Instead of playing in random series against warm weather teams this year, the Purdue Baseball team is taking part in three different weekend events that allow them to face three different opponents. The first was the Big Ten/Big East Challenge, which earned our Boilermakers high praise in the ESPN college baseball wrap from the opening weekend.
Pitcher Lance Breedlove was also named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week and National Pitcher of the Week for his 11 strikeout performance against in a 6-0 win over Cincinnati. Purdue is the lone undefeated team in the Big Ten after the season's opening weekend, which is a very good place to be.
This week, Purdue heads to North Carolina for the Keith LeClair Classic, hosted by East Carolina. In this round-robin four team event Purdue will face the host Pirates today at 5pm, followed by Maryland tomorrow and Western Carolina on Sunday. The field has a combined record of 13-1, with Maryland carrying the only loss. The Terrapins took two of three at UCLA last week, however, and UCLA is a top 20 team.
Of the three games, today's opener against East Carolina is the most important. It is the only one that will carry the 1.3 RPI bonus since it is a true road game, as opposed to the other two being a neutral site game. With the modified RPI formula, true road wins count more than neutral site wins, and home wins count even less. Since East Carolina is ranked in some of college baseball's top 25 polls and they are favored to be an NCAA team, this game will be crucial for Purdue's profile.
The next most important game is the Maryland game, as the Terrapins play in the rugged ACC and will be a highly valuable win all year because of that. The ACC has 6 of its 12 teams in the current ESPN top 25, so by virtue of a brutal schedule Maryland would be a good win.
As for Western Carolina, we have ironically not played them since making our only NCAA Tournament appearance in 1987, when the Catamounts beat Purdue to eliminate them from the Starkville Regional.
According to PurdueSports' official preview, Maryland's David Carroll and Western Carolina's Jeremy Null, the likely starting pitchers against us, are both a Randy Johnson-like 6'8".
Purdue's likely starters for the weekend on the mound are Joe Haase, Breedlove, and Calvin Gunter. Haase went five innings against Connecticut last weekend, but got a no decision while giving up eight hits. Breedlove was stellar against Cincinnati, going seven innings and striking out 11 against two hits. Gunter got knocked around by Notre Dame, giving up four hits in just 2 2/3 before Purdue blew the game open with a nine-run sixth to give him a no decision.
At the plate Purdue was a smoking hot .367 with 30 runs scored in the opening weekend. Since the pitching staff only gave up 12 runs, that is the perfect ratio. Andrew Dixon had the best weekend going 5 for 8 with 3 RBI. David Miller and Eric Charles are both hitting over .400. One of Purdue's better hitters, Cameron Perkins, is technically the worst-hitting starter so far at .231, but he won't stay there all year. He still drove in six runs last weekend.
Purdue will face Kevin Brandt on Friday, a senior for ECU who gave up only three hits in 6 2/3 last weekend in a 4-0 win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He struck out nine with only one walk, so Purdue could be in for a long day unless the bats stay hot.
Since this season is all about getting through to the NCAA Tournament, Purdue would be best served by going at least 2-1 this weekend. I'd like to get the ECU game for RPI purposes as explained above, but they are also the best team in the field. Beating them will be difficult, but it also opens the door for another 3-0 weekend. Purdue is starting to gain some national attention. Another 3-0 weekend, or even a 2-1 weekend, could see the Boilers crack the national top 25 for the first time in 11 years. The last time Purdue was in the top 25 was in 2001, when Purdue upset No. 1 Rice and No. 24 Wake Forest to begin the season. That had us at No. 24 for one week.