The Ten: Big Ten Tourney Nebraska

Nebraska used Purdue’s help to claim its first Big Ten baseball championship. With the Boilermakers winning its season-ending series at Minnesota, the door opened for the Huskers to grab the title. Entering the Big Ten Tournament as the top seed, the first foe for the Huskers was the Boilermakers. Nebraska didn’t return any favors to Purdue, capping the first day of action with a 15-9 win over boys from West Lafayette. Due to rain and the length of the day’s play, a reshuffled tournament schedule saw the Huskers have an off-day on Thursday. No fear, here’s the 10 on a mix of Wednesday highlights, thoughts and notes on Darin Erstad’s club.

No title hangover

The Huskers didn’t enter the game just going through the motions. Though they were fresh off of a 21-run output to claim the title and taking on the eighth seed, Nebraska stormed out of the gates. Back-to-back doubles to start the game were part of a four-run first inning. As the game wore on, the hot start was needed.

Hohensee answers the bell

Nebraska’s quick start was countered by Purdue putting up five runs in the top of the second. Though he relinquished a four-run lead, credit Nebraska starter Jake Hohensee for responding and taming the Boilermakers for the rest of his start. Pitching six innings, the right-handered surrendered only one other run, striking out six batters while scattering seven hits. After the rocky second, Hohensee tossed back-to-back 1-2-3 innings, keeping the Nebraska bullpen quiet.

MoJo maina

Husker faithful have questioned and expressed their disbelief in MoJo Hagge’s absence from the Big Ten All-Freshman team. In his first game after the honors were announced, Hagge showed an impressive all-around game. At the plate, Hagge went 2-for-5 with two runs, two RBI and a home run. Hagge showed an impressive glove in the outfield, including a leaping rob of an extra-base hit.

Miller and Schreiber bring big sticks

The heart of the Husker lineup provided serious thump in Nebraska’s 15-run output. DH Scott Schreiber picked up four RBI and scored four runs, hitting a home run and adding a double. Behind him, first baseman Ben Miller drove in three runs behind a pair of doubles in four at-bats. After a slow start to the season, Schreiber is batting .336 with Miller checking in at .300, provided a potent 1-2 punch.

Schleppenbach continues late-season tear

He bats eighth, but Nebraska second baseman Jake Schleppenbach has been on fire against Big Ten foes. In Nebraska’s 16-7-1 conference showing, Schleppenbach hit .352 with eight doubles and three home runs. The postseason hasn’t slowed the senior, as Schleppenbach went 2-for-4 with a walk, collecting a double and scoring two runs. Schleppenbach’s presence allows Nebraska to have a bottom of the order a guy capable of driving in a runner from first baseball.

Coming up clutch

The Huskers put up big numbers in big situations. Nebraska went 5-for-13 with two outs, 8-for-21 with runners on, 6-for-15 with runners in scoring position and a most impressive 5-for-6 with runners at third base and less than two outs. In 29 advancement opportunities, 19 Huskers moved up at least at base. In the 13-hit attack, Nebraska shined when it mattered most.

Setting up the weekend

After Hohensee pitched six innings, Erstad only needed to use reliever Robbie Palkert to finish the game. Purdue did score a run in each of the final three innings, but with a large enough lead Palkert wasn’t in any danger. In only using two pitchers to get through the opening game, the Huskers bullpen is rested for the weekend. All starters can take the mound without any extra pressure of going as long as possible, and even Palkert is in good shape to bounce back, tossing 44 pitches.

Losing streak snapped

Though Nebraska entered the tournament with a pair of second-place finishes, they were riding a four-game losing streak. Since finishing runners-up to Indiana in the 2014 tournament, back-to-back 0-2 showings befell the Huskers. Now, after claiming their first conference championship, an end to the dry-spell has Nebraska zeroing in on its first tournament title.

Rain give Huskers extra rest

While it rained on and off all, only one game, the third of the day, was slightly delayed, and each game was played without pause. But the slight setback caused the fourth and final game of the game to be pushed to Thursday. As a result, Nebraska’s game against the winner of Maryland-Iowa was delayed until Friday. The tournament’s Wednesday start meant the eight teams were on short rest for a second consecutive week, but in playing Friday, Nebraska starter Derek Burkamper will now have a full week of rest between starts.

Hawkeyes await

The winner of that Maryland-Iowa game was the Hawkeyes, moving on with a 9-8 victory. Rick Heller’s team was the lone conference club to take a weekend set from Nebraska, winning two of three games in Lincoln, April 14-16. The Huskers meet a Hawkeye team that has won four of its last five Big Ten Tournament games, finishing runners-up to Ohio State last year, ready to lay it all on the line in needing the tournament’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament to play next week.

The Ten: Big Ten Tourney G2

Northwestern’s white-hot finish to the regular season isn’t showing signs of cooling down. Against the Big Ten’s most dominant closer, the Wildcats mounted a three-run, last-at-bat rally, to take a stunning 6-4 victory in the second game of Wednesday play in Bloomington. Here’s the 10 highlights, moments and thoughts from Northwestern’s 6-4 win.

The Wildcats find their power

Northwestern’s initial 1-0 lead and its 3-1 third-inning advantage were both produced by home runs. Connor Lind started the scoring in the top of the second with a solo home run to right field. In the Wildcats’ next at-bat, Alex Erro pulled a two-run homer to right field, too. Their respective third and fifth home runs of the season, Lind and Erro’s four-base hits were a bit of a surprise as the catalyst to NU’s early offense. Northwestern finished the regular season with 23 home runs, only the 20 by Nebraska were fewer.

Erro shows ability beyond years

Erro’s fifth home run moved him into a tie for the team lead with Joe Hoscheit. In addition to showing a good amount of pop for  a freshman, Erro shows an understanding of the plate beyond what one would expect from a rookie. In going 2-for-5, Erro’s average is up to .293, but more impressively, in 215 at-bats, the second baseman has only struck out 15 times. Against Michigan starter Ryan Nutof, who set a career-high with 10 strikeouts, Erro did not go down on strikes once.

Slater’s soaring stock

Michigan senior center fielder Johnny Slater continued his all-around season. With a solo home run in the third inning to halve Michigan’s 3-1 deficit, Slater collected his fourth home run of the season. Entering the season with a career average of .207, going 1-for-3 with a walk, Slater’s average is up to .310, collecting 61 hits in 197 at-bats, with 11 doubles, seven triples and the four home runs. In center field, Slater has compiled an impressive 107 putouts, using good speed which has lead to 14 stolen bases in 14 attempts. Slater’s breakthrough season has caught the eye of scouts, his home run on Wednesday coming at a good time with 27 MLB representatives present.

Nutof settles in, racks up punchouts

With Erro’s home run, Nutof had allowed three runs off four hits, three extra-base hits, with only six outs under his belt. The Michigan bullpen started to rumble, but that would be the last trouble Nutof ran into. The right-hander scattered only two other hits over the next 4.1 innings of work, keeping Erik Bakich from turning to his bullpen earlier than desired, keeping Michigan in good shape to battle through the loser’s bracket. As he settled in, Nutof needed only 85 pitches to punch out 10 Wildcats, peppering the strike zone throughout his start.

Brdar dazzles in the field

There’s no other way to describe the defensive plays made by Michigan senior shortstop Michael Brdar, incredible.

Lawrence gives NU what it needs

After Michigan grabbed the 4-3 lead with two runs in the fifth, freshman right-handed pitcher Sam Lawrence gave everything head coach Spencer Allen could have asked for. While the Wildcats are taking to the week with an “all hands on-deck” approach to its pitchers, Lawrence made life easy with 3+ innings of one-hit, scoreless relief. Lawrence tossed 22 strikes in 34 pitches, striking out three Wolverines without a walk. Lawrence did plunk Wolverine Jake Bivens to start the ninth, but he put zeros on the scoreboard until Pete Hoffman could go 1-2-3 to secure the Wildcat win.

Lamb perfect no more

Michigan closer Jackson Lamb had defied logic all year, going through the regular season with a 0.00 ERA. It wasn’t a small sample either, the senior right-handed pitcher logged 28 innings over 25 outings. But in the new season that is the postseason, Lamb’s outing was forgettable, allowing back-to-back singles to start the ninth, before issuing a four-pitch walk to load the bases. Three batters and three base runners in, Lamb’s left without recording an out. All three runners he was responsible for scored as NU mounted its rally. Even with the three runs, Lamb’s ERA is a microscopic 0.96 and he’s still one save from having sole possession of Michigan’s single-season saves record.

Northwestern not engulfed in the moment

For a team making its first postseason appearance in seven years, Northwestern did not wilt under pressure, in fact, the Wildcats flourished. NU showed no intimidation by Nutof’s mid-90s fastball, taking the early lead on home runs, and were not phased by Lamb’s 0.00 ERA when entering the ninth trailing. Head coach Spencer Allen attested Northwestern’s readiness for the moment to playing postseason baseball for the last month, needing to get hot just to make the field. Now, winners of 8-2, there’s nothing to say Northwestern doesn’t have full belief they can’t win this thing.

Michigan isn’t resting on its resume

If you thought Michigan was resting on its top-30 RPI and 40-win season, tending to matters this week in go hard, but not all-out effort to be rested and ready for next week, you’d be wrong. In his postgame press conference, Bakich says his team has prepared since Sept. 1 to be champions and they will fight their way back through the tournament, one game at a time, to be champions. While Michigan appears to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament, Bakich is not assuming that, he wants the auto-big and the title that comes with it.

The Ten: Big Ten Tourney G1

The 2017 Big Ten Baseball Tournament started under gray skies and light rain coming down throughout the opening game between the tournament’s third seed Minnesota and sixth-seeded Indiana. In Bloomington, a comeback win for the Gophers saw the Hoosier faithful who braved the conditions leave Bart Kaufman Field in a gloomy mood. Here’s 10 highlights, moments and thoughts from Minnesota’s 5-4 win.

The weather was good enough

It was far from ideal game conditions, soggy and the temperature in the 50s, but the weather held off enough for the game to get in and played without any delay. Where up to 15 games need played by the end of Sunday to determine a conference champion, starting the tournament without a hitch is pretty important. To the benefit of the Big Ten, Bart  Kaufman Field has a turf field, the first time in the tournament’s history its been played on an artificial surface.

The Hoosiers strong support

And while the weather conditions weren’t the best to play baseball in, the steady stream of drizzle made sitting in the stands to watch the game pretty unbearable. Indiana was praised going into the tournament for the fan support it has built up over the last handful of years and the turnout by Hoosier Nation didn’t disappoint. Indiana’s athletic department deserves praise for embracing the tournament, and the fans earn a kudos for a strong turn out in subpar weather.

Indiana unable to take advantage

Though Minnesota out-hit Indiana, 10-7, IU had its share of advantages to take the tight contest. Minnesota starting pitcher Lucas Gilbreath issued two walks and tossed two wild pitches, and catcher Matt Stemper allowed a passed ball. The Hoosiers were successful in stealing three bases in three attempts, but a 2-8 showing with runners in scoring position doomed IU.

Gilbreath sharp enough

It was a pedestrian line, four runs allowed, all earned, off six hits in 5.1 innings, but Minnesota junior left-handed pitcher Lucas Gilbreath was good enough to keep his team in the game and give the Hoosiers a chance to win. The southpaw struck out six batters, tossing 53 of 90 pitches for strikes. In pitching into the sixth, Gilbreath helped save the Minnesota bullpen, John Anderson needing to only used Fred Manke and closer Brian Glowicki to secure the win.

Dedelow goes deep

Indiana has been the Big Ten’s most prolific home run-hitting team, entering the tournament with a conference-best 63. For the 27 MLB scouts on hand, the raw power up and down the IU lineup tickles their fancy. The Hoosiers’ home run attack is lead by senior outfielder Craig Dedelow, who collected 15 home runs during the final regular season of his career. Dedelow’s 16th home run of the year came in the fourth inning, giving Indiana it’s first lead of the game at 2-1. Dedelow leads a quartet of Hoosiers with at least nine home runs this season, where needing to go through the loser’s bracket, Indiana has the firepower to generate offense in a hurry.

Kozicky continues banner season

Named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team, Minnesota redshirt-freshman Jordan Kozicky dazzled in the regular season, compiling 48 hits in 141 at-bats for a .340 average. With an aggressive, fastball-seeking approach, Kozicky sent a two-run home run to left, in the bottom of the fifth, bringing the Gophers back within a run, 4-3, after Indiana jumped in front 4-1 with two runs in the top of the fifth. Kozicky’s fourth home run of the year came after two strikeouts in his first two at-bats, as he continues to be a spark plug atop the Gopher batting order.

Two-out hits the difference

Four of Minnesota’s five runs came with two outs. In the first, a single up the middle by Toby Hanson scored Terrin Varva, who doubled down the left field line two batters before. Kozicky’s home run came with two down and the winning run, Luke Pettersen scoring in the bottom of the seventh, came off a two-out single up the middle by Vavra. Adding further frustration to the Hoosiers and their inability to close out the inning, the hits by Hanson, Stemper’s sacrifice fly to score Coffey and Pettersen’s game-winning hit all came with two strikes.

Coffey’s heads up play

After Kozicky’s fifth-inning home run brought Minnesota within a run, the Hoosiers were set to find a bit of breathing room in their next at-bat. Third baseman Luke Miller opened the sixth with a single to left, moved to second on a throwing error off a sacrifice bunt attempt and advanced to third on an ensuing sacrifice bunt. On the first pitch from Manke, catcher Ryan Fineman skied a ball to center field, deep enough to have Miller cross home, giving IU a 5-3 lead. But Minnesota third baseman Micah Coffey, who earlier committed the throwing error, asked for an appeal, which was successful as Miller was determined to leave third early, erasing the run and getting Minnesota out of the inning. In their at-bat, it was Coffey who scored from third on a sacrifice to tie the game, 4-4.

Glowicki shows dominant form

Entering the game with a Hoosier on first, Glowicki was ask to record four outs to close the Gopher win. Picking up his 16th save of the season, Glowicki did just that. Using a fastball that the Bart Kaufman Field scoreboard said was between 91 and 94 MPH, Glowicki retired all four Hoosiers he faced, setting a new single-season saves record for the Golden Gophers. Glowicki is now in a tie with Louisville’s Lincoln Henzman for the most saves in the country.

At-large stays a possibility

Entering the tournament with an RPI of 81, Minnesota would need the Big Ten’s automatic bid to reach the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive season if its spot in the ranking stayed still. But in beating Indiana, the No. 28 RPI team, Minnesota a chance to make a strong move up the rankings. The upward trend has a chance to continue if two-see Michigan, the No. 29 RPI team, beats seventh-seed Northwestern to setup a meeting between the two teams. The odds are still against Minnesota to reach a regional via an at-large berth, but if it were to happen, today’s win was a must.


Huskers claim first Big Ten championship

Behind a first inning blitz and a standout performance on the mound by Jake Meyers, Nebraska rolled past Penn State Saturday afternoon, 21-3, to claim its first Big Ten championship.

Nebraska jumped on the Nittany Lions for seven runs in the first and scored three more, tacking on two more crooked numbers on the scoreboard with a two-run fifth and five-run sixth, before an eighth-inning grand glam by Jake Schleppenbach put the exclamation point on the Husker victory. While the Huskers racked up 18 hits, led by Mojo Hagge and Ben Miller each picking up four hits in three-RBI afternoons, Meyers held Penn State to one hit on the afternoon, tossing six innings of scoreless baseball en route to setting a career-high for strikeouts with seven.

Since joining the Big Ten Conference in July 2011, Nebraska has finished in second place in baseball three times, 2013, 2014 and 2016. Breaking through this season with a 16-7-1 showing in Big Ten play, Nebraska claimed its first conference championship since winning the Big XII in 2005. In taking two of three games from Penn State, Nebraska won seven of eight conference series, only falling in a weekend set to Iowa, April 14-17.

The Huskers stellar play in conference action came after a rocky start to the season. Coming off of a second NCAA Tournament appearance in three years, Nebraska opened the season 2-6. But two of those losses were to the country’s #1 team, Oregon State, with another against a reigning College World Series participant in Oklahoma State, and one to Utah, the defending Pac-12 champions. The tough start against stout competition has paid dividends as the regular season comes to an end. Since the 2-6 start, Nebraska has won 32 of 45 games, finishing the regular season with a 34-18-1 mark.

The Big Ten championship is the first conference title head coach Darin Erstad has won as a collegiate head coach. Taking over the reigns of the program he once starred at, Erstad has compiled an 88-54-1 mark in Big Ten play, posting a winning conference season in every year except 2015.

Nebraska will now enter next week’s Big Ten Tournament as the top seed, looking to continue its seasons of first with a first Big Ten Tournament title. The Huskers have twice finished runners-up in the conference tournament, in 2013 and 2014, both times to Indiana.

What’s on the line Saturday

It comes down to the final day. Will the Big Ten have a first-time champion? A repeat champion? Or will the winningest program take home another trophy?

Three alive for Big Ten championship

The race for the Big Ten championship is down to three teams, Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska. After Friday’s results, the Huskers are in control. If Nebraska beats Penn State, they have their first Big Ten championship ever and first conference crown since winning the Big XII in 2005. If Penn State upsets Nebraska and grabs its first series win over a ranked team since 2007, the door opens for Michigan. Michigan needs to beat Michigan State in addition to have Nebraska fall, to claim its first Big Ten championship since 2008 and take home a Big Ten-leading 36th conference championship. Minnesota, who wrapped up its regular season yesterday, will be watching the scores from East Lansing and State College. The Gophers need both, Michigan and Nebraska to lose, to successfully defend its conference championship.

Tournament seeding

Entering the day, the final four seeds of next week’s Big Ten Tournament are set. Iowa will be the tournament’s #5 seed, Indiana will open the conference tournament in Bloomington, next Wednesday at 10 a.m. as the tournament’s #6 seed, Northwestern secured a seventh-place finish with Purdue rounding out the field in eighth.

Here’s how things will shape up following today’s play.

If Nebraska wins and Michigan wins:

#1- Nebraska, #2- Michigan, #3- Minnesota, #4- Maryland.

If Nebraska wins and Michigan loses:

#1- Nebraska, #2- Minnesota, #3- Maryland, #4- Michigan.

If Michigan wins and Nebraska loses:

#1- Michigan, #2- Minnesota, #3- Nebraska, #4- Maryland.

If Michigan and Nebraska lose:

#1- Minnesota, #2-Nebraska, #3- Maryland, #4- Michigan.

The result of the day’s lone other game, Indiana and Ohio State, has no baring of how the standings will finish, relative to the conference tournament.



Nebraska 15-7-1  .674 33-18-1  .644 17-6-0 13-6-1 3-6-0 8-2-0 W1
Michigan 15-8-0  .652 41-13-0  .759 23-5-0 12-6-0 6-2-0 7-3-0 W1
Minnesota 15-8-0  .652 33-19-0  .635 17-14-0 16-5-0 0-0-0 6-4-0 W1
Iowa 15-9-0  .625 34-19-0  .642 19-4-0 9-12-0 6-3-0 7-3-0 W1
Maryland 15-9-0  .625 33-19-0  .635 20-3-0 8-14-0 5-2-0 4-6-0 L4
Indiana 13-9-1  .587 31-20-2  .604 15-8-1 13-10-1 3-2-0 7-3-0 W1
Northwestern 13-11-0  .542 24-28-0  .462 12-12-0 12-16-0 0-0-0 7-3-0 W5
Purdue 12-12-0  .500 29-25-0  .537 10-10-0 18-15-0 1-0-0 4-6-0 L1
Michigan State 10-13-0  .435 29-22-0  .569 10-7-0 14-13-0 5-2-0 6-4-0 L1
Illinois 9-15-0  .375 23-28-0  .451 12-11-0 10-15-0 1-2-0 5-5-0 L1
Ohio State 8-15-0  .348 22-33-0  .400 9-16-0 8-12-0 5-5-0 5-5-0 L1
Rutgers 7-16-0  .304 19-34-0  .358 8-10-0 11-24-0 0-0-0 2-8-0 L5
Penn State 4-19-0  .174 18-36-0  .333 10-12-0 6-21-0 2-3-0 4-6-0 L1

Where things stand

It’s roughly the midpoint of the final weekend, and the picture for the Big Ten championship is even more muddled than before. Before a hold-your-breath final 24 hours begins, here’s an update on who’s in the Big Ten Tournament, who is not, who’s alive for the conference championship and what needs done for each contender.

The Big Ten Tournament field

Six teams have clinched a spot in the tournament: Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska. After Purdue held on to beat Minnesota, 5-2, in the completion of their suspended Thursday contest, Illinois and Ohio State joined Penn State and Rutgers are teams eliminated from tournament contention. That leaves Michigan State, Northwestern and Purdue fighting for the final two spots.

As of 6 p.m. Eastern, with Northwestern and Purdue taking 2-0 series leads, here’s how the final three teams fighting for a berth shape up.

#7 Northwestern (12-11)

#8 Purdue (12-11)

#9 Michigan State (10-12)

Northwestern and Purdue will conclude their seasons today. If Northwestern beats Rutgers to finish a sweep, they’re in. The same for Purdue, cap a weekend sweep of Minnesota, they’re in. If both of those happen, there will be seeding to figure out as both can jump Indiana, currently sitting sixth at 12-9-1, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. In the head-to-head tiebreaker, Northwestern tops Purdue.

So it’s pretty simple, Northwestern and Purdue control their destiny, win their final game and there in. Both are also in if Michigan State falls in either of its final two games, while Purdue is in regardless of their outcome against Minnesota if either Michigan State or Northwestern suffers a loss. But what happens if either Northwestern or Purdue, or both, fall and the Spartans win their final two?

The Spartans own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Northwestern and Purdue. If Michigan State wins their final two games against Michigan, and either the Wildcats or Boilermakers lose, Michigan State is in the tournament. Michigan State is also in the tournament if both teams lose. In a three-way tie for seventh at 12-12, Michigan State and Purdue are in, Northwestern is not, based on record versus common opponents.

Right now, the Wildcats and Boilermakers are sitting pretty to end respective postseason droughts of seven and five years. At a minimum Michigan State needs to pull off a sweep of Michigan, and hope they get help from either Minnesota or Rutgers.

The battle for the championship

With the top two teams a combined 0-3 so far this weekend, it’s created a five-team race for the conference crown.

Currently the top five in the standings are

Nebraska: 14-7-1

Michigan: 14-8

Minnesota: 14-8

Maryland: 15-9

Iowa: 14-9

Nebraska controls its destiny. Beat Penn State twice and the Huskers have their first Big Ten championship. If the Huskers drop either of their final game, the door opens for Michigan and Minnesota. They can still win the championship with a loss, but then need Minnesota to lose its finale and Michigan to go at best 1-1 in their final two games.

Michigan needs to win its final two games to finish 16-8, if they do that and Penn State takes a game from Nebraska, the Wolverines have their 36th title. If they split their final two games with Michigan State, they’ll have to hope everything shakes out to where a 15-9 record, and tie with Maryland, yields the crown.

For Minnesota to win it, they need to take the finale against Purdue and finish 15-8. Then Michigan to do no better than split its final two against MSU and for Nebraska to drop a game against Penn State.

Maryland needs a lot of help Their Big Ten season finished last week, to win it outright, the Terrapins need Iowa and Minnesota to lose their finales, Nebraska to lose both of its remaining games against Penn State and Michigan to lose both of their games against the Spartans. For just a share of the crown, Maryland needs Minnesota to lose its finale, Nebraska to be swept by Penn State and Michigan to fall at least once to MSU.

The best Iowa can do is share the crown at 15-9 with Maryland. Iowa must win its finale at Illinois, then hope Minnesota and Nebraska end their seasons being swept and for Michigan to fall at least once to MSU.

Streaks and stats

With Ohio State not making the tournament, there’s a new leader for active postseason trips. The Buckeyes’ streak of six straight Big Ten Tournament appearances ends and now Indiana and Nebraska are the leaders with the 2017 tournament marking their sixth straight conference tournament appearance.

As mentioned, Northwestern and Purdue looking to reach the tournament for the first time since 2010 and 2012, respectively. The other six teams in the tournament all played in the eight-team affair last year in Omaha.

A Big Ten championship would be the first for either Maryland or Nebraska. Taking home the crown would be the 36th title Michigan has earned, the most in the Big Ten. Minnesota would become back-to-back champions and claim its 24th conference crown, third-most, Illinois sits second with 30. Iowa would snap a 43-year title drought if they won their eighth Big Ten championship, putting an end to the second-longest dry spell, only behind Northwestern who last won the conference in 1950.

What to watch for: May 18-20

The final weekend is here and three teams are within a game for the Big Ten championship, giving a fitting end to a whirlwind of a season. Here’s what to watch for over a weekend of high drama.

The scoreboard

The top three teams are separated by one game and the next three teams in line also have a shot at the title. With half of the teams in contention for the Big Ten championship, the final weekend is set up to be a frantic, math-calculating, scoreboard-watching finish. Scoreboards will be watched from State College to Minneapolis as none of the teams in the top six square off against one another, teams will be keeping an eye on what’s happening outside of their games.

The defending Big Ten champions, Minnesota controls its destiny. At 14-6, if the Gophers win all three games against Purdue they become back-to-back champs. However, if the Gophers stumble, the door is open for Nebraska who enters the weekend 14-6-1. If the Huskers stumble, Michigan enters the fold, with their 14-7 conference clip. Indiana, Iowa and Maryland need at least two losses from the top three teams, but each have a chance to finish atop the conference. With five teams needing to win and have a bit of help, PA announcers throughout the conference have a business weekend ahead, as do smartphones with fans in stands looking for the latest scores.

Jake Meyers’ status

Nebraska two-way standout Jake Meyers was far from 100% last week, after having his left pinky stepped on in a stolen base attempt against Creighton, May 10. With three stitches in his left pinky, his throwing hand, Meyers did not bat in the Huskers’ series against Michigan State, and went a career-low 2.2 innings in the series finale.

Meyers has been a sparkplug at the top of the Nebraska lineup, batting .301 with 18 stolen bases in 19 attempts, and has been the anchor to a steady weekend rotation all season long. Toeing the rubber on Sundays, Meyers leads Nebraska with 72.2 innings pitched, carrying a 3.34 ERA, on the strength of a 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ration, 45 punch outs against five free passes. Nebraska list Meyers as the game three starter, with no change to the weekend rotation, beyond that, Darin Erstad and the staff aren’t sure what’s in store for Meyers this weekend at Penn State.

Party crashers

While the attention will be focused on the clubs fighting for the conference crown, the teams at the bottom of the conference have a chance to be party crashers to put an end to title hopes, and potentially further postseason play.

With Nebraska heading to last-place Penn State, Indiana heading to 12th-place Ohio State, and even Maryland out of conference with a three-game set at High Point, teams that appear comfortably in the NCAA Tournament can’t rest to comfortably. While The Hoosiers, Huskers, Terrapins and Wolverines have RPIs under 40, a losing weekend combined with a quick exit for the Big Ten Tournament will make for a nervy NCAA Tournament draw. Teams can’t get too caught up in the help they are or aren’t receiving in a bid for the Big Ten championship and forget to take care of the task in front of them or there season may only be extended by one week.

Glowicki’s form

Minnesota closer Brian Glowicki was named one of 25 semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy on Thursday, given annually to the top collegiate player by the National College Baseball Writers Association. With a Big Ten-leading 15 saves, second in the nation, and a 2.08 ERA, Glowicki has had a strong season.

But in conference play he has been roughed up a bit of late.

Appearing in 10 Big Ten games, pitching 9.1 innings, Glowicki has allowed five runs off 12 hits, with opponents batting .324. For the season overall, opponents are only batting .215 off the right-handed to show the contrast in fortune of late. Glowicki’s toughest outings have come in back-to-back save opportunities in Big Ten play, unable to save either. On April 29, Glowicki allowed two runs off two hits, a walk and a hit batter, as Minnesota was unable to close a 5-2 ninth-inning lead, falling 9-5. On May 2, Glowicki allowed three runs off three hit and a walk against Penn State, only recording two outs, but Minnesota held on for a 5-4 win. If Minnesota is to claim a second consecutive conference crown, Glowicki is going to need to show the form that made him one of the country’s most dominant closers for three months.

Home runs in Champaign

The second and third-best home run-hitting teams in the Big Ten square off this weekend in Champaign. Illinois, with 53 home runs, welcomes Iowa and the 51 home runs the Hawkeyes have hit as a team. With the two clubs combining for 104, one would expect there to be a collection of standout sluggers. And they would be right.

Iowa junior first baseman Jake Adams leads the Big Ten with 21 home runs, just one off Iowa’s single-season home run record.  While Adams looks to take down the school record, the Illini will counter with two of the Big Ten’s next three most prolific home run hitters. Senior first baseman Pat McInerney is second in the Big Ten with 14 home runs with sophomore outfielder Jack Yalowitz ranking four with 12.

Not only will the series feature a pair of clubs powered by the four-base hit, the Illini have already played host to a homer-heavy contest, when Michigan State hit an NCAA-high nine home runs on March 26.

Split-site, opposite ends in Michigan

The stakes are always high when Michigan and Michigan State square off. But this season’s season-ending series has heightened drama.

The Wolverines are a game out of first place and have a shot at what would be their Big Ten-leading 36th conference crown. Michigan State has long been out of championship contention, and now have their season on the line, just hoping to get into the Big Ten Tournament. The Spartans enter the weekend a game out of a tournament spot, sitting 9-12 in Big Ten play with Northwestern and Purdue tied for seventh at 10-11. MSU owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Northwestern, so will only need to win one more game than Northwestern does this weekend to reaching Bloomington. But with the Wolverines gunning for the conference championship, looking to end a nine-year drought, it won’t be an easy road for the Spartans. Adding to the fun is the continued split-site series where the games will be played in East Lansing on Thursday and Saturday with a trip to Ann Arbor in between.

Required reading

Iowa’s Mason McCoy continues to improve his game -Jordan Hansen, Cedar Rapids Gazette

Northwestern prepares for final series against Rutgers -Talia Hendel, The Daily Northwestern

Michigan baseball with Big Ten title shot in final weekend series -Mark Snyder, The Detroit Free Press

Jamal Wade’s first three career hits were home runs… -Jake Eisenberg, Maryland Baseball Network

Husker baseball eyes first conference title since 2005 -Evan Bland, Omaha World-Herald

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 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 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

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


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