Top-seeded Gophers claims Big Ten Tournament title

In oppressive, 97-degree Omaha heat, the battle between the Big Ten’s two best teams was a hotly-contested one, a contest which saw Minnesota outlast Purdue, winning 6-4, to claim the 2018 Big Ten Tournament championship. Their 10th tournament title, the Gophers claim the conference’s automatic bid to next week’s NCAA Tournament.

As they have all season, Minnesota performed in a workman-like fashion to cap a perfect 4-0 week.

With the second-seeded Boilermakers the designated visitors, in the top of the first, center fielder Skyler Hunter lined a first-pitch, two-out single up the middle. Three pitches later, first baseman Jacson McGowan lined a double over the head of Minnesota center fielder Alex Boxwell, plating Hunter for the initial 1-0 lead.

Where Purdue used a back-to-back hits to jump out in front, big blasts in back-to-back innings saw the Gophers grab the lead.

Making his fourth start of the season, the first pitch of the second inning from Purdue right-hander Andrew Bohm was hit into the left field bullpen by Minnesota catcher Eli Wilson, tying the game 1-1. In the third, another first-pitch big hit came off of the bat of Terrin Vavra, with the junior shortstop hitting his 10th home run of the season to right center, pushing Minnesota in front, 2-1.

After a scoreless fourth, the two regional-bound teams traded blows over the next two innings, creating a back-and-forth content fitting of the conference’s two hottest teams.

In the fifth inning, Purdue seized the opportunity created in Minnesota turning to the bullpen, relieving starter Nick Lackney who held the them to five hits over four inning. Facing right-hander Brett Schulze, a leadoff single from second baseman Tyler Powers and a one-out walk drawn by catcher Nick Dalesandro put two Boilers aboard. Hunter’s second single, followed by McGowan’s second double, put the Boilers back on top, 3-2. Minnesota responded with an RBI-single from left fielder Ben Mezzenga, scoring DH Toby Hanson, who singled to open the home-half of the frame before moving to second on a sac bunt by Luke Pettersen, then to third on a fly out by Boxwell.

An inning later, the roles reversed with Purdue scoring a run, countered by two from the Gophers.

Singles from right fielder Alec Olund, Powers, and a run-scoring drive to right from shortstop Harry Shipley put Purdue back in front, 4-3. But after the tying run crossed home, in the next at-bat, Shipley was thrown out trying to move into scoring position, with Wilson throwing him out on a dirt ball read.

A string of three singles in the bottom of the sixth pushed Minnesota back in front, the contest’s third lead change in four at-bats. A leadoff single from Boxwell, followed by a sacrifice bunt from right fielder Jordan Kozicky, then RBI-single from Petterson, tied the game, before the 25th RBI of the season by Mezzenga, a liner up the middle, gave the Gophers a 5-4 lead.

Purdue’s aggressive nature that saw Shipley thrown out to end their sixth inning at-bat, had already contributed to two outs on the bases before. In the top of the fourth, DH Nick Evarts was thrown out on an attempt to steal third base, an inning before Dalesandro tried to reach third on Hunter’s single to right that scored Powers. A fourth out on an aggressive play seeking an extra base prevented the tying run, Purdue’s last scoring threat.

With one out in the eighth inning, pinch-hitting for Evarts, DH Evan Kennedy hit a 2-2 double to right field, off Minnesota closer Max Meyer. Pinch-running for Kennedy, following a strikeout by Olund, Charlie Nasuti was thrown out at home, when Mezzenga fired to Wilson after a single to left-center field by third baseman Evan Warden.

Adding an insurance run, a one-out single by Hanson, paired with a two-out double to left center by Vavra gave Minnesota its sixth and final run of the game. Armed with a two-run lead, Meyer pitched a 1-2-3 inning for his 16th save of the season, giving the conference champion Gophers their Big Ten-leading 10th tournament title.

A lock to host their first regional since 2000, Minnesota moved to 41-13 on the season. Also heading to the NCAA Tournament, their first trip since 2012, Purdue fell to 37-19, and will find out their regional destination on Monday at noon Eastern when the entire field of 64 is announced.

10 Takes: Big Ten Tournament Day 4

And then there were two… the best two. Saturday’s semifinals saw No. 1 seed Minnesota top No. 7 Ohio State, 8-1, before second-seeded Purdue provided their own definite victory, toppling No. 4 Illinois, 11-5. As Minnesota seeks its first Big Ten Tournament title since 2010, and Purdue seeks a second crown to stand alongside their 2012 triumph, the Big Ten Tournament championship features the top two teams in the conference standings, the two teams with the highest rated RPIs, the two hottest teams, and two teams ticketed for a regional.

Here’s what was observed on Saturday.

Fredrickson cool under pressure (and heat)

If there was to be a time when Minnesota right-handed pitcher Patrick Fredrickson was a bit vulnerable, the conditions were favorable for that time to arrive on Saturday morning. In his first taste of postseason action the freshman was on the rubber against a tough Ohio State lineup, one who has already faced him, in 90-degree weather. Neither the Buckeyes nor blistering Omaha sun could rattle the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year. With an efficient 77-pitch, six-inning start, Fredrickson scattered only two hits, allowing one run, a first inning home run by Tyler Cowles, to improve to 9-0 on the year.

“The formula once again with Patrick Fredrickson on the mound was for him to pound the zone with three pitches and for us to play defense behind him,” said John Anderson after the game. He gave up the home run, but he … then got back to doing his thing. Before the six-run inning, I got the guys together in the dugout and said, we were trying too hard. We didn’t have a good approach at the plate the first half of the game. We had a lot of opportunities but couldn’t get the big hit.”

Minnesota exhibits offensive depth

With Fredrickson cruising, one big inning from Minnesota was all that was needed to cruise into Sunday’s title game. With the game tied 1-1, a Jordan Kozicky walk followed by Toby Hanson sending a triple over the head of Ohio State center fielder Dillon Dingler put the Gophers in front. Kozicky later singled in the inning, as to did Luke Pettersen and Cole McDevitt, with Alex Boxwell, Micah Coffey, and Eli Wilson all drawing walks. By the time the sixth inning was over, eight batters reached base safely, six Gophers crossed home, and Minnesota was well on their way to their 40th victory of the season. The inning summed up Minnesota’s ability to wear down the opposition, with multiple players showcasing an ability to be patient, string out at-bats and reach base. By the end of the game, seven Minnesota batters recorded a hit, even with leading hitter Terrin Vavra going 0-for-4.

Pavlopoulos gives Beals something to build on

Needing a fourth starter to step up in an effort to extend their tournament run, Greg Beals turned to senior right-handed pitcher Yianni Pavlopoulos. Making his fifth start, appearing in his 17th game overall, Pavlopoulos allowed one run off five hits in three innings. The right-handed did walk three batters, but Minnesota’s John Anderson spoke to Pavlopoulos’ changeup and sinking fastball keeping the Gophers off balance, and from being able to capitalize early in the contest. Ticketed for a regional, it’ll be important for Ohio State to be able to find a dependable fourth starter. Weekend starters Connor Curlis, Ryan Feltner, and Adam Niemeyer have yet to pitch a complete game in their combined careers. Next weekend, the Buckeye bullpen, led by workhorse Seth Kinker, will likely be needed in every contest, chipping away at Ohio State’s pitching depth as the weekend progresses. If the Buckeyes find themselves in the loser’s bracket, it’s imperative a capable fourth starter emerges to alleviate some of the bullpen strain, that role may now be on Pavlopoulous.

Cowles breakthrough campaign continues

With a home run and two walks, Cowles continued his strong senior season, as his two-year Ohio State career enters the final month. A transfer from Sinclair Community College, Cowles struggled in 2017, batting .190. Saturday’s home run upped his average to .327 and boasted his slugging percentage to .527, an increase of .213. Teammate Noah McGowan received much attention throughout the year, and deserved attention, in leading the Buckeyes in hitting, average, on-base percentage, doubles, home runs, and RBI. But Cowles, a third-team All-Big Ten outfield selection, has allowed McGowan to put up big time numbers in his cleanup spot by being a force in the Ohio State three-hole. With Dominic Canzone and Kobie Foppe’s ability to reach base, Cowles, more than any other, is the Buckeye that stirs the pot and get the team going.

Don’t forget the Gopher upperclassmen pitchers

After Fredrickson qualified for a quality start and exited after six innings, senior right-handed pitcher Jackson Rose allowed one hit over two innings, before junior left-handed pitcher Jeff Fasching closed the door with a scoreless ninth. Rose and Fasching’s outings come on the heels of junior right-handed pitcher Reggie Meyer tossing a shutout against Illinois on Thursday, and Jake Steven logging 3.2 innings in the tournament opener against Michigan State. Minnesota’s underclassmen pitchers, led by Fredrickson and fellow first-team all-Big Ten selection Max Meyer, have been in the spotlight as they have excelled as first-year players. But with 15.2 innings of work from upperclassmen this week and only two earned runs allowed between them, the Gophers with hardware from the team’s 2016 championship have been a steady force in Minnesota on the verge of securing a regional at home.

Illini uncharacteristically sloppy…

Illinois entered Saturday with a Big Ten-leading .980 fielding percentage, and arguably the country’s top defensive middle infield. Unfortunately for Dan Hartleb’s club, Illinois had more than a few miscues contribute to their exit from the tournament. Shortstop Ben Troike had a tailor-made double play ball roll under his glove, catcher David Craan threw a ball into center field trying to throw out a runner, and the webbing in the glove of first baseman Bren Spillane allowed a ball to tear through. In addition to the free bases allowed by the defense, Illinois pitchers issued four walks, hit two batters, and threw five wild pitches. It was an atypical outing from a team who defense and ability to eliminate extra opportunities had contributed mightily to the team’s 33 wins.

…and Purdue pounces on opportunities

Every time Illinois made a mistake, Purdue seemingly took advantage of the opportunity. It’s never ideal to give a quality team extra outs, but more so when that team is Purdue. Taking the mold of their head coach, Purdue seeks every opportunity to find an edge, pushes for extra bases, and tries to exert as much pressure as possible on the opposition. In addition to the three errors, four walks, two hit batters, and five wild pitches, Purdue stole four bases, led by Nick Dalesandro grabbing two. Purdue did get thrown out on the bases three times, but Mark Wasikowski’s club stayed true to form, and more times than not were rewarded for being the aggressor and taking the action to Illinois.

Hartleb’s confidence in Watson warrented

Ahead of his start against Purdue, Dan Hartleb showered right-handed pitcher Cyrillo Watson with praise, Saturday evening, saying he has all of the confidence in the sophomore, regardless of opponent. Illinois’ shaky defense did allow Purdue to score three unearned runs, but Watson put Illinois in a position to win, pitching six innings, allowing two earned runs of six hits and a walk, striking out three batters. Watson entered the year in the Illini rotation and much was expected of him. Illinois would see Andy Fisher and Quinn Snarskis blossom and grab weekend roles, limiting Watson’s opportunities, but the performance Watson gave against Purdue showed why much was thought of him, and also shows the Illini has the depth in starting pitching to make a run in a regional.

Boilermakers powered on by bullpen

Purdue did benefit from a sloppy Illinois performance, and they did set the tone offensively. But the Boilermakers didn’t play the cleanest baseball themselves, walking eight batters, hitting two, and committed two errors. The difference was the performance by the Boilermaker bullpen. Trent Johnson, Bo Hofstra and Dalton Parker combined to pitch the final 6.1 innings, allowing Illinois to score one run off two hits. The depth of Purdue’s bullpen has been on display this week, and is nicely summed up in the fact all-Big Ten closer Ross Learnard has yet to pitch, even though Purdue heads into the title game 3-0.

Purdue’s looks to give doubters one last statement

Purdue players and coaches alike have not shied away from referencing how one preseason prediction penciled the team to finish 11th in the Big Ten this year, and how that has fueled their motivation. From 2-22 to a second-place finish and a shot to return to West Lafayette with a Big Ten Tournament title, if there are any who still choose to cast doubt over Wasikowski and the direction of the Purdue program, they do so at their own peril, the Boilermakers have looked like one of the best teams in the nation this week in Omaha, and don’t show signs of slowing down any time soon. Sunday should be fun on.

What to watch for in Omaha

After a year hiatus, the Big Ten Tournament returns to Omaha, where it will be for four more years. College baseball’s grand stage is set to host what many believe will be the Big Ten’s best tournament, as seven teams are in the mix for an at-large berth to next week’s NCAA Tournament.

From potential regional hosts, to Golden Spike Award semifinalists, to record-setting players on nearly every team, here’s the 10 leading storylines to follow this week in Omaha.

The Bren Spillane Show

Illinois’ 10th Big Ten Player of the Year is having a season rivaled by few, if any, in Illinois’ storied history. Spillane finished the regular season as the Big Ten’s Triple Crown winner, batting .407 with 22 home runs and 57 RBI. Regional projections from national outlets have Illinois safely in next week’s NCAA Tournament. But a big week by the Big Ten’s brightest star can make their case a slam dunk, by using his premium power to send a few balls out of TD Ameritrade Park.

Spartan speed

While Spillane has the power to hit home runs in any environment, TD Ameritrade Park is known for being tough on home run hitters. Perhaps better suited for teams with the ability to run, Michigan State enters the tournament as a potential dangerous No. 8 seed, thanks to their speed. The Spartans led the Big Ten in stolen bases and attempts, swiping 98 bags in 125 attempts. Sophomore outfielder Bryce Kelley paced Big Ten players with 31 steals, setting a new Michigan State single-season record.

Luke Miller’s power surge

Three home runs during a weekend sweep over Maryland helped Indiana junior third baseman Luke Miller grab the final Big Ten Player of the Week honor. After missing some time in the middle of the season due to injury, Miller is back being a force in the hear of IU’s lineup. Now leading the Hoosiers with 11 home runs, Miller has the type of bat that change the tide of a game in one swing, and do it again, game after game. Heading to Omaha on a six-game winning strike, IU looks poised to make a deep postseason run, spurred by one of the Big Ten’s most dangerous players getting hot.

Ohio State’s reliance on Seth Kinker

No Buckeye pitcher has appeared in more games over his career than senior right-hander Seth Kinker. No reliever in the eight-year tenure of Greg Beals has been as trusted as Kinker. Leading the Big Ten with a 1.62 ERA, Kinker has been Mr. Reliable for Beals and the Buckeyes, racking up 13 saves and a 6-1 record in 26 appearances. But those 26 outings have resulted in 55.2 innings pitched, as Kinker is more than a one-inning save. With few other Buckeyes showing the ability to close the door or escape a tight jam, how will Beals used Kinker? In past history is any indication, it’s a lot, Kinker pitched in five games during Ohio State’s run to the 2016 tournament title.

Minnesota’s freshmen pitchers

Minnesota has more than enough depth to pitch through the Big Ten Tournament, there isn’t a concern on how often a pitcher will be turned to, and how long he pitches. What is worth keeping in mind with the Big Ten championships is how their first-year pitchers perform in their first taste of postseason baseball. Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, Patrick Fredrickson, and fellow first-team All-Big Ten selection, closer Max Meyer, will be front and center as the pressure cranks up a notch, as too will Jake Stevenson and Sam Thoresen, fellow freshmen who will likely start Minnesota’s third and fourth games respectively, if Minnesota tracks towards their 10 tournament title.

Attendance

A loaded Big Ten Tournament field does not include the team nearest to Omaha. For the first time in their Big Ten history, Nebraska will not participate in the postseason tournament. A part of the return to Omaha was the attendance of the 2014 and 2016 tournaments, in large part due to Nebraska’s presence. Without the Huskers in the field, will Omaha still show up?

Hellerball

One caveat to a potential drop in attendance is Iowa’s making the tournament. Under Rick Heller, the Big Ten Tournament has provided some magical moments. Two years ago, Iowa almost shocked the conference, falling one game shy of winning the tournament as the No. 8 seed. Last year, the Hawkeyes did win the tournament, and reached the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. It appears the automatic bid is Iowa’s key to the NCAA Tournament again, but it seems Iowa is comfortable fighting with their back against the wall. And if the Hawkeyes reach the weekend, they will undoubtedly have a homefield advantage as Hellerball is running deep in the heart of those in the Hawkeye State.

Who has a fourth starter?

No matter what, in this format with eight teams, a team must play a minimum of four games to win the tournament. The Big Ten experienced some of the worst spring weather in recent memory, seeing games cancelled week after week. As a result, a team may not have a fourth starter as polished as previous seasons, where the ability to play numerous midweek games would help build depth in the rotation. Some teams, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, have more than one option available after their traditional weekend three. Others, Michigan State, and Ohio State, come to mind first, may utilize Johnny Wholestaff if they have a deep tournament run.

Does momentum matter?

The postseason is often called a new season. Starting today, the records reset, all eight teams have a 0-0 record, and there is a clean table. But does the end of the regular season matter? Does a teams form carry over? If so, that’s good news for Indiana and Purdue, who respectively start the tournament on a six-game winning streak and victors in 18 of their last 20, and not so good news for Michigan and Ohio State, teams who finished the regular season in six and four games, respectively.

The out of town scoreboard

Yes, it is true, one should focus on only the things which they can control. For teams in Omaha this week, that means effort, confidence, execution. But for more than a few teams it will be worth finding a way to send positive vibes into the environment, and wish a few teams good luck throughout the country. It appears Iowa, Michigan, and Purdue are on the NCAA Tournament bubble. For them, along with a few wins this week, it would be nice if favorites in other conference tournaments win, that no bids are stolen. There will be enough to watch in Omaha to keep fans interested and engaged through the weekend, keeping track of scores around the country is the cherry on the cake of conference tournament chaos.

Keys to tournament success

From Minnesota looking to host an NCAA Tournament regional, four teams fighting to solidify a resume worthy of garnering an at-large bid, and Michigan State needing to win or see their season end, a lot is at on the line this week as the Big Ten Tournament returns to Omaha.

With a deep tournament field making a path to the title difficult for all, here’s what each team needs to do to leave Omaha on Sunday as victors, and get ready to fight for a return trip to Omaha in two weeks.

Minnesota

If the Gophers can put it all together and have both their pitching staff and batting order clicking, they will be tough to beat in a double elimination format. Minnesota is always in the tournament, but has fallen short lately. Two years ago, they were bounced after scoring four total runs in two games. Last year they scored 35 runs over five games, but couldn’t put up enough zeroes on the mound.

Purdue

Keep the underdog mentality, although you are tagged with the No. 2 seed. The Boilermakers haven’t had the amount of success they would have liked the past couple years. Of all the teams in this tournament, they probably have the biggest chip on their shoulder. Not to mention, they are firmly on the NCAA bubble. Play like the hunters, not the hunted.

Michigan

The Wolverines need to find a way to string wins together away from home. An 18-3 home record boosted Michigan quite a bit this year, but the Big Ten Tournament isn’t being held in Ann Arbor. Erik Bakich’s club is 2-3 in neutral site games this year.

Illinois

Can the Illini have someone other than Bren Spillane carry them in the order? Spillane shouldn’t see a single pitch to hit in this tournament. He’s been too good, and opposing pitchers would do well to stay away from him. Michael Massey has been really good this year, but it takes more than a 1-2 punch to win this tournament.

Indiana

Minnesota won the regular season. Purdue was the surprise. Michigan and Ohio State both have scary lineups. But throughout the season, Indiana was the team constantly ranked in the top-15. There’s a reason for that: the Hoosiers boast seven hitters with at least six home runs and five hurlers that have posted a sub-3.50 ERA in more than 35 innings of work.

Iowa

The Hawkeyes need to have the same amount of pitching depth they had a year ago, when they won the automatic bid. In 2017, Drake Robison tossed seven great innings in the championship game. The rotation is more stable with the return of Cole McDonald, but who is going to be that important fourth starter if Iowa makes another run?

Ohio State

The Buckeyes, more than any other team in Omaha, can hit their way to a Big Ten title. They scored almost seven runs per game this season. If those bats can put the Buckeyes into the lead into the middle-to-late innings and get Seth Kinker onto the mound, Ohio State could be the low seed that makes a run.

Michigan State

It’s possible to make a deep run through the tournament after losing the opener, but Michigan State’s first game against Minnesota feels really important. Win, and there is a lot of momentum to ride after knocking off the No. 1 seed. Lose, and you put yourself in a hole without much pitching depth. Win the opener.

May 17-19 Weekend Observations

The regular season came to an end with a dramatic weekend throughout the Big Ten. With the conference championship decided on the season’s penultimate day, and a fight to the finish for the eighth and final spot in the Big Ten Tournament, stakes were in every series.

On hand for three of those series, here’s what was observed in Bloomington, Champaign, and West Lafayette, followed by quick hits from around the conference.

Maryland at Indiana

The leading storyline heading into the series between Maryland and Indiana was the Terps controlling their destiny in pursuit of the Big Ten Tournament. Hanging on to the tournament’s final seed, Maryland held the head-to-head tiebreaker against Michigan state, who also entered the weekend the same 9-11 mark in conference play. Secondary, though not in the mind of Chris Lemonis, was Indiana’s desire to round into form, as they entered the postseason. With little doubt the Hoosiers will be an at-large team in the NCAA Tournament, finding a way to hit on all cylinders would be timely for a club that appears to have the pieces on paper to make a deep postseason run. In the end, the Hoosiers (37-15, 14-9) showed their process, adding a weekend sweep on top of a big midweek win at Louisville to head to Omaha hot, a place where Maryland (24-30, 9-14) will not be traveling to, as their season came to an end.

Luke Miller’s promising power display

On Thursday, after Maryland’s Zach Jancarski gave the Terps a 2-0 lead with a home run to left in the top of the second, IU junior third baseman Luke Miller answered with a solo shot to left field in the bottom of the inning. Then, with Indiana trailing 5-3 in the bottom of the eighth, Miller hit a three-run home run to right field, giving Indiana their first lead of the game, en route to a 6-5 victory. On Friday, Miller added a home run to center field, providing the final run in Indiana’s 5-1 victory. Now pacing Indiana with 11 home runs, Miller’s performance comes at a time when big talent has played a big role in postseason success in recent years.

In 2016, it was Ronnie Dawson for Ohio State. Last year, Jake Adams produced home run after home run in the postseason. As much as pitching and defense may win regular season titles, the teams which have shown a bit of muscle have fared favorably in recent years. Illinois’ Bren Spillane, more on him later, is drawing attention for his eye-popping season and 22 home runs, but scouts and opposing coaches in the Big Ten feel Miller has the most raw power in the conference. It’s power that can carry Indiana through Omaha, and help the club find their way back to TD Ameritrade three weeks later.

Indiana baseball is ingrained in the Bloomington culture

It’s been five years since Indiana made their run to Omaha, capturing the attention of the nation behind Kyle Schwarber, Sam Travis, Aaron Slegers, Joey DeNato, and company. There isn’t a member of Indiana’s College World Series team still in Bloomington, but on Thursday, with the athletic department passed out commemorative banners honoring the 2013 season, it was evident that baseball is there to stay in Btown. After 2,114 fans poured into Bart Kaufman Field for the series opener, the turnout was 1,790 on Friday, then 2,765 in the regular season finale, for a weekend average of 2,223. Attendance figures like that don’t happen by chance, especially when games are moved up and pushed back due to weather, but by conscious decisions. From the young to old, students and alumni, Indiana baseball has become entrenched into the fabric of life in Bloomington, where the program receives the type of support necessary to stay among the best in the country. And as Indiana has all but wrapped up a fifth regional in sixth years, it’s safe to say the Hoosiers are among the best programs in the country.

It was just that type of year for Maryland

An inning before Miller’s second home run of the game, Maryland held a 4-2 lead. Unfortunately for the Terps, storms in the area forced a rain delay of 1:50 with two outs in the top of the seventh, and ended the outing of right-handed pitcher Hunter Parsons. Outside of Miller’s second-inning home run, Parsons had been effective, scattering five hits, needing just 77 pitches to get through six innings. Once play resumed, Maryland’s bullpen was unable to hold the lead, dealing the Terps a tough defeat in the series opener, which the club never seemed able to rebound from. In a nutshell, the final three innings of Thursday’s contest seems to sum up the Maryland season. The Terps had shown streaks of playing good baseball, but weren’t able to get over the hump and live up to the potential they showed on paper. Rare did Maryland get blown out, instead there were games throughout with a defining play or moment that spelled doom. More will be shared on Maryland and what first-year head coach Rob Vaughn learned later this week.

 

Nebraska at Illinois

A little more than 150 miles northwest of Bloomington, the series between Nebraska and Illinois had much of the same elements. Like Maryland, Nebraska was fighting to reach the Big Ten Tournament as the last seed in, although unlike the Terps they needed quite the help and did not control their own destiny. For the host Illini, coming off of a weekend win at Michigan by most accounts put them in the NCAA Tournament. Winning the weekend against the Cornhuskers would send them into postseason play with momentum, as they look to play well into June. A sweep didn’t occur in Champaign as Nebraska salvaged their weekend with a win in their season finale, but Illinois showed a deep lineup on Friday, anchored by the conference player of the year.

Spillane continues shock and awe show

He didn’t match Miller with three home runs on the weekend, but Spillane hit home runs in the final two games of the series, running his season total to 22, four off of Illinois’ single-season record.

Friday’s contest was a microcosm of Spillane. In his first at-bat, Spillane struck out swinging, which he did again in the third inning. But on his second strikeout, Spillane showed the speed which has allowed him to steal 14 stolen bases, reaching first on the wild pitch. In the fourth inning, Nebraska intentionally walked Spillane, to load the bases. In his final at-bat, Spillane sent the first pitch of the sixth inning over the right field wall at Illinois Field for his 21st home run. Three official at-bats, respect from the opposing team, a run, an RBI, and four total bases.

The amount of strikeouts Spillane has is a red flag for scouts, 51 in 158 at-bats. But the opposite field power is a point in his favor. Regardless of how evaluators view him, it’s a joy, unless you’re the opposing team, to wait for the moment to happen, then have it happen, as one of Illinois’ best individual seasons ever winds down.

But the Illini aren’t Spillane and a bag of schmoes

Spillane is the big threat in the Illini lineup, but Dan Hartleb’s club has the ability to beat you with multiple players. Joining Spillane in homering during the 13-6 rout over the Huskers was Zac Taylor, pulling his 10th home run of the season out to left. As the team collected 15 hits, Michael Massey and Doran Turchin contributed doubles. In addition to those four players, Ben Troike continues to reach base in every game, while Jack Yalowitz is still capable of showing in flashes the ability which had him enter the season projected as one of the Big Ten’s top outfielders. Friday’s contest showed that even when the opposition does well to contain Spillane, Illinois has multiple players who can step up, and beat you with contact, speed, and power. The starting 6-9 hitters combined to go 9-for-17 with four RBI and five runs.

Wilkening’s plate potential turns into production

Although injuries have limited his time behind the plate, Nebraska catcher Jesse Wilkening has put together an outstanding season. On Friday, in a 2-for-4 game, Wilkening hit his ninth home run of the season, as he finished the year with a .372 average, 14 doubles, .445 on-base percentage, .588 slugging mark, and team-best 56 RBI. It was the type of offensive season many predicted when Wilkening was a highly sought recruit out of Indiana in 2015. A 28th-round draft pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks three years ago, Wilkening hit .270 as a freshman, then .247 last year. Wilkening had previously shown the ability to be a good receiver and defensive backstop, but the offense had yet to develop. It did this year in a big way, giving Nebraska a potent 1-2 threat in support of first baseman Scott Schreiber. Unfortunately too many injuries on the mound created a pitching situation which made Nebraska’s solid offensive season an afterthought. But at least for Wilkening, he enjoyed the type of season to put him back on scouts’ radars, and showcased what made him one of Darin Erstad’s top recruits.

 

Michigan at Purdue

Wrapping up the weekend back in Indiana, by the time action began on Saturday, ignoring the four outs needed to complete Friday’s suspended contest, Purdue had secured second place in the Big Ten, and couldn’t catch Minnesota. Michigan had lost a second consecutive series to leave their NCAA Tournament status fully in the air. On paper, whichever way the result unfolded would seem to have mattered little. But as Purdue capped a weekend sweep with a 2-1 victory, the two teams separated in the Big Ten standings by just one game, are heading into postseason going in opposite directions.

Purdue’s mental makeup shines

Purdue head coach Mark Wasikowski praised his teams toughness following Saturday’s victory. Sometimes mental toughness is hard to put into words, but for every at Alexander Field on the sun-soaked day, it was clear Purdue has a bit of fortitude.

In the first inning, after striking out the leadoff batter, Purdue starter Ryan Beard allowed a single, issued a walk, then it a batter to load the bases. A third straight free base drove in a run and it appeared Purdue’s Senior Day would be a sour one. But the left-hander struck out the next two batters to limit the damage to one run. From the second inning on, until he was relieved with two outs in the sixth, Beard only allowed one Wolverine to reach second.

Two more examples came in the ninth, when closer Ross Learnard was called upon to close his third game of the weekend. He did just that, reaching 15 saves, which sets a new single-season record at Purdue. But a final element of toughness aided Learnard’s save. With a runner on first base and two outs, Michigan’s Jordan Nwogu pulled a rocket down the third base line. On the short hop, Purdue third baseman Evan Warden dove to smother the ball. Off the hop, the ball hit Warden in the mouth, leaving him bloodied and lying face down in the dirt, but the ball did not end up in the corner for a tying double, which it appeared ticketed. Michigan’s Jack Blomgren reached third on the play, but stayed there, as a fielder’s choice one batter later ended the game.

The parts are in place to sustain success in West Lafayette

In a cruel twist of luck, Purdue’s Alexander Field opened the season after the Boilermakers earned the right to host a regional. And up until now, the joys of the 2012 season, and what Purdue enjoyed as a program, and its fan, were a distant memory. But taking in the action on Saturday, one cannot help but see Purdue has the pieces in place to continue to enjoy the success the program is enjoying in Wasikowski’s second season.

From a facility standpoint, few places in the Big Ten, if any, can go toe-to-toe with the look, feel, and amenities of Alexander Field, for player, fans, and press alike. West Lafayette is located in a state with a strong prep baseball presence, and not far from the hotbed that is Chicagoland. But most importantly, the Purdue players, in how they carry themselves before and after games, their play in the field, their at-bats, and how their pitchers perform, are consistent, 1-35. That shows a complete buy-in into the message Wasikowski is preaching and are a 180-degree reversal from where they were just two years ago. The nature of the Big Ten, with the depth and unbalanced schedule, makes predicting future success tough, but there are the necessary foundation pieces in place for Purdue to continue to trend up.

Michigan’s underclassmen have Omaha-potential

Finishing the regular season on a 1-5 skid, a second consecutive regional appearance may have fell out of Michigan’s grip. But to be in a position where that thought is even entertained is a testament to the job Erik Bakich and his staff has done recruiting. Last year, after a Big Ten-leading 42-win season, Michigan saw 11 players drafted and five other players graduate from the program. In prior years, such roster turnover would have a team going into the final weekend of the regular season fighting for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament, not sit one game out of first-place. Many would say Michigan has benefited from a favorable in-conference schedule. But not every team beats the teams they’re supposed to, and it is extremely impressive for a team loaded with underclassmen to reel off 20 games in a row.

While there may be pain in potentially missing the NCAA Tournament this season, it’s clear the future is bright in Ann Arbor, with a core of underclassmen that should be thinking beyond just a regional. Every Michigan starting pitching will return next season. As too will the team’s catcher, shortstop, DH, corner outfielder, and a do-it-all in Jesse Franklin. Although Indiana was starting to perform like a top 25 team at the end of 2012, and Michigan has fallen from the rankings, Blomgren, Franklin, Nwogu, Ben Dragani, and company have the feel of that 2012 first-year core of Schwarber, Travis, Kyle Hart, and Scott Effross. Blomgren shows the ability of being the Big Ten’s best defensive shortstop, Nwogo has big time power, and Franklin has the all-around game and moxie to leave Ann Arbor with a Player of the Year honor in his bag. Add sophomores Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffmann, who sandwich Dragani in the rotation, and special days may not be too far down the road for Michigan.

All Session Big Ten Baseball Tournament Tickets on Sale

Omaha, Neb. –This spring some of the best college athletes in the country and their fan favorite teams will be welcomed back to TD Ameritrade Park Omaha for the return of the Big Ten Baseball Tournament.

All session tickets for the 2018 Big Ten Baseball Tournament are on sale. The tournament is scheduled to span five days, starting on Wednesday, May 23, culminating in a championship game on Sunday, May 27 at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.

Tickets can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com, by calling 1-800-745-3000, or by visiting the CenturyLink Center Box Office. All session ticket sales are priced as follows:

• Club Level – $55
• Reserved – $50
• College Student/18-under – $25
• Children two and under will not need a ticket

The Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority (MECA) and University of Nebraska-Lincoln are thrilled to co-host the Tournament this year through the year 2022.

The Ten: Big Ten Tourney G7

The Wildcats’ run continues. Northwestern entered the tournament as the seventh seed, but the Wildcats were the conference’s hottest team. Taking on Minnesota in the winner’s-half of bracket one, Spencer Allen’s team picked up a 11-7 win, to advance to the semifinals. Here’s the 10 on highlights, notes and thoughts from Friday’s first contest.

The weather breaks

After two days of gloomy, dreary, wet, chilly, just not-fun weather, Friday’s action opened under sunny skies and warm weather. The weather helps the Big Ten get the tournament back on schedule before semi-final play begins Saturday, and should help the attendance at Bart Kaufman Field with the host Hoosiers set for an evening contest against the loser of the Gophers-Wildcats.

A very offensive week continues

With the temperature settling into the high-70s, low-80s, and a breeze out to left field, the conditions were there for a very offensive game, not that the week has been short on offense. The two teams combined for 21 hits and four home runs, as only one full inning was played scoreless, continuing the theme of the week.

Coffey, Hanson deliver big blows

Three of the home runs were hit by Minnesota, starting in the first inning with a two-run blast to right field by Micah Coffey. After Northwestern responded and grabbed a 5-2 lead after three innings, batting behind Coffey, Toby Hanson also homered to right, bringing the Gophers within two runs. In the heart of the order, Coffey and Hanson combined to go 5-for-9 with four runs and three RBI, doing their part to keep Minnesota in the see-saw contest.

Christie settles in nicely

After Coffey’s two-run home run in the first, Northwestern freshman right-handed pitcher Hank Christie settled in. Christie retired the next nine batters, until he surrendered the home run to Hanson. But the second home run didn’t rattle the rookie too much, retiring five of the next six batters, relinquishing only a two-out single in the fifth. Rebounding from the shaky start to pitch 5.1 innings, Christie helped saved the Northwestern bullpen for the weekend, helping the Widlcats head into play as one of the final four with a fairly rested pitching staff.

Schulze unable to find the third-out

While the NU freshman right-hander was able and turn in a serviceable start after a rough first inning, the same couldn’t be said about Minnesota’s freshman righty, Brett Schulze. Schulze retired the first two Wildcats, but a single and back-to-back walks loaded the bases before Connor Lind cleared them with a double to left center. Their two-run lead turning into a one-run deficit, the first inning was unfortunately a sign of things to come for Minnesota. Schulze did get out of the first, a fly out to right one pitch after Lind’s double ended the inning, but a leadoff walk to start NU’s second-inning at-bat brought the end to Schulze’s day.

Hoscheit’s out-of-this-world bat

Producing the best in-conference batting average in 18 years with a .468 average, Northwestern senior outfielder Joe Hoscheit continues to beat up Big Ten pitching. Scoring four runs, Hoscheit went 2-for-4, including a home run to left center field, providing the final run, and exclamation point on Northwestern’s victory. Hoscheit is swinging the Big Ten’s most lethal bat, at the forefront of the Wildcats’ surprising run in Bloomington.

The Wildcats were more clutch

Though the two teams were close in hits, Northwestern’s 11 hits edging Minnesota’s 10, when the hits came was the deciding factor. With two outs, Northwestern batted .500, picking up six hits in 12 at-bats while Minnesota managed only two hits in nine at-bats. With runners in scoring position, NU went 6-for-11 compared to another 2-for-9 showing by the Gophers. Minnesota did successfully record a hit in their lone at-bat with a runner on third and less than two outs, but NU’s .538 average with runners on base led to five hits in six at-bats where a runner was 90 feet from scoring with either one or not outs. In their second game against a top-three seeded team, the Wildcats were extremely clutch.

Anderson ejected

In the bottom of the seventh, Minnesota head coach John Anderson was ejected from the contest, making two consecutive games a head coach was ejected from a Big Ten Tournament game. In the final game of Thursday action, Maryland head coach John Szefc was ejected for arguing a non-hit by pitch call. The Terrapins would rather late, winning 5-2 under the direction of associate head coach Rob Vaughan. The Gophers were not able to duplicate the feat of the Terrapins, unable to rally under the direction of their associate head coach, Rob Fornasiere.

Minnesota’s quick turnaround

Due to weather and the length of games on Wednesday and Thursday, the tournament was two games behind schedule entering Friday. Fortunately, Friday only had two scheduled games, along with no rain in the forecast to make up the games. The result, with the Big Ten needing to get in as many games as possible before Saturday and narrow the tournament field down to four, Minnesota has a quick turnaround. The Gophers will play a second game on Friday, against Indiana, looking to keep their season alive.

Two down, two more for NU

With their seventh consecutive win, the team’s longest winning streak since 2003, Northwestern moves into the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. With two wins, taking down the tournament’s number two and three seeds, the Wildcats stand two wins away from their first Big Ten Tournament championship, which would put them in their first NCAA Tournament.

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.