Last One Out Close The Gate: Lambert Field Closes This Weekend

While it does not have the rich history of LSU's Alex Box Stadium or Miami's Mark Light Field, Saturday afternoon marks a milestone in the Purdue baseball program's history as it will be the final time the Boilers play at Lambert Field. Opened in 1965, it honors long-time baseball and basketball coach Ward "Piggy" Lambert. It seats only 1,100, has no lights, and has never had a crowd of more than 1,000, but it has been the home of Purdue baseball for the last 46 years. (UPDATE: Per the official Purdue baseball Twitter feed, delays have pushed the opening of the new stadium into the middle of next season, so the home opener next year will be at Lambert.)

Next year our baseball team will move into a brand new stadium at the Northwest athletic Complex. It will have lights, meeting rooms, locker rooms, and will be one of the finest facilities in the Big Ten. Still, there is a certain amount of nostalgia at leaving old Lambert Field this season. I remember walking over for a few games when I lived on campus and it was almost a Wrigley-esque feel because you got all afternoon games. Sadly, we likely won't be able to send it off with a championship, but this baseball program is primed for next season to open the new stadium in style with quite a talented roster.

The final weekend series starts tomorrow when the evil Iowa Hawkeyes come to West Lafayette. While the Big Ten is likely farfetched at this point after we squandered Indiana's sweep of Michigan State last weekend, there is still a lot to play for. Iowa ended our season last year with an unceremonious sweep in Iowa City, followed by a pair of defeats in the Big Ten Tournament. We have yet to secure a place in this year's Big Ten Tournament, despite having the best overall record in the conference. The standings are as follows heading into the final weekend:

STANDINGS

Big 10 Win

Big 10 Loss

Big 10 %

Games Back

Overall Win

Overall Loss

Overall %

Last 10

Streak

Next Game

Michigan State

13

8

0.619

--

32

18

0.640

5-5

W-1

Northwestern (5/19)

Minnesota

12

9

0.571

1

21

20

0.512

6-4

W-1

DH Ohio State (5/19)

Illinois

12

9

0.571

1

22

25

0.468

7-3

W-2

Indiana (5/19)

Purdue

11

10

0.524

2

33

18

0.647

5-5

W-1

Iowa (5/19)

Indiana

11

10

0.524

2

30

22

0.577

5-5

L-1

at Illinois (5/19)

Ohio State

11

10

0.524

2

23

24

0.489

4-6

W-1

DH at Minnesota (5/19)

Penn State

10

11

0.476

3

30

19

0.612

5-5

W-1

at Michigan (5/19)

Northwestern

9

11

0.450

3.5

19

27

0.413

6-4

W-4

at Michigan State (5/19)

Iowa

9

12

0.429

4

20

29

0.408

5-5

L-2

at Purdue (5/19)

Michigan

6

14

0.300

6.5

16

35

0.314

3-7

W-1

Penn State (5/19)

First, the good news: We cannot be passed by Michigan now, so we only need to finish with a better or equal mark to Northwestern, Penn State, and Iowa to clinch one of the six Big Ten Tournament spots. With help, we can still get a second place finish and valuable bye past the first day of the tournament. Yes, we're only two games behind MSU, but the Spartans are undefeated at home in Big Ten play and they host Northwestern this week.

The bad news: Because of our last two weeks where we lost five of six to Illinois and MSU, we didn't just fall out of the Big Ten lead. We are now shorthanded in the tiebreaker department against the three teams ahead of us. Minnesota and Illinois each own a 2-1 series victory over us, while Michigan State swept us. Several of those games were very close (five of the seven losses were three runs or less), but we still came up short.

Two victories over Iowa will clinch a Big Ten Tournament berth. A sweep gives us an outside chance at a first round bye, but to get that we need help from Indiana, Ohio State, and Northwestern. Our best case scenario is that we sweep Iowa, Northwestern sweeps MSU, Indiana takes two of three from Illinois, and Ohio State takes two of three from Minnesota. That gives us the outright Big Ten crown and #1 seed. If all of the above happens except MSU takes one of three we share the title with the Spartans and get the #2 seed.

That means there will be a lot of scoreboard watching this weekend, with the Michigan-Penn State series being the only one that means very little to us. Our chances for an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament are pretty much nil at this point, but a sweep puts us within range of the school record for victories at 37. It also might get us a bye in the Big Ten Tourney, where three straight wins would mean an NCAA berth.

Two things have hurt us in each of the last two weeks. First, we have been unable to do much against starting pitching, especially a pretty bad group of Illinois starters. Second, two-out runs have absolutely killed us. A two-out error in the top of the ninth on Sunday against Illinois allowed a pair of runs to score in that 7-5 loss. Suring the Saturday 5-3 loss to Michigan State we allowed all five runs with two outs and twice left the bases loaded in the final three innings. As you can see, we're not that far off right now, but these little things can have a big impact in college baseball, especially in the Big Ten when there is very little margin for error.

The starting pitching problem could be a big one in tomorrow's season opener as Jared Hippen faces us. His 4-5 record with a 3.12 ERA may not seem like much, but he started the downfall last year with a solid performance in the series opener. He also beat us in game one of the Big Ten Tournament, adding further insult to injury. He threw a complete game in the 7-2 win over us last year, becoming the first pitcher to beat Matt Bischoff in Big Ten play. He came back with a solid 7 1/3 innings and just four runs in a 7-4 Big Ten Tourney win for the Hawkeyes. For good measure he won last week's Big Ten Pitcher of the Week with a 7-0 3-hit complete game shutout of Ohio State.

Matt Dermody (4-5, 3.99 ERA), and Nick Brown (3-2, 2.85 ERA) will likely start the other two games. Iowa has a 4.21 team ERA, which is better than ours right now. We're allowing a Big Ten best 29 home runs on the season, while Iowa has given up 22.


Fortunately, our pitching should improve against the 8th rated lineup in the conference. Iowa is batting just .264 as a team with only eight home runs. Mike McQuillan and Tyson Blaser are the only two hitters hitting over .300, with McQuillan tops at .317. Things have been going better for Iowa of late, as their only two series wins of the season have come in the last two weeks.

This is a scary series for us. We are not playing well despite yesterday's 12-1 win over Illinois-Chicago. Our 11-10 conference is frustrating because we have easily let at least four winnable games go. Get those back and we're in the at large NCAA discussion right now. If we have another disaster like the past two weekends it is entirely possible we won't even make the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa was expected to be a lot better this year, but they are on the outside looking in towards the BTT at the moment. They not only need to sweep, but they need some help too.

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