For the final time until the Big Ten Tournament the Purdue baseball team will take part in a multi-team weekend event. After this weekend, Purdue returns to traditional series against opponents, starting at Murray State next weekend. This weekend, however, they are taking part in the Auburn Tournament against the host Tigers as well as Charleston Southern and Southern Mississippi.
Purdue enters this tournament in a very good place. Purdue hasn't played any mid-week games as of yet while most of the Big Ten has played a few, but at 5-1 over the Boilers have the best record in the Big Ten. Michigan is next at 5-3, with Michigan State at 4-3. This is a good place because so far Purdue is probably in the best position possible to earn an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The true road win at East Carolina last week would be the Big Ten's best had Ohio State not taken a game out of three at Georgia Tech.
Once again, getting a true road win against a quality opponent is huge, and that is what the Boilermakers get to start the weekend. Joe Haase will face Derek Varnadore as Purdue plays Auburn (6-4) at 6 p.m. Since the SEC is once again one of the best leagues in college baseball, getting a win over an SEC team on its home field would be huge. Auburn has earned four of its six victories against weaker competition in midweek games, but lost two of three each to Missouri and at Arizona. Auburn was a regional host in 2012 and has been in the NCAA Tournament regularly over the last 20 years.
Varnadore is another big pitcher with 14 strikeouts against two walks so far, so we're facing a real live SEC Friday ace. He won their season opener 5-2 over Missouri, but lost an 8-1 decision at Arizona. They still took a game at Arizona, who was rated No. 8 coming into last week:
The last time Derek Varnadore stepped on the mound he fanned 11 batters as the Auburn Ace won the season opener 5-2 over the Missouri Tigers. That was February 17th. Today at 5 p.m. he is scheduled to be the starter in the first game of a three game series against Arizona in Tucson.
The off season shoulder surgery Varny had didn't appear to bother him as he struck out those11 batters in seven innings last Friday in Samford Stadium.
Auburn pitching has looked good in this young season and the team as a whole has looked good - playing small ball almost to perfection. The new look Tigers emphasis on speed and defense has put them at the top of some SEC categories.
Saturday's game is just as big from a schedule-strength standpoint. Southern Miss is getting votes in the ESPN/USA Today top 25 coaches poll and is 6-3 overall with a 14-2 win over Alabama this week. That was one of their few games with a potent offense, however. In all but one other game Southern Miss has scored five runs or less. They will throw Jake Drehoff against Lance Breedlove. Breedlove, was a National Pitcher of the Week before getting shelled by Maryland last week. Since Purdue is averaging 6.5 runs per game they should be in good shape, but their own pitching is pretty stout:
The pitching staff has the led the way for the Golden Eagles, who have not surrendered more than four runs in a game this year and no more than two since dropping their season opener, 5-4. The USM pitching staff has compiled a 1.50 ERA thanks in part to surrendering only four extra-base hits (all doubles) in 78 innings. At the plate, the Golden Eagles have yet to hit a home run in their first nine games; and while no player has more than five RBIs, seven players have at least four.
Sunday's game against Charleston Southern appears to be the easiest of the three. The Buccaneers enter the weekend at 4-4 in games against Georgetown, Savannah State, and Marshall.
Purdue had a Big Ten Player of the Week last week with Eric Charles going 8 of 12 at the plate in the Keith LeClair Classic at East Carolina. He is batting a hefty .560 on the year in six games, while Andrew Dixon is betting .533 in five games. Tyler Spillner is well over .400 at .476, and leads the team in runs scored with 12. Cameron Perkins has driven in 10 runs despite batting only .250, and he has the team's only home run.
With this weekend it is all about building Purdue's RPI and postseason profile. Auburn and Southern Miss are legitimate threats to make the NCAA Tournament, and with Auburn being at home getting the precious 1.3 multiplier against them would be huge for Purdue's profile to add with the win over East Carolina, who is also expected to be an NCAA team. Beating a quality team like Southern Miss would also be nice. I expect to beat Charleston Southern while a split of the other two games would go a long way towards Purdue's profile. If the Boilermakers get all three you can probably expect to see them in the top 25 on Monday.