I have to thank reader Brad Rosenbaum for pointing out a grave injustice made by me. Yesterday in the Boilermakings post I had a lot of links, but I completely ignored a Purdue athletic team that is currently leading the Big Ten and is off to one of its best starts in school history. For this, I have no excuse. All I can do is apologize and give them some recognition with an entry here.
I am talking about Purdue's women's softball team. They have earned a mention here and there in the past, especially when they made consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in 2008 and 2009. So far in 2012, it looks like they may return to the NCAAs. With the addition of Nebraska to the Big Ten, softball has adopted a baseball-like three-game series on weekends as opposed to two game series against two teams over three weekend days. After the first two weekends, Purdue is all alone in first place at 6-0 in league play, and they have a conference leading 23-9 record overall.
There are a few caveats here. First, Purdue is 6-0 against Michigan State and Penn State, who are a combined 0-12 in league play. Michigan remains the team to beat, ranked 20th nationally. Despite their start, Purdue isn't even receiving votes in the top 25.
That does not take away from what the team has accomplished so far. Purdue won its first 10 games of the season, winning the New Mexico Lobo classic and the Frost Classic in Chattanooga, TN. After the 10-game win streak, the Boilers dropped games to Temple, No. 17 Oregon, and South Alabama in the Citrus Classic at Kissimmee, FL. They then went to the west coast, where Oregon got them again in addition to Fresno State (twice), BYU, and No. 1 California. The last loss came against UNLV in the SD Classic II in San Diego, where games against Long Beach State, Cal State Bakersfield, and San Diego were rained out.
Since then, Purdue has come home for Big Ten opening series against the Spartans and Nittany Lions, and they've also taken single games at Valparaiso and at home against IUPUI to win eight in a row and move to 23-9.
Lindsey Rains, Molly Garst, and Ashley Courtney lead the way at the plate with batting averages above .373. Courtney has a pair of home runs and 25 RBI on the season. Danielle Fletcher also has three homers and 18 RBI. Tori Chiodo is the third player for the boilers batting over .333, giving us quite a potent lineup.
In terms of pitching, Lexy Moore is 15-2 with a 2.41 ERA in 14 starts. She is tied for second in the Big Ten in wins and is two behind Haylie Wagner of Michigan. Alex Whittemore and Katie Hackney have also done well, earning a couple of wins here and there.
The next six games for the Boilers will continue their quest for in-state dominance. After beating IUPUI 9-1 yesterday, Purdue hosts Notre Dame tomorrow. They then go to Indiana (17-17, 2-4) for three plus a crucial Crimson & Gold Cup point (Purdue currently trails 8-6 with on softball, golf, and track up for grabs, and IU will like take the men's track point). Purdue then goes to Ball State next Thursday for two, before hosting Ohio State. The April 15 game vs. the Buckeyes will be televised by Big Ten Network. Ohio State and Michigan sit in second place at 5-1, so the OSU series could go a very long way toward Purdue's first Big Ten championship in softball.
The unfortunate part of the season is that three of the final four conference series come away from home. Purdue must go to Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan while hosting Wisconsin.
Fortunately, the Big Ten has a good softball reputation, unlike baseball. That means an NCAA berth seems pretty likely as long as Purdue finishes in the top four or five of the league. If Purdue can get through this weekend unscathed against Indiana a championship could even be possible.