College baseball is back, with the first weekend of the 2019 season in the books. Minnesota and Ohio State each played on Monday, extending the weekend a day, giving us a President’s Day treat. But now, with all games in, here’s a rundown of 10 things that caught our attention, and made us say wow or go hm, over the opening weekend.
Grant Judkins dazzles
Viewed by head coach Rick Heller as the wildcard to the Hawkeye pitching staff, right-handed pitcher Grant Judkins wasted no time assuring he was indeed ready for a leading roll as a weekend rotation staple. Helping Iowa to a 10-0 romp over Marshall on Sunday, Judkins was unhittable. In six innings of work, the junior did not allow a hit to the Thundering Herd and struck out 11 batters. Judkins did walk three and hit another batter, but the 11 strikeouts were the Big Ten-high of the weekend and a career-high for Judkins. Judkins’ 11 were a part of Iowa hurling dialed up 41 strikeouts over three games this weekend.
Lonsway’s long-awaited debut
Arriving in Columbus as the Big Ten’s top ranked recruit, left-handed pitcher Seth Lonsway never logged an inning as Ohio State reached the NCAA Tournament in 2018, ineligible due to how a high school course registered with the NCAA Clearinghouse. But now, as Ohio State looks for a third regional appearance in four years, the 19th-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds in 2017 is ready to lead the way atop the OSU rotation, as the Buckeyes need to replace all three weekend starts. The southpaw’s debut lived up to the hype of being a potential ace. Against Seton Hall, Lonsway scattered three hits, allowed one run and struck out nine batters against three walks in six innings.
— Ohio State Baseball (@OhioStateBASE) February 15, 2019
Well-rounded Illini sweep through the weekend
It was a strong weekend showing for Illinois, getting it done in all three aspects in North Carolina. After opening the weekend with an offensive barrage in an 11-3 win over Georgetown, Illinois knocked off a ranked Wake Forest team at home, 5-2, before dispatching Sacred Heart, 4-0. Illinois relievers allowed only one unearned run, while the defense committed just one error throughout the weekend. The Illini tortured the opposition on the bases, racking up 10 steals in 11 tries, led by senior outfielder Zac Taylor going 5-5. While Dan Hartleb’s team hit on all cylinders, the performance of junior right-handed pitcher Cyrillo Watson was the weekend’s highlight. On Sunday, Watson struck out eight batters in six innings without issuing a walk.
Mercer picks up win #1
The Jeff Mercer Era in Bloomington was delayed a day, but the first game of Indiana’s Saturday doubleheader at Memphis, the Hoosiers knocked off the Tigers, 6-1, giving head coach and Indiana native Jeff Mercer his first victory leading IU. A seven-inning, two-hit effort from senior right-hander Pauly Milto and a four-run fifth inning sparked Indiana. Indiana’s third coach in five years, Mercer has spoke about how Indiana is the program he dreamed of leading, with the weekend’s two wins in Memphis, and series win, ideally the first of many.
— Indiana Baseball ⚾️ (@IndianaBase) February 18, 2019
Michigan marches on
A team with multiple preseason rankings, Michigan performed as a team worthy of a bullet, with a weekend sweep over Binghamton, in Port St. Lucie. A pair of 10-run margins, 10-0 and 12-2, sandwiched a last-at-bat, 5-4 win on Saturday. Junior lefty Tommy Henry showed ace-stuff with nine strikeouts and one walk over six innings in the season opener. Classmate Karl Kauffmann followed that with 10 punchouts in eight innings on Saturday. The first game saw four Wolverines record multi-hit games, before Saturday and Sunday produced games of three multi-hit efforts. For the weekend, the Michigan offense produced 11 extra-base hits and seven stolen bases, in turning back the Bearcats in all three contests.
Pitching powers PSU to sweep
Leading the Nittany Lions to a three-game sweep on Monmouth, PSU pitchers allowed just three earned runs all weekend, four total, as seven pitchers combined to yield just eight hits all weekend. With 27 strikeouts to nine walks, the pitching staff starred as PSU grabbed victories of 1-0, 7-0, 6-4. Making two relief appearances, sophomore Mason Mellott allowed one hit and one unearned run over six innings, a vital cog in PSU opening the season with a weekend sweep for the second year in a row.
Sidelined Huskers make their return
Three key Nebraska pitchers returned to the diamond after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year. And, at least through the first weekend, the results were encouraging, although the defense behind them caused a few lines to appear bloated. Helping Nebraska take three of four games at Cal-Riverside, the returning pitchers and their performances were:
Sophomore left-hander Connor Curry: 4 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 SO
Friday starter, junior right-hander Chad Luensmann 3 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO
Junior right-hander Robbie Palkert 1.1 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO
In 2017, Luensmann and Palkert were key late-inning relievers, respectively pitching 43.1 and 41.1 innings to 3.47 and 2.61 ERAs, helping Nebraska claim its first Big Ten time.
Purdue’s late-inning woes
It was a tough weekend for the Purdue bullpen, as the Boilermakers saw late leads lost in all three games at Southern Miss. Coming off of the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012, Purdue showed they have the parts to be competitive against a top team, the Golden Eagles were ranked No. 26 in the NCBWA preseason poll, but following the graduation of two-time all-conference closer Ross Learnard, the bullpen depth came up short. The leads Purdue lost this weekend:
Friday, 6-4, after 7.5
Saturday 2-0, after 5.5
Sunday 7-4, after 5.5
There isn’t much time for Purdue to sulk or think what could have been, Purdue has another tough weekend in front of them with four games at Texas, another preseason top-30 club.
Coach Waz says he's not interested in moral victories from a competitive yet winless season-opening weekend at #21 Southern Miss. pic.twitter.com/klTlI8QV82
— Purdue Baseball (@PurdueBaseball) February 18, 2019
Minnesota’s rough weekend
It was almost as bad of a weekend as possible for the defending Big Ten champions. In four games in Surprise, Ariz., the Gophers managed only one win, suffering poor showings in all facets of the game. Minnesota did not receive a quality start on the weekend, committed four errors in an 11-1 loss to New Mexico, lost 13-1 to Oregon State, in a rematch of last years Corvallis Super Regional, then saw Gonzaga avenge their season-opening, 8-5 defeat, with a 6-5 win on Monday. Outscored, 38-15, pitching to a 6.69 ERA, while batting .200 and with six errors, the journey for a third NCAA Tournament appearance in four years is off to a nightmarish start for Minnesota. But, the last time Minnesota lost three games in one weekend, March 11-14, 2016, they would go on to claim a Big Ten title.
Burhenn showcases his stuff
As good as Lonsway was for Greg Beals, he didn’t turn in the best pitching performance of the weekend for the Buckeyes. Freshman right-handed pitcher Garrett Burhenn was almost perfect in his debut, helping Ohio State clinch the weekend series against Seton Hall on Saturday. In eight innings, Burhenn pitched to the minimum 24 batters over 78 pitchers. Allowing just a single, erased on a double play, the freshman from Indianapolis struck out six batters without issuing a walk., in Ohio State’s 6-0 win. Leading up to the season, the Ohio State staff was what Patrick Fredrickson and Max Meyer did as freshman for Minnesota, and believe their corp of freshman arms, led by Burhenn, had the potential to do the same. So far so good.