Trending Topics: Week 1

It was quite the weekend for Big Ten baseball teams, as action spanned the country from Miami, Fla., to Riverside, Calif. There were outstanding individual honors, like pitchers Grant Judkins of Iowa and Ohio State’s Garrett Burhenn, respectively logging a no-hit outing and flirting with perfection. A handful of teams sport spotless records: Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. And there were also a few surprises on the not as pleasant side, such as Minnesota losing to New Mexico and Oregon State by a combined score of 24-2 and Purdue and Rutgers concluding the opening weekend without a win.

Going beyond the scoreboard and box scores, the first of a weekly staple, Trending Topics, looks at five observations from the weekend that are either sending a team to success or holding them back.

Seniors stepping up

It’s hard to quantify, but ask any coach and there is something to draftitis affecting players over their junior year. Players who aren’t slam dunk draft picks, players with premium tools whose stock depends on production, time and time again press and scuffle, ultimately playing their way out of the draft. Then, when seniors, and facing the possibility of playing baseball competitively for the last time, no longer worrying about the draft just embracing the moment, an all-conference season unfolds.

The opening weekend showed there may be a few players who have strong senior seasons after watching their draft stock come and go, relaxed and just having the game come to them. Here’s a look at a few of those players, players who may end up having a significant say in how their team fares with them in the heart of the order.

Illinois OF Zac Taylor: 6-for-13, 2 2B, 1 HR, 5-5 SB-ATT

Indiana OF Logan Kaletha: 4-for-11, 2B

Maryland 3B Taylor Wright: 4-for-11

Michigan 1B Jimmy Kerr: 4-for-13, 2B, HR, 4 RBI

Ohio State LF Brady Cherry: 7-for-14, 2 2B, 2 HR

Buckeyes limit freebies

Although Ohio State went 36-24 and participated in the Greenville Regional last year, the Buckeyes were far from a well-oiled machine.

In 60 games, Ohio State’s defense committed 94 errors, more than 1.5 per contest and a whopping 20 more than the next closet team, leading to a Big Ten-worst .959 fielding percentage. The extra outs the Buckeyes gave the opposition were in addition to Ohio State hurlers hitting 77 batters, the most in the Big Ten, stood alongside surrendering 590 hits, also the most in the conference. A team that gives up a lot of hits, hits a lot of batters and routinely falls to play a clean game is far from the way Greg Beals wants his team to perform, regional or not.

Through the first weekend of the 2019 season, the Buckeyes have cleaned up their act.

Opening 4-0 for just the third time since 2010, Ohio State’s defense committed just two errors, for a .986 fielding percentage. Ohio State pitchers plunked only two batters, while walking just five hitters. As Ohio State breaks in an entirely new rotation, eliminating free passes, extra bases, and forced to record extra outs will go a long way in helping the Bucks reach back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time since 2002-03.

Huskers on the attack

Although Nebraska batted .274 in 2018, good for sixth in the conference, and scored 6.48 runs per contest, there was notable chatter on social media around the Huskers revolved around the offense. It is true Nebraska will no longer have the services of Scott Schreiber and Jesse Wilkening, the team’s two leading batters who combined for 56 extra-base hits and 27 of the team’s 47 home runs. So on paper there is a noticeable void in power, but when looking back at Nebraska’s best teams under Erstad, they were never ones to so much power.

Take 2014, when Nebraska finished second in the Big Ten and participated in a regional. The Huskers batted .293 with only 19 homers. By comparison, Schreiber hit 18 by himself last year.

In 2016, another year in a regional, Nebraska batted .281 with 43 home runs.

Then, in 2017, when the Huskers won the Big Ten, the team held its .281 average but this time with just 25 home runs.

With Erstad leading the way, when Nebraska’s offense is at its best, it’s when every batter, 1-9, has a methodical approach of fouling balls off until one can be barreled, puts consistent pressure on the opponent, are aggressive with dirt ball reads, takes the extra 90 feet and squeezes the life out of the opposition.

In taking three of four games from UC Riverside, it appears Nebraska’s offense is getting back to that.

While it’s unlikely the team will bat .347 for the course of the season, there were 27 walks drawn in four games, 10 doubles, nine stolen bases and the team was able to generate 47 runs without needing to drop a sacrifice bunt, relying on three sac flies.

The key to Nebraska in 2019 isn’t necessarily who replaces the thump of Schreiber and Wilkening, it’s more who becomes the next Chad Christensen, Pat Kelly, Jake Meyers or Michael Pritchard, guys who did all of the little things that added up to a potent offense.

Did Minnesota’s superb defense graduate, too?

Picked by conference coaches to defend their Big Ten title, a lot of Minnesota’s expected success stems from their pitching staff. Last year, Minnesota pitched to a 3.20 ERA, a mark lowered to a conference-best 2.64 in Big Ten games. With the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Patrick Fredrickson back in his Saturday role for his sophomore season, fellow all-american and classmate Max Meyer resuming his closing duties, and many capable high-ceiling arms back, such as Joshua Culliver, Jeff Fasching, Bubba Horton and Brett Schultz, there’s a lot to like about the Golden Gophers on the mound.

But the expected strength of the team falling on the pitching staff was also in part due to the graduation of multiple starters with at least three years of starting under their belt: Alex Boxwell, Micah Coffey, Toby Hanson, Luke Pettersen, and arguably the Big Ten’s best two-way player in Terrin Varva. Any concern regarding Minnesota would be on how John Anderson and staff would replace the key contributors at the plate,

After a rocky opening weekend, the real concern may be how does Minnesota replace the quintet in the field.

In addition to the second-best ERA, Minnesota had the second-best fielding percentage among Big Ten teams. With a .977 fielding percentage, Minnesota committed just 52 errors over 59 games. In 2017 Minnesota had a .978 fielding percentage, committing 47 errors in 57 games, and in 2016 the Gophers fielded at a .980 mark, with 43 errors in 56 games.

In four games in Arizona, Minnesota committed six errors, including four in Saturday’s 11-1 defeat to New Mexico. Each error in Saturday’s game came from a position where Minnesota last a starter, with the weekend’s six errors leading to nine unearned runs.

Now, it was opening weekend. It was Minnesota’s first time being outside on a baseball field since the fall, and young players need time to adjust to the speed of the game. But Minnesota’s pitchers are only as good as the defense behind them, and if too many extra bases and extra outs are provided to the opponents, it won’t matter what the Gophers do or don’t do at the plate.

Hawkkkkkeyes ring them up

When your former pitching coach is hired away by the Yankees for a position called Director of Pitch Development, a position created exclusively for him, chances are your pitchers were working with one of the best in the business as they perfected their craft. The results from Iowa’s three games over opening weekend would support that.

Although Iowa’s former pitcher coach Desi Druschel was behind the plate, taking in Saturday’s games as a bystander and not participant, his work with the Hawkeye pitchers was on display.

Against George Mason, Pitt and Marshall, Hawkeye pitchers were on the mound for 26 innings. In that time, Iowa struck out 41 batters. Jack Dreyer started the parade of eye-popping numbers with a 10-strikeout showing in 5.1 innings on Saturday against the Panthers. Less than 24 hours later, Grant Judkins grabbed the Big Ten lead in punch outs with 11, in six innings against the Thundering Herd. With relievers in tow, Iowa’s game totals for strikeouts were: 10, 15 and 16.

The 41 strikeouts helped Iowa hold the opposition to a .114 batting average, 10 hits in 88 at-bats. The 20 walks are an issue to address, but Iowa’s 14.19 K/9 showing through one weekend is impressive. In case you’re wondering, that would be 795 over a 56-game schedule. The Big Ten record is 549, set by Maryland in 2015.

For Vaughn, 2018’s obstacles to lead the way in 2019

When the final out was recorded in Maryland’s 4-0, Feb. 16, 2018 win over Tennessee, it was the period on the perfect script.

Terrapin ace Taylor Bloom pitched seven dominant innings, scattering six hits while striking out nine batters without issuing a walk. Second baseman Nick Dunn, entering the season as one of the Big Ten’s top draft prospects, showed his star power, going 2-for-3 with two walks and two home runs. Junior all-conference outfielder Marty Costes recorded a pair of hits in five at-bats.

And first-year head coach Rob Vaughn, after spending five years on the staff of former coach John Szefc, led the team to victory in his first game at the helm.

Everything was there. Pitching, offense, an errorless contest, and the new coach grabbing a road win at an Southeastern Conference school.

The feel good story didn’t last long, as Maryland’s 2018 went every which way except what was to be expected on paper.

Heading into the 2018 season, Maryland was a consensus pick to finish among the Big Ten’s top three, ticketed for a second consecutive NCAA Tournament. Alongside Bloom, sophomore left-hander Tyler Blohm, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year, spearheaded the rotation. Dunn and Costes were to make up the heart of a deep lineup, surrounded by the likes of shortstop A.J. Lee and outfielder Zach Jancarski. Lee was an All-Big Ten Third Team selection in 2017, while Jancarski batted .325 with 17 home runs.

On paper, there was a lot to like about Maryland, the rotation, the veterans in the field, the power potential and enough speed to keep opposing pitchers on their toes. It all appeared to be there. And with Vaughn’s knowledge of the programs and players, having recruited them and serving as their hitting coach, the high expectations didn’t seem out of hand, even for a first-year coach. But in hindsight, that familiarity, as well as it served him to take over the Terrapin program as one of Division I baseball’s youngest head coaches, may have ultimately hindered the team’s on-field success.

“I think as a coaching staff, that’s where I really dropped the ball, and I wish like anything I could take it back for that group of seniors and juniors that left,” Vaughn said, as a 24-30 season saw Maryland fall well shy of preseason expectations. “I think you had such a group that you look on paper and think, you know what, they have been through the ringer, I’ve busted those guys up for three years, I can be a little lighter on them, I can kind of pull the reigns back a bit because they’ve got it…and then when we got punched in the mouth in March, we had no idea how to respond to adversity, no idea how to pick ourselves up and grind through something.”

Instead of participating in a regional for the fourth time in five seasons, Maryland’s season ended before the Big Ten Tournament started. A 9-14 record in conference play produced way to a ninth-place finish in the Big Ten table. In an up-and-down year, which never saw Maryland garner any traction, there wasn’t a guide for Vaughn to fall back on. As the team took their lumps, it was Maryland’s first losing season since 2011, when current Michigan head coach Erik Bakich oversaw a 21-35 season, so too did he, learning the nuances of being a head coach and how to lead an entire program on and away from the diamond.

“As a young coach, one of the biggest things I had to learn was balancing different things,” said Vaughn, who at age 30 was named the eighth head coach in program history. “Me and Coach Szfec aren’t the same person, we manage people differently, we lead a bit differently.

“I was kind of caught in this place last year, where it was like, I worked with the hitters for five years, that’s all I’ve ever coached, those are my guys, to trying to figure out what does my role actually look like. Am I the CEO type? Am I the still the guy that coaches the hitters? What exactly does that role look like, and there’s honestly some growing pains with that because I felt like I was trying to find myself.”

Heading into a second offseason leading the program, to go forward Vaughn realized he needed to take a step back.

“I kind of got back to what I’m super passionate about and the reason I got into this in the first place. It’s not to be a CEO, it’s not to sit at the top and watch other people coach; I love recruiting, I love coaching hitters, I like being on the field every day.

“I think I listened to a lot of people last year where it’s like man, as a head coach you have so many responsibilities, you’re just not going to have time, this and that. Frankly, you find time for what you really care about. For me, a big piece of it is getting back to the stuff I love.”

Although the team may not have reached its full potential, a .243 average bettered only Penn State’s .233 clip and the team pitched to a 5.28 ERA, Dunn did bat .330 with 17 doubles and 10 home runs, Jancarski and fellow senior Kevin Boindic batted .279, Costes reached base at a .382 mark with six home runs, and Bloom logged 79.1 innings.

All of those players, each a three or four-year starter, are gone. With a roster off 22 underclassmen and seven transfers, Vaughn’s hand was almost forced for him to get back to being more hands on.

Sometimes the obstacles in front of us provide the way forward.

“The first week, we didn’t even get on a baseball field, we spent it in the classroom,” Vaughn said. “We actually took them down to D.C. one day, did some stuff in D.C. one morning from a conditioning standpoint. Just really try to get them to understand that we’re not a program that’s going to compare our success based on going to Omaha or not going to Omaha, it’s about developing people. At the heart of it, that’s what we want to be about. I think the byproduct of that is you’ll get guys that will run through a wall for you, at this level you end up winning a ton of games.”

With a better understanding of how to lead a program of young men and finding a balance with hitting coach Justin Swope, Vaughn feels everything he and the team went through last year will only make them tougher, closer and ready to rebound in a big way.

“I think I learned a ton, I had a ton of growing pains last year. But it’s been really good with this group of freshmen, combined with our sophomores, our freshmen last year, sophomores this year. (Justin) Vought, (Randy) Bednar and those guys, that left them with a really sour taste in their mouths. They weren’t the guys that said screw it, I’m going to go transfer somewhere else, we gotta make this thing right. So those guys have seen how it’s been done when we weren’t firing on all cylinders, when we weren’t going about our business the right and those guys have been bound and determined to not let it happen again. Between those classes and having a few really, really impact seniors back this year, it’s been really fun to get back to coaching those guys up the way we want to do.”

The way they want to. Now it’s time to get back to that script.

Maryland Releases 2019 Schedule

College Park, Md. — Maryland baseball head coach Rob Vaughn announced the program’s 2019 schedule Wednesday, which features marquee home series against East Carolina, Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan. All four of those programs have made the NCAA Tournament over the last two seasons, giving the Terps one of their strongest home slates in recent memory.

Maryland, who has made NCAA Regionals in three of the last five seasons, begins its 126th season of baseball in 2019. The Terrapins will play a total of 24 games at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium, including nine against teams that advanced the NCAA Tournament. The Terps will also play three-game sets on the road against two teams that advanced to NCAA Super Regionals last season: Stetson and Minnesota.

“One of the reasons that guys choose to come and play at Maryland is that they know, year in and year out, we will line up against some of the best teams in the country and this year is no different,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “A trip to Louisiana-Lafayette along with competing against two regional hosts from last season in weeks four and five gives us a chance to see where we stack up. As always, the Big Ten is continuing to pump out good teams and we are excited to compete for a conference championship. We’ve got our hands full this year, but we aren’t going to back down from the challenge and we are looking forward to February!”

The Terps will play 13 games against teams that finished in the top-50 in the RPI in 2018, including six against top-20 RPI teams. Twenty-four games will be played against 2018 RPI Top-100 teams.

The Terps open the season in Conway, S.C. at a tournament hosted by 2016 National Champion Coastal Carolina where the Terps will also face Campbell and VCU (Feb. 15-17). Maryland begins its home slate with a three-game set against Maine (Feb. 22-24) before traveling to VCU for a midweek clash (Feb. 26).

Maryland will head to Sun Belt power Louisiana-Lafayette for a three game set (March 1-3) prior to hosting Delaware at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium (March 5). The Terps then go back on the road to face off with Stetson in a three-game series (March 8-10) before traveling to take on Delaware (March 13).

A super regional program in 2014 and 2015, Louisiana-Lafayette, who regularly ranks in the top-10 attendance in the nation, will provide a tough early test for Maryland. The Terps won its series against Stetson in College Park in 2018, the biggest series victory of the season for Maryland.

A three-game series between the Terps and East Carolina is Maryland’s final non-conference home set (March 15-17). The Terps traveled to face the Pirates on the road last year, and ECU will represent Maryland’s toughest home non-conference opponent since Cal State Fullerton came to College Park in 2015.

A five-game spring break road trip follows as the Terps clash with Elon for two midweek matchups (March 19-20) and go to Creighton (March 22-24) for a weekend series. Creighton plays its home games at TD Ameritrade Park, home of the Big Ten Tournament and the College World Series.

The Terps open Big Ten play against Indiana to finish out March (29-31) before making the short trip to William & Mary (April 2). Maryland then faces Illinois on the road in its second conference series (April 5-7). A pair of midweek home games against William & Mary (April 9) and West Virginia (April 10) come prior to the Terps returning to Illinois to take on Northwestern (April 12-14).

Indiana and Illinois will represent a big opportunity for the Terps in Big Ten play. The Hoosiers were an NCAA Regional club in 2018 while Illinois was one of the last four teams left out of the tournament last season.

Maryland hosts James Madison (April 16) before traveling to George Mason the following day (April 17). The Terps then face Ohio State for the first time since 2016 in a three-game home series (April 19-21). The Buckeyes rebounded from a tough 2017 campaign to make the NCAA Tournament in 2018.

The Terps face off with VCU in their return at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium on April 23 before a weekend set at Penn State (April 26-28). After a midweek clash at Villanova (May 1), the Terps host Michigan for three contests (May 3-5).

The final home midweek game of the season comes against Towson on May 7 before the Terps travel to face Minnesota for a three-game series (May 10-12). The Golden Gophers are the defending Big Ten Regular Season and Tournament Champions. After a road matchup with James Madison (May 14), Maryland closes the season with three games at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium against Iowa (May 16-18).

The Big Ten Tournament will take place at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., May 22-26. Maryland’s non-conference home weekend series tentatively have the following game times: Friday (4 p.m.), Saturday (2 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.). Maryland’s conference home weekend series will tentatively have a 6:30 p.m. first pitch time on Friday with first pitch times for Saturday and Sunday remaining at 2 p.m. and 1 p.m. Game times are tentative until television broadcasts designations are announced.

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.

Maryland-George Mason Game Cancelled

College Park, Md. — Due to inclement weather, the Maryland baseball team’s game with George Mason scheduled for Tuesday has been cancelled.

To stay up to date on Maryland Baseball, log on to umterps.com or follow the team on Twitter at @TerpsBaseball.

The Weekend 10

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

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

Here’s who stood out.

Michigan Jr. OF Jonathan Engelmann

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

Minnesota Fr. RHP Patrick Fredrickson

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

Michigan St. Sr. RHP Ethan Landon

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

Penn State Sr. LHP Taylor Lehman

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

Illinois Soph. 2B Michael Massey

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

Maryland Jr. RHP Hunter Parsons

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

Rutgers Fr. LHP Harry Rutkowski

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

Iowa Jr. RHP Brady Schanuel

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

Nebraska Sr. DH Scott Schreiber

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

Illinois Jr. 1B Bren Spillane

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

March 15-18 Weekend Preview

Rutgers in position to turn the corner

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

Blake Dowson-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Webb's Words: Statement weekend round two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Required reading

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

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

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

What to watch for

Avoiding the letdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whelan's return

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

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

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

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

Michigan, the new Florida?

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

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

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

 

By the numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 4 Weekend Observations

The fourth weekend of the college baseball season is in the books. Yes, just like that, a month has already passed. With each team having a dozen games under their belts, any rust for winter practices confined to indoor facilities should be gone by now. As conference play grows nearer, the cream is starting to rise from the crop. And here’s what was observed from the past weekend as the picture becomes more and more clear as to the form teams really are.

Illini aren’t going away

Checking in at No. 24 in this week’s Baseball America poll, Illinois becomes the second team in the Big Ten to be ranked this year. The number next to their name comes on the heels of a seven-game winning streak that was stopped Sunday by Michigan State. Before the Spartans picked up a 4-2 win, Illinois had been clicking on all cylinders.

Between Feb. 24 and March 4, Dan Hartleb’s team had a run of six consecutive games without committing an error. Over the seven game winning streak, which included a sweep of the Dairy Queen Classic field, Illinois scored less than five runs just once, while allowing more than five runs just once.

A rotation of Quinn Snarskis, Andy Fisher, and Ty Weber holding a combined ERA of 3.19, a team doing a bit of everything offensively with a triple-slash of .261/.366/.438 with 17 stolen bases, and the Big Ten’s top fielding unit, Illinois hasn’t showed a true weakness. That’s a scary thought for future opponents as Jack Yalowitz (.222) and Zac Taylor (.189) have yet to get going.

Scarlet Knights make a statement

It might not have been the most attention-grabbing weekend, no ranked teams were defeated, wins weren’t gathered in a hostile environment, and there wasn’t a no-hitter or outrageous score were to carry the headline. But Rutgers’ weekend should make some take notice.

Rutgers played Army in Fort Myers, Fla., the third Big Ten opponent the Black Knights have faced this weekend. After splitting the first six games, going 1-2 against Michigan, a week before picking up a pair of wins at Maryland, Army was unable to grab a victory in three games against Rutgers. With the weekend sweep, Rutgers is off to a solid start at 8-6, a record which includes a pair last-inning stunning defeats to Boston College and St. Bonaventure.

When considering a close 7-6 loss to Indiana, and Rutgers’ run differential against Army of 17, compared to nine for Michigan and -1 for Maryland, more and more evidence is gathering that Rutgers will be in the mix for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament, that the desired offseason culture change is taking place.

Maryland remains a mystery

It’s been a season of streaks for Maryland. The Terps opened the season winning their first two games before dropping the next four. That skid was followed by a five-game winning steak. Maryland’s winning ways were stopped by back-to-back defeats, before picking up consecutive wins to grab the home series against Bryant. At 9-6, Maryland’s up-and-down season hasn’t derailed postseason dreams, but it has made it tough to gauge how good Rob Vaughn’s team is.

Is Maryland the team that 14 runs in its first two games at Tennessee, or closer to the team that scored 13 over the next four? Maryland beat Ball State 13-1, to run their winning streak to five games, then came up flat, falling 7-1 to Delaware. Mirroring the up/down nature of Maryland’s season is the performance of the expected top two contributors.

Junior second baseman Nick Dunn is batting .358 with five doubles and five home runs, pacing the club. Classmate outfielder Marty Costes, is off to a .151/.309/.264. As was the case this weekend, Dunn can carry the team to victory. But he can’t continually do it all by himself at the plate, getting Costes going will surely stabilize the Terrapins.

Indiana’s depth shows

The Hoosiers may have only scored eight runs in their 2-1, series victory over Pacific, but a detailed look at the box scores shows why Indiana is the Big Ten’s top-ranked team and favorite to win the conference title.

On Friday, in a 2-1 loss, Indiana received a 4-for-4, three-double game from first baseman/second baseman Matt Lloyd. On Saturday, each of Colby Stratten’s two hits were doubles. Then, on Sunday, Logan Sowers had a 3-for-4 day with three doubles, driving in three runs. Three different players with multi-extra-base games, which didn’t include top hitter Logan Kalthea or Luke Miller, who are 1-2 in slugging percentage at .577 and .574, respectively, shows how much of a headache the Indiana lineup can be.

Then, Indiana throws a very deep bullpen at opponents. Hoosier relievers combined to toss nine innings without allowing an earned run against Pacific, as four relievers who have appeared in at least three games continue to have a spotless 0.00. The depth at the plate and options on the mound backs up head coach Chris Lemonis’ assertion this is his deepest Indiana team.

Ohio State: Very Good O, Very Bad D

If you’re eighth-year head coach Greg Beals, there’s a lot to like about the 2018 Ohio State outfit. But there is also a very concern area.

After a .295/.364/.541 weekend at the Chanticleer Classic, Ohio State has a season triple-slash of .301/.388/.450. The Buckeyes’ slugging percentage is tops in the Big Ten, spurred by a conference-leading 16 home runs. Of the team’s 15 games, the Bucks have scored at least six runs 10 times, averaging a Big Ten-best 7.53 runs per game. Seniors Tyler Cowles and Noah McGown give Beals a potent 1-2 punch in the heart of the lineup.

The best in the Big Ten at plating runs, the Buckeyes are the worst in the field, helping the opposition score more unearned runs than any team. With 28 errors and a .951 fielding percentage, the Buckeye nine is the conference’s worst fielding unit, one that has allowed 26 unearned runs, almost two a game, to score. Ohio State has had only one error-less game, while 10 contests have seen the Bucks commit at least two errors. Most damaging, the Buckeyes allowed Oregon State, the top-ranked team in the country, to score six unearned runs on Feb. 23, in a 10-8 loss, before allowing #28 Coastal Carolina to score three unearned runs on Saturday, in another 10-8 defeat.

Minnesota can’t cash in at U.S. Bank

The construction of U.S. Bank Stadium, the home of the Minnesota Vikings, and use of the facility to play baseball games was to give Minnesota an asset. Instead of traveling to all parts of the country over the first month of the season, Minnesota could play games at home, in Minneapolis. Unfortunately the Gophers showing inside of the home of Super Bowl XVII have been troublesome than rewarding.

Through 10 games, Minnesota is 6-4 at home. Considering two of the four losses are to UCLA and Washington, the record isn’t that bad. But Minnesota’s offense has produced only four games where the team has scored more than three runs. Before Sunday’s 15-1 triumph over Creighton, the team averaged 3.1 runs per game, while allowing four runs per contest to the visitors.

The next eight games for Minnesota come on the run, including three at No. 11 TCU and three at reigning Big Ten champion Nebraska. The stretch of eight games will go a long way in determining Minnesota’s postseason fate, and considering the team’s struggles inside spacious U.S. Bank Stadium, it may be beneficial they come on the road, especially with the weight RPI formula.

Week 1 Weekend Observations

The opening weekend is in the books, and it was a fair weekend for the Big Ten, as the conference went 27-16. In five opportunities, the Big Ten picked up wins over nationally-ranked programs, Indiana topped South Alabama and Rutgers wrapped up their weekend with a victory over Miami. Three teams went 3-0, Iowa, Penn State, and Purdue, while Maryland and Michigan won weekend sets, with the Buckeyes and Cornhuskers joined the Hoosiers in going 3-1.

Digging deeper, here’s the top observations from the weekend that was.

Billy Phillips provides the weekend highlight

The box score may not garner a second look, it was a scoreless inning of relief in a lopsided defeat, allowing one hit with one strikeout, but Maryland junior left-handed pitcher Billy Phillips provided the highlight in all of college baseball this weekend.

From Wilmington, Del., Phillips’ sixth inning appearance in the Terrapins’ weekend finale against Tennessee was the first career outing for Phillips, as the southpaw has missed the prior two seasons fighting, recovering and winning a battle against leukemia, dating back to his senior year of high school in 2015.

In a conference where from Ohio State left-handed pitcher Zach Farmer valiantly fought leukemia, as well as former Minnesota pitching coach Todd Oakes, we’re once again reminded of the resolve in humans and the character of the individuals who play and coach in the sport. And as we learned with Farmer and Oakes, nobody fights alone and we’re all there to support Phillips as his leukemia fades more and more into the distance.

Do not question their commitment to baseball

There’s been a noticeable increase in the level of commitment Big Ten baseball programs have seen over the last decade. The most obvious example of the uptick in commitment are the stadium renovations or completely new stadiums seen around the conference. Less noticeable signs of backing are increased salary pools for assistant coaches, more members to support staffs in the form of director of baseball operations and video coordinators, and increased recruiting budgets.

The latest sign of Big Ten programs doing everything they can to field a competitive team was on display this weekend as weather forced Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue alter their schedules.

All three teams were set to fly out of Chicago on Thursday, but each saw their flight canceled. Ultimately Illinois and Purdue had to cancel their trips to Texas. Northwestern did make it to their destination and played three of four games against Omaha, but not before every option was exhausted to ensure games were played.

Purdue ended up with three games in Georgia, Illinois saw their opening day pushed back twice, forced to settle for games against Austin Peay and South Dakota State in St. Louis on Sunday, Northwestern was considering incurring a cost of $30,000 to join Cincinnati and Miami on a charted plane to points out west.

Obviously, no team wants to bag their games on opening weekend. But it does take an administration to sign off on additional costs that come with a change of travel plans at the last second, find transportation, food and lodging for 40 people. That willingness is another testament to the importance of baseball around the Big Ten.

Hoosiers have the necessary experience

As great as a team may look on paper, you never truly know how a team will be once the season starts. Indiana returned a lot of players from their Lexington Regional team, and as reflected in the preseason conference coaches’ poll, were deserving of their near consensus preseason ranking. There will be more than a few home runs hit between Matt Lloyd, Luke Miller and Logan Sowers, already the trio have combined for five, but perhaps more important than the offensive production from the bats, or the scoreless innings Pauly Milto, Cal Krueger and Lloyd can toss on the mound, is the experience Indiana has as a club that’s been in two of the last three NCAA Tournaments and knows what is necessary to win at a high level.

Indiana finished the weekend with a solid 3-1 record, but it wasn’t a weekend full of ease for Chris Lemonis and staff.

Indiana jumped out to a 2-0 lead after their first at-bat in the season opener against Oklahoma, but ultimately lost 6-3. Indiana showed no hangover in cruising to a 5-0 victory over Kansas State on Saturday. On Sunday, IU rallied from 3-0 first-inning deficit to South Alabama in walk-off fashion, 8-4, and after Coastal Carolina grabbed a 5-3 lead with a four-spot in the fourth, answered with two runs in their at-bat in the fifth, before winning 6-5.

The ability to take a blow and respond, to stay composed in a final at-bat and throw away a poor performance will go a long way as Indiana looks to make a deep postseason run in June.

Michigan’s weekend rotation will carry the team

If you were following Michigan’s weekend series against Army you probably lost track of how many Wolverines made their Michigan debut this weekend. Between freshmen, JUCO transfers or players who have been in the program but buried due to the depth Erik Bakich has built up, it was almost a day-to-night change in the team Michigan fielded compared to the team that ended the 2017 season in the Chapel Hill Regional. But there was comfort to be found in the starting pitchers Michigan rolled out, a group that will likely carry the club in 2018 as fresh faces get accumulated and up to speed to the college game.

Using a weekend rotation of a senior followed by two sophomores, Alec Rennard, Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffman each pitched at least five innings and recorded a scoreless start. The Right-left-right trio combined to pitch 16 innings, scattering 11 hits with two walks, holding Army batters to a .189 batting average. Each pitcher was a significant factor out of the Michigan bullpen in 2017, with Rennard garnering a few starts, and now, as three of the few Wolverines who know what it takes to win in the Big Ten, as starting pitchers the rotation will go a long way in how Michigan fares this year.

The perfect script for Penn State

Penn State head coach Rob Cooper could not have asked for a better opening weekend for the Nittany Lions. In a three-game series at Elon, Penn State swept the Phoenix, opening the season 3-0 for the first time since 1980. Each victory provided Cooper and company with reasons to be optimistic in Penn State’s quest to reach the postseason for the first time since 2012.

In the opener, Justin Hagenman surrendered four hits and struck out seven batters as he takes over the of staff ace following the departure of Sal Biasi. In total, PSU pitchers racked up 15 strikeouts in the 2-1 win. Penn State’s offense lifted the team to an 8-6 win on Saturday to clinch the series, the team picked up two doubles and two home runs in their 10 hits, noteworthy as Penn State only slugged .329 last season. After missing the 2017 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Sal’s younger brother Dante made his PSU debut, keeping the game close, before closer Eric Mock recorded his second save of the weekend with a hitless, three-inning effort, helping Penn State secure the 3-2 win.

The pitching was there, more pop was on display and Penn State did not commit an error over the three games. All aspects clicked this weekend for the Nittany Lions.

A Year Two JUCO bump can help Bucks bounce back

It would be an understatement to say the 2017 season did not go as Ohio State hoped. Coming off of an appearance in the 2016 Louisville Regional, Ohio State finished 22-34 overall, 8-16 in the Big Ten to finish in 11th place. A big factor in Ohio State unable to duplicate their 2016 success was the loss of six draft pictures and a handful of other multi-year starters who graduated. Ohio State tried to fill the holes left in the lineup with JUCO transfer, but newcomers Bo Coolen, Tyler Cowles, and Noah McGowan respectively batted .230, .190, and .214 between 384 at-bats. It’s only one weekend, but the numbers put up in the first weekend may sure an their second season in Columbus may fare a bit better.

Earning Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week honors by Collegiate Baseball, McGowan batted .400 with a double, two home runs and a nation-leading 13 RBI, 12 coming with two outs. McGowan drove in 19 runs for the 2017 season. Cowles picked up four hits in 12 at-bats while Coolen added a pair of singles in five at-bats.

Ohio State will face a drastic jump in competition in the upcoming weekend, Oregon State and Utah and considerably better than UW-Milwaukee and Canisius, but the starts are encouraging for three players who struggled a year ago, a core that Ohio State has enough pieces surrounding to create a potent lineup if everything clicks.

 

The Weekend 10

Opening weekend saw its share of strong individual performances, from dominant starts for pitchers to a handful of players who collected multiple home runs on a single day. New this season to 10 Innings is the Weekend Top 10, taking a look at the most impressive individual weekend performances.

Here’s the opening weekend top 10, capped with the weekend’s top pitcher, player and freshman.

Purdue Sr. RHP Tanner Andrews

As Purdue sets out to show the program’s revival in 2017 was not a fluke, senior right-handed pitcher Tanner Andrews put together an opening-weekend performance that shows the Boilermakers have a true ace at their disposal. Andrews scattered five hits from Western Michigan batters in 6.2 innings of scoreless baseball, striking out nine batters without issuing a walk, leading Purdue to a 5-1 victory in their season opener.

Maryland Sr. RHP Taylor Bloom

On expected strength on opponent, and coming in a road win opposed to neutral site, Maryland’s Taylor Bloom squeaks by Andrews as this week’s top pitcher. Bloom had nearly an identical line to Andrews, striking out nine batters without a walk, but pitched seven innings, while scattering six hits, as the Terrapins knocked of Tennessee, 4-0, in the first game under new head coach Rob Vaughn.

Maryland Jr. 2B Nick Dunn

Where Bloom shined on the mound, teammate Nick Dunn provided a potent bat. Dunn connected on two home runs in Friday’s 4-0 victory in support of Bloom, then added his third home run of the weekend in the weekend finale. Helping Maryland take two of three from the Volunteers, Dunn went 4-for-10 with three home runs, four walks and four RBI.

Rutgers Fr. LHP Eric Heatter

A player gets only one collegiate debut, and boy did Rutgers southpaw Eric Heatter make the most of his. On the road at #24 Miami, Heatter tossed four innings of scoreless relief, surrendering only three hits while striking out eight Hurricanes against one walk. Heatter’s dominant relief outing helped Rutgers close the weekend with a 7-5 upset.

Minnesota Soph. INF/OF Jordan Kozicky

Minnesota’s Jordan Kozicky celebrated his birthday on opening day, and did so in grand fashion. Kozicky accounted for both of the Gopher runs in a 3-2 defeat at Georgia Tech, dialing up two home runs. After two games against Kennesaw State and a weekend capper against Georgia State, Kozicky finished the weekend with a .375 average, adding two doubles and a pair of walks next to the two home runs.

Michigan State Jr. RHP Riley McCauley

A coach never knows what exactly he’ll get out of a pitcher in moving him from closer to starter. What Jake Boss received from Riley McCauley is what every coach hopes. In six innings against Fresno State, McCauley held the Bulldogs to one run off two hits and two walks, striking out half of the 24 batters he faced.

Purdue Jr. 1B Jacson McGowan

A Terp edged out a Boilermaker for top pitcher, now it’s time for a Boilermaker to edge out a Terp for top player. Joining Dunn in recording three home runs over the weekend, Purdue’s Jacson McGowan is 10 Innings’ Player of the Week, after batting .538 and slugging 1.308 in Purdue’s three games against Western Michigan. McGowan added a double and three singles to record seven hits in 13 at-bats, posting an opening weekend OPS of 1.846.

Ohio State Sr. 1B Noah McGowan

A transfer from McLennan Community College, Noah McGowan drove in 19 runs last year in his first season as a Buckeye. He might eclipse that total in just two weekends this year. McGowan powered Ohio State’s 3-1 weekend in Port Charlotte with 13 RBI, batting .400 with two home runs.

Indiana Sr. OF Logan Sowers

Indiana faced tough competition in Myrtle Beach over the weekend, taking on two ranked teams in Oklahoma and South Alabama. The setting saw many scouts turn out, as those two opponents each feature a potential first-round talent in the outfield. Of course the Hoosiers have their own talented outfielder in Logan Sowers, who put on a show on his own, picking up two home runs in five hits over 12 at-bats.

Nebraska Jr. C Jesse Wilkening

Nebraska may have started the season cold at the plate, batting .202 over four games, but junior catcher Jesse Wilkening was swung a hot bat in Tempe. Wilkening paced the Huskers with a .429 average in 14 at-bats, picking up a double, a home run, two walks and driving in eight runs to propel Darin Erstad’s club to a 3-1 weekend.

Pitcher of the Week- Bloom

Player of the Week- J. McGowan

Freshman of the Week- Heatter

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