

“We host Iowa the last weekend of the season and we’ll see if it comes down to that.”

Get ready for another great home run race, Midwest.

Rising teams square off in Lincoln

Maryland and Nebraska have one conference loss in the nine games played between them and both have racked up wins at a feverish pace over the last month. Victors in 18 of their last 21 games, the Terrapins head to Lincoln for a showdown against a Cornhusker team that has gone 15-4-1 in their last 20 games.

Last weekend, Maryland (19-8, 5-1) swept a road series at Rutgers while Nebraska (17-10-1) almost matched the feat in Bloomington, winning the first two games against Indiana before a travel curfew ended the series finale in a 1-1 ties after 11 innings. With the season’s midpoint here, Maryland is a projected NCAA Tournament team by D1Baseball.com and Baseball America, with the Cornhuskers among the first teams left outside of the field of 64. Both seeking their first Big Ten championship, and with Minnesota’s series against Rutgers cancelled, the weekend provides a prime opportunity for both to take a big step toward their goals.

The two teams enter the weekend with almost identical batting averages, Nebraska’s .267 clip just edges Maryland’s .266 average, but the Terrapins who a decisive advantage in power, a 26 home runs to nine, and stolen bases, 58 swipes against 24. On the other side of the ball is where Nebraska hold the advantage. The Cornhuskers have pitched to a 3.18 ERA, second in the Big Ten. Maryland pitchers have a cumulative 3.68 ERA.

Game two of the series will be broadcast live on BTN, providing a national audience for this key series.

Elsewhere around the conference

A series moved, another cancelled

Inclement weather and scrambled Big Ten baseball schedules are expected this time of year. But what occurred this week is beyond the normal unexpectedness.

Heavy rains throughout mid-Michigan caused flooding and made Michigan State’s Kobs Field unplayable this weekend for the Spartans non-conference series against Fresno State. As a result, the two teams will square off in Grand Rapids, an hour-drive west of East Lansing, playing a doubleheader on Saturday before concluding the series with a finale on Sunday.

But at least the two are schedule for three games, that’s not the case for Minnesota at Rutgers.

After starting the Big Ten season with consecutive road sweeps, the Gophers were set to begin the home conference season with a game tonight against Rutgers. But the weather system that left Michigan State’s home field underway, caused flight cancellations throughout the east coast on Thursday night, leaving the Scarlet Knights without a flight into Minneapolis. Friday’s game was cancelled with Rutgers, before the teams announced the entire weekend series has been called off with Rutgers unable to find a viable travel option. Minnesota’s 6-0 conference record, 19-8 overall, will remain intact while the Scarlet Knights must wait another weekend to seek for their first Big Ten victory, remaining 0-3, 10-18 overall.

Nittany Lions host Buckeyes in critical series

Penn State (10-17) is set to host Ohio State (12-16) for the first time since 2012. Ohio State’s first trip to State College to take on a Rob Cooper-led team, Penn State welcomes their border rivals for a big series. As the calendar has not yet hit Tax Day, it’s too early to panic, and the Buckeyes did overcome a 2-5 conference start to have a chance at the title in the last weekend, on their way to an NCAA Tournament appearance. But with Ohio State’s 1-5 conference record and Penn State’s 0-3 Big Ten mark, it’s important for each team to start getting wins soon, and with the two potentially fighting for one of the final tournament spots, the weekend winner getting a tiebreaking advantage can go a long way.

In spacious Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, hits may be at a premium. Ohio State’s .238 team batting average is 12th in the conference, only Penn State’s .230 clip is worse.

Required reading

Terrapins’ aggressive style heightens Huskers’ intensity entering weekend series -Evan Bland, Omaha World-Herald

Penn State baseball to host Ohio State, five games in five days -Kara Duriez, The Daily Collegian

Purdue’s Hunter proving his worth -Sam King, Lafayette Journal & Courier

Lugbauer’s surge powers Michigan’s offense -Jacob Shames, The Michigan Daily

Wildcats seek first conference win in weekend series against Iowa -Joseph Wilkinson, The Daily Northwestern

The 10 Spot: First half moments

This week’s 10 Spot is a look back on the top 10 moments of the first half of the season around Big Ten baseball. From the continued run of facility enhancement, pitching duels, home run heroics and honoring the spirit of two courageous men, here’s the best of the first eight weeks.

Fred Hill Training Complex opens

Three weeks before the first pitch of the season was thrown, a milestone moment occurred. On Jan. 31, a ribbon ceremony was held to formally introduce the new, and much-needed, indoor home for Rutgers baseball and softball, the Fred Hill Training Complex. The state-of-the-art facility features a fully turfed indoor diamond, over an indoor space big enough to feature six drop down batting tunnels and pitching mounds. The Fred Hill Training Complex is the first new athletic facility on Rutgers’ campus in a generation and allows the diamond teams to escape the gymnasium’s cramped conditions of the Rutgers Athletic Center.

Glowicki closes the door in Irvine

Torrential rains and once-a-decade flooding in southern California postponed Minnesota’s season opener at UC-Irvine a day. When Minnesota was able to take the field on Feb. 18, in hopes of reaching a second consecutive regional, the Gophers unleashed a weapon. Looking to close out a 9-8 win, senior right-handed pitcher Brian Glowicki was called upon to shut down the heart of the Anteater order which featured DH Keston Hiura, a potential top-10 overall draft pick. Glowicki handled the task with ease. Two strikeouts, including one on a fastball by Hiura, and a pop up closed the victory. It was the first of already 11 saves for Glowicki, who has a .52 ERA in 17.1 innings.

Ohio State beats Oregon State

At 25-1, Oregon State is the consensus #1 team in the country. The Beavers have won 20 in a roll to take a solid perch atop the polls. But the Beavers aren’t invincible, as the Buckeyes of Ohio State know. On the second day of the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge, Ohio State defeated Oregon State, 6-1. Junior right-handed pitcher Yianni Pavlopoulos pitched six innings of shutout baseball with sophomore third baseman Brady Cherry picking up a two-run home run to power the Buckeyes to victory.

Jaskie vs. Canning

On March 3, in Michigan’s first game of the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic, Wolverine junior left-handed pitcher Oliver Jaskie went toe-to-toe against UCLA’s Griffin Canning, a potential first-round draft pick, producing a top notch pitching duel. Over six innings, Jaskie held the Bruins to three hits, allowing no runs, while striking out six batters against four walks. Canning equally stymied Michigan, holding the Wolverines to three hits in eight innings, striking out 12 batters while walking three. UCLA won, 1-0, in the bottom of the ninth on a throwing error.

Nebraska blanks Arizona, jump starts seasons

On March 4, a 15-5 loss to Arkansas dropped Nebraska to 2-6. A year after reaching the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years, the Huskers looked dead in the water with a date against last year’s national runners-up, Arizona, awaiting. Behind junior left-handed pitcher Jake Meyers, Nebraska blanked the Wildcats, 1-0. In the 20 games since the lost to Arkansas, Nebraska is 15-4-1.

Heller wins #800

Iowa’s 15-7 win over Lehigh, on March 12, gave Hawkeye head coach Rick Heller his 800th career win. In his 30th season as a head coach, Heller has guided four programs to the NCAA Tournament: Iowa, Indiana State, Northern Iowa and Upper Iowa. Iowa is 119-76 under Heller, who’s in his fourth season leading the Hawkeyes..

Troop twirls a gem, hits a homer

Michigan State redshirt-sophomore Alex Troop showed why he is one of the country’s best two-way players in two games against South Carolina. On the road, against the top-10 Gamecocks, Troop, a left-handed pitcher, tossed a three-hitter, allowing three runs, two earned, in receiving a tough luck loss, as Michigan State fell 3-2. The next day, as MSU’s DH, Troop hit a home run off USC’s Wil Crowe, a projected first-round pick.

Weber’s near no-no

A day after Troop’s strong outing in Columbia, S.C, Illinois freshman left-hander Ty Weber cooked up a quality starter of his own. In Conway, S.C., against the reigning national champions, Coastal Carolina, Weber carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning, losing it just six outs from history. Unfortunately the Illini lost 3-2, on back-to-back home runs, but in the no decision Weber was special. The southpaw allowed one run off one hit in 7.2 innings, walking four with six punchouts.

Three-homer mania

In an eight-day span, five Big Ten players hit three home runs in a game. Yes, three homer runs. Yes, five different players. Starting with Iowa’s Jake Adams and Ohio State’s Noah McGowan on March 19, respectively at Kansas State and Xavier, the trifecta continued the following weekend, starting on March 24 with Indiana’s Matt Lloyd in game one of a doubleheader against Northwestern, before Rutgers Jawuan Harris matched the feat the next day at USC-Upstate. And one week after Adams and McGowan’s three round-trippers, Michigan State’s Brandon Hughes did it at Illinois.

Zach Farmer Memorial Game

On March 25, in the first game of a doubleheader against Minnesota, Ohio State played the Zach Farmer Memorial Game. In August 2015, Farmer, a would-be junior left-handed pitcher, passed away after a fight with acute myeloid leukemia. It was the same battle fought by longtime Minnesota pitching coach Todd Oakes, who passed away last May. The game was a reminder that nobody fights alone, and continued to bring awareness to Be the Match, the national bone marrow donor program.

Midseason roundtable

Big Ten teams are heading into the eighth weekend of play, reaching the halfway point of the college baseball season. With the race for the conference crown shaping up and teams putting together resumes in hopes of a return to the NCAA Tournament, 10 Innings’ Blake Dowson, Burke Granger and Chris Webb share their thoughts on the first half of the season across the Big Ten.

What’s the top storyline of the first half of the season?

BD:  Minnesota. The Gophers leaned heavily on upperclassmen during last year’s Big Ten championship run. Austin Athmann, Matt Fiedler, Dan Motl, and Connor Schaefbauer are no longer in the Gopher lineup. Those four combined for 303 hits, 149 RBI, and 159 runs last year. Without them, Minnesota is undefeated in the Big Ten and 19-8 overall, with sweeps over Michigan State and Ohio State after being picked to finish sixth in the preseason. The Gophers land in the top half of the conference in team batting average, on-base percentage, team earned run average, opposing batting average, and team fielding percentage.

BG: Maryland’s hot streak. After a 1-5 start through the season’s first two weekends, all they’ve done is go 18-3 since, take two of three against a very good Michigan team, and they’re back in the national rankings.

CW: The little attention the Big Ten is garnering. What Michigan and Minnesota are doing shouldn’t be a surprise with who each team returned. But neither team loaded up on summer league all-stars or filled up prospect lists to enter the season with little fanfare. While Michigan was ranked for most of March, most are just now noticing what Minnesota is doing. Both have legitimate chances of hosting a regional. Add those two with Maryland, the season Iowa is putting together, Nebraska getting it turned around, and while stumbling of late, Michigan State’s pitching and power ability, this is an extremely deep Big Ten season. I guess there hasn’t been a “wow” series the Big Ten can hang its hat on, but something feels off with just how few headlines the conference has made so far. NCAA Tournament projections from Baseball America and D1Baseball do have Maryland, Michigan and Minnesota appearing in an regional, so people are aware there’s good teams, but it doesn’t quite feel like there’s an appreciation for the quality season thus far and the depth of the conference.

 

Which team has most exceeded expectations in your eyes?

BD: Purdue. The Boilermakers’ 15-13, 3-3 record isn’t flashy enough to get people talking about them outside of the conference, but considering where the team came from last year, a record above .500 is no small feat. Purdue has already eclipsed its win total from a year ago (10), as well as conference wins (2). With weekend series against Rutgers, Illinois, and Northwestern left on the schedule, Purdue could be on its way to its best season since it qualified for the NCAA Tournament back in 2012.

BG: Minnesota. Though they took home the Big Ten championship last season, they lost four players to the draft and I thought Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska would all finish above Minnesota in the standings.  They still might, but the Gophers stand at 19-8 overall and 6-0 in the conference so they can’t be ignored.

CW: Iowa. I’ll one day learn to not to doubt a team coached by Rick Heller. I thought going into the season the losses of Joel Booker, Tyler Peyton and Nick Roscetti would be be tough to overcome, and while safely in the Big Ten Tournament mix, a shot at a regional berth would be a year away. Midway through the year the Hawkeyes are in a position to chase down a second NCAA Tournament trip in three years.

 

Which team has not lived up to your preseason expectations?

BD: Ohio State. The Buckeyes weren’t expected to contend for a Big Ten title this season. In the conference’s preseason rankings, Ohio State didn’t land in the top-6. But there is an expectation in Columbus to take care of business against in-state teams like Xavier, who the Buckeyes got swept by in mid-March. Two losses to a mediocre Purdue team and another sweep at the hands of Minnesota has Ohio State in a bad spot and in danger of finishing below .500 for the first time in six years.

BG: Ohio State.  Perhaps I should have seen it coming after losing six players to the MLB Draft, but I thought the Buckeyes, having won the conference tournament last season, would be more competitive.  

CW: Michigan State. The Spartans were not only my preseason Big Ten champion, but for the last 13 months I viewed this year as a regional hosting season for Michigan State. With series still to come against Maryland, Michigan and Nebraska, they certainly can fight their way back and achieve both. But the manner in which Minnesota swept Michigan State, was the same in South Carolina’s two victories over Jake Boss’ team and it’s a cause for concern. MSU is right there, they can go toe-to-toe with anyone, but there’s an inability to get over that hump. MSU now has a five-game skid going into their conference bye week and need to figure out who’s the player that’s going to be their Ronnie Dawson, David Kerian or Sam Travis.

 

Looking back, which weekend result did you not see coming?

BD: Minnesota’s sweep of Michigan State. The Gophers officially announced themselves as a threat in the Big Ten after sweeping the Spartans to get to 6-0 in the conference. Both teams came into the weekend at 3-0 in Big Ten play, but the Spartans left the weekend with their tails between their legs. Minnesota won a pair of one-run contests on Saturday before tagging Michigan State with 9 runs on Sunday, touching all four Spartan pitchers for at least one run.

BG: Michigan taking two of three in the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic.  Their only loss came in a 1-0 duel to UCLA where Oliver Jaskie nearly matched Griffin Canning, a potential day-one MLB Draft selection, blow for blow. This was a statement weekend for Michigan and it’s refreshing to see a cold weather teams play well in an early season invitational.

CW: LSU’s sweep of Maryland. It’s not that LSU isn’t a good team, the Tigers are, but Maryland wasn’t all that competitive in the series. I expected a better showing by the Terps in the Bayou, with Brian Shaffer and Taylor Bloom leading the way to a big weekend victory, putting a bullet on Maryland’s regional résumé.

Of note, strictly on looking back with no consideration of preseason expectations, that a scuffling Ohio State team is the lone loss on #1 Oregon State’s record is noteworthy.

 

Who is your first half Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Pitcher?

BD:  Most Valuable Player: Jake Adams, Iowa. Adams, who was targeted by Iowa out of Des Moines Area Community College to replace Tyler Peyton in the lineup and at first base, has been better than anyone expected. The South Dakota native has hit for power and average. Adams is tied for first in home runs (11), is first in RBI (37) and total bases (74), second in slugging (.698), fifth in hits (36), and tied for tenth in average (.340). You can live with his 24 strikeouts compared to 12 walks with the amount of power he brings to the table.

Most Valuable Pitcher: Brian Shaffer, Maryland. Shaffer has filled the void that Shawaryn left and then some. He holds a 4-1 record with a league-leading 1.70 ERA, while throwing five more innings than anyone else in the Big Ten. His 52 strikeouts are second only to Oliver Jaskie in the conference, and his .187 batting average/against is third among qualified pitchers. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Shaffer is dominating in his junior season — in his sophomore season he finished with 8 wins, 103 innings, and a 2.60 ERA, along with a complete game shutout against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament.

BG:  Most Valuable Player: Pat McInerney, Illinois.  Most Valuable Pitcher: Shaffer.

CW: Most Valuable Player: Adams. Even with Robert Neustrom blossoming into a top flight outfielder and Mason McCoy being the Big Ten’s top all around shortstop, the offense is at a different level due to Adams. He’s been an anchor in the lineup, producing big hits and giving the Hawkeyes a power threat they’ve yet to have in the Heller Era.

Most Valuable Pitcher: Shaffer. As Blake laid out, Shaffer is doing Shaffer things. He’s doing exactly what was expected in the preseason.

*But, if there is only one MVP, it’d be Michigan State’s Alex Troop for what he has done as the Spartans’ ace and providing a big bat in the lineup, becoming the conference’s premier two-way player.

Midweek wrap

Nebraska takes two from in-state rivals

Nebraska picked up two midweek victories to record their eighth victory in 10 games, with a tie included. Darin Erstad’s team now stands at 17-10-1 on the season.

On Tuesday, the Huskers used 19 hits to defeat Creighton, 14-6. Leading Nebraska to season-high totals in hits and runs, four Huskers recorded three-hit games: shortstop Angelo Altavilla (3-for-5), left fielder Luis Alvarado (3-for-3), third baseman Luke Roskam (3-for-4) and catcher Jesse Wilkening (3-for-4). Altavilla, Roskam and Wilkening each drove in two runs with Alvarado crossing home twice.

Much of Nebraska’s offensive output occurred in a 10-run second inning. The eight-hit inning started with Alvarado recording a one-out single, and included a three-run home run by pitcher Ben Miller, who batted for himself. Nebraska sent 14 batters to the plate in the team’s first 10-run inning since April 2014.

Leading 10-1, Nebraska’s second home run of the game came in the sixth when first baseman Scott Schreiber matched Miller with three home runs on the year, a part of a three-run inning. Creighton scored five times in the eighth, before NU countered with a run in their at-bat to conclude Tuesday’s scoring.

Nebraska’s victory over Omaha on Wednesday didn’t quite have the offensive punch, but three runs were good enough for a victory in a game where the Huskers held the Mavericks to one run. Ethan Fraizer and Nate Fisher held Omaha to five hits over 5.2 innings, before Jake McSteen worked a scoreless inning and Chad Luensmann closed the game with a seven-out save.

Nebraska struck first with a Schreiber RBI-single in the top of the first inning. Omaha tied the game with a run in the bottom of the second, and the game remained 1-1 through six innings. With Omaha’s help, Nebraska grabbed the lead, a wild pitch scoring a pinch runner, Alex Henwood, who went 1st-to-3rd on a single by Jake Schleppenbach and Roskam opened the inning with a single. Schleppenbach added another RBI in the ninth, driving in a run on a fielder’s choice, to give the game its final 3-1 score.

Michigan rallies to turn back Notre Dame

In a Tuesday night affair between longtime rivals, Michigan fell behind 3-0 after one Notre Dame at-bat in the top of the first inning. But the Wolverines did not allow the Irish to score any more runs the rest of the game, and clawed back to pick up a 4-3 victory.

Junior right-handed pitcher Alex Rennard settled in after the shaky start, finishing with a 4.1-inning outing, where he scattered seven hits and allowed the three early runs. With Rennard holding Notre Dame at bay, Michigan found it’s mojo at the plate. Michigan scratched out a run in third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings to start, sustain and cap the comeback.

From there, freshman left-handed pitcher Tommy Henry tossed 3.2 innings of two-hit baseball before senior right-handed pitcher Jackson Lamb closed the door with a scoreless ninth, recording his seventh save of the season. DH Nick Porier and right fielder Jonathan Engelmann both went 3-for-3, with Michigan’s respective seven-hole hitter scoring twice in front of the eight-hold batter driving in two runs. With a bases loaded walk and sacrifice fly, senior center fielder Johnny Slater drove in a pair of wins as Michigan improved to 23-9 on the season, dropping Notre Dame to 11-17.

Gophers streak hits 10

Minnesota’s first game at Siebert Field got off to an inauspicious start with North Dakota State scoring a run in the top of the first. But the early deficit was no problem for the Gophers as Minnesota rallied for a 7-1 victory over NDSU (11-15), winning its tenth consecutive game.

Now 19-8 on the season, Minnesota used a three-run third inning to march towards victory. After an RBI on a bases loaded fielder’s choice by Micah Coffey, Toby Anderson sent a two-run single through the left side to put Minnesota out in front. Hanson gave Minnesota its fourth run of the game with an RBI-grounder in the fifth, before Minnesota scored twice in the sixth to put the game away. The scoring closed with a run in the eighth with Coffey lifting a sacrifice fly to right, driving in the seventh Gopher of the game.

Freshman right-handed pitcher Nolan Burchill pitched 5.1 innings, allowing just the one run off four hits. Coffey picked up a pair of hits in his other two at-bats to for 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI, and Eli Wilson and Ben Mezzenga each collected two hits over three at-bats, combining for five runs scored.

Iowa stays hot at home, perfect in midweek

A 17-game midweek-winning streak was in danger with Iowa trailing 3-2 to South Dakota State at the stretch of Tuesday night’s game. But in moving to 10-1 at home, the Hawkeyes found a way to eek out another victory, coming back to win 4-3, winning a seventh straight contest.

South Dakota State (13-11) scored first with a run in the top of the first. Iowa (18-9) got on board, and grabbed the lead, in the third inning, with a two-run home run by first baseman Jake Adams, connecting on his 11 home run of the season, tied for the most in the Big Ten. South Dakota State knotted the game in their next at-bat, before moving in front 3-2 with a run in the fifth.

But the Hawkeyes rebounded after the stretch, using a two-run seventh to continue a midweek unbeaten streak which dates back to 2015. Third baseman Mitchell Boe drew a leadoff walk, before  shortstop Mason McCoy doubled to right field, two batters later, to two in scoring position. Adams hit a soft grounder back to SDSU pitcher to drive in McCoy to tie the game. The next batter, right fielder Robert Neustrom, doubled down the left field led to score McCoy and lift the Hawkeyes to victory.

Ratcliff’s grand slam powers Buckeye rally

Before the skies opened over Central Ohio and forced Ohio State’s Wendesday night contest against Kent State to be called after seven innings, senior DH Zach Ratcliff proved the Buckeyes with some thunder.

Three runs in the first, three more in the second and one in the third allowed the visiting Golden Flashes to quickly jump out of the gate and enjoy a 7-0 lead. The Buckeyes closed the gap with a bases loaded-double by freshman right fielder Dominic Canzone, producing a three-run inning in the bottom of the third. Kent State(17-10) added a run in the top of the fourth, before Ratcliff and the Buckeyes reset the game.

Four walks in the inning, the latter three coming with two outs, plated Ohio State’s fourth run and bring the game back to a four-run margin. With the bases loaded, Ratcliff hit a liner over the left center wall, making his fifth home run of the season his first career grand slam, tying the game 8-8. In Ohio State’s next at-bat, after working a one-out walk and advancing to third on a single by Tre’ Gantt, Bo Coolen crossed home with Gantt in a rundown, the first baseman’s steal of home put the Buckeyes in front 9-8.

The teams played two scoreless innings before lightning and heavy rains came, giving Ohio State the seven-inning victory to improve to 12-16.

Elsewhere

Three runs over the first three innings by Indiana State (13-12) were too much for Purdue (15-13) to overcome Tuesday night, falling 5-2. The Sycamores won their fourth straight game in West Lafayette behind a four-inning, one-hit effort from starter Triston Pompey. Skylar Hunter and Jacson McGowan each picked up two hits as Purdue was held to five for the game.

Four of Michigan State’s last five games have been decided by a run. Unfortunately for the Spartans, each game has resulted in a loss. Traveling to Eastern Michigan (10-18) on Tuesday, Michigan State (15-10)was again close, but not good enough,  falling 4-3. Spartan pitchers held the Eagles to four hits, but five walks and an error aided EMU’s effort.  Sophomore shortstop Royce Ando went 2-for-3 with a triple, a run scored and RBI to lead MSU.

Penn State received back-to-back home runs by Jordan Bowersox and Christian Helsel in the top of the fifth inning, but the solo shots were the lone runs PSU scored on the evening, falling to Pittsburgh, 3-2, Tuesday night. The loss snapped a 15-game winning streak against in-state competition for Penn State, now 10-17 on the year, including a four-game run against Pitt who improved to 14-12 with the victory.

Maryland rallied from a 9-4 deficit, heading into the bottom of the second inning, for 12-11 win over Richmond (11-16). Improving to 11-1 at home, 19-8 overall, Maryland used a three-run home run by Nick Cieri in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game, 11-11, before Zach Jancarski used an RBI-single to left for Tuesday afternoon’s game-winning hit.

Freshman second baseman Michael Massey recorded four RBI in a two-home run game to lead Illinois (10-16) past Missouri (21-8), 5-3, Tuesday night in a neutral site contest in Sauget, Illinois. Sophomore outfielder Jack Yalowitz also dialed up a long ball to give Illinois 30 for the year, leading the Big Ten, and help power the Illini to a fourth straight win. Massey and Yalowitz, Illinois’ 1-2 hitters, each went 3-for-4.

It was a home run that capped Indiana’s 3-2 victory over Ball State on Tuesday night. In the bottom of the 11th, sophomore DH Matt Lloyd lifted his sixth homer of the year over the right field wall to give IU (15-11-2) the walk-off win over Ball State (11-18). Lloyd with 3-for-4 with two RBI, and also pitched 1.2 scoreless innings of relief to power the Hoosiers to victory.

Rutgers was on the wrong side of a 3-2 game, falling on the road to Villanova, Wednesday afternoon. After Villanova (4-16) scored a run in the bottom of the first, RU leveled the score in their next at-bat. But the see-saw affair went the way of the Wildcats, as Villanova scored twice in the sixth after Rutgers grabbed a 2-1 lead in their sixth-inning at-bat. Both teams were held to seven hits, with five for Rutgers (10-18) coming between Mike Carter and Mike Martinez.