Well, it was pretty much a worst-case scenario as Purdue faced its biggest series in program history...
... until the ninth inning of game three.
In game one, Bruins starter Tyler Plutko was virtually perfect. He allowed one baserunner in the first eight innings when David Miller reached on a bleeder of a single in the sixth. He hit a batter and gave up a single in the ninth before he was pulled, and Purdue scratched across a consolation run. Joe Haase was good, but he gave up a solo home run to Trevor Brown in the fourth and two run double to Cody Keefer in the fifth. When Plutko was doing his thing, there wasn't much else Haase could do as the Boilers lost for the first time in a game pitched by him.
Game two on Saturday saw Purdue out-hit the Bruins 10-4, but those hits were too scattered. Purdue left eight runners on base and lost 3-2. David Miller had a solo home run and Barrett Serrato drove in a run in the third to give Purdue a 2-0 lead, but single runs given up in the second, third, and fourth and UCLA's excellent bullpen was the difference. Lance Breedlove took the loss and Blake Mascarello had four scoreless innings, but the UCLA bullpen gave up two hits in 3 1/3 innings.
Eric Sorenson, one of the best college baseball bloggers out there, took in the doubleheader on Saturday and here is what he had to say:
Both teams really needed this weekend series to amp up their chances for hosting a Regional and maybe even becoming a national seed, and, well... the Bruins got the drop on the Boilermakers with a pair of wins, 5-1 and 3-2. So does that mean the Bruins earn a national seed now? Hmmm... maybe. And do we now put the Boilermakers dangerously close to No. 2 seed territory? Well, considering they'll play Michigan and Iowa the final two weekends of the regular season, maybe so. But let's not jump off the cliff on either proposal just yet.
Sunday the Boilers were undone by their gloves at the start. UCLA got three runs in the bottom of the second, but Purdue eventually tied it with a two-run homer by Serrato in the fourth and Miller RBI single. Purdue left the bases loaded in the fourth and fifth, however. They were able to add a pair of runs in the fifth before leading them loaded.
The biggest mistake with the game tied 3-3 with two out and two on in the bottom of the fourth. Serrato dropped a fly ball in right field that would have ended the inning, and it instead led to four runs and a 7-3 lead. After getting two back in the fifth UCLA added two in the sixth and one in the eighth.
The Boilers had won last gasp down 10-5 in the ninth. Four walks around a strike out led to a run and a bases loaded situation for Andrew Dixon. With one out and against the seventh UCLA pitcher of the day Dixon singled up the middle to make it 10-7 and get around to the top of the lineup. Tyler Spillner added a sac fly to make it 10-8. Eric Charles kept it alive for Cameron Perkins with an RBI single up the middle. Perkins then had runners at the corners and made maybe the play of the season by legging out an infield single, tying the game 10-10.
Sean McHugh, Serrato, Angelo Cianfrocco, and Ryan Bridges then continued to the hit parade to give Purdue a 14-10 lead. With two outs Purdue delivered six straight clutch singles, followed by a double by David Miller. All told in the ninth the Boilers nickled and dimed the Bruins for four walks, seven singles, and a double to erase a 10-5 deficit with 10 runs to take a 15-10 into the bottom of the inning.
Nick Wittgren, who pitched the last four innings and got tagged for four runs (one unearned) finished the ninth to earn the surprise win. He gave up a meaningless run in the ninth (I am betting UCLA was a little shell-shocked). All-told, the Boilers played UCLA fairly even on the weekend, scoring 18 runs and giving up 19. The difference in the weekend was Plutko's performance in game one and the inability to get runners home in game two.
Sunday's comeback cannot be overrated enough. Down to their last two outs, Purdue scored 10-runs, including eight with two outs and getting down to their last strike a couple of times before their improbable hit parade. At one point seven straight players delivered base hits to score a run. With UCLA being at No. 3 in the RPI, Purdue got a very valuable resume-win, and as long as they don't stumble too much in the last nine games (all against sub-200 teams), they will host a regional.
Unfortunately, the dream of a National seed is may be gone. With nine straight wins and a Big Ten tournament title you never know, but the Sunday comeback did at least keep it alive on life support. Purdue still likely needed to win this series, but given the Sunday comeback and the close margins in the other two games you never know. We'll see what happens in that regard.
Elsewhere around the Big Ten, Purdue's magic number to clinch its first Big Ten title since 1909 is down to three after results around the league. Purdue continues to lead the conference at 14-4 with six games left. Indiana beat Nebraska to move to 11-7 and they sit alone in second place. Any combination of Purdue wins and Indiana losses that add up to three next weekend clinches at least a share of the Big Ten title. Indiana will be playing at last place Northwestern (5-16) while Purdue hosts Michigan (6-12).
Purdue also needs just one more Big Ten win or an Illinois and Nebraska loss to officially clinch a berth in the Big Ten Tournament. Yes, it's unlikely a perfect storm of suck happens to knock us out of the BTT, but I am covering my bases. The top six teams qualify for the tournament, and it looks like Purdue and Indiana are locks. Penn State (10-8), Michigan State (10-8) and Minnesota (10-8) are in third, with Ohio State (11-10) sitting in sixth. Nebraska (9-9) suffered a huge blow by losing to IU. Ohio State is the off team in conference play next week.
Purdue's RPI should be somewhere around 10-15 range, and the win means our ranking won't drop too much, as I estimate Purdue will be in the 13-16 range this week.
More importantly, the drought may be over. Purdue lost the Big Ten by a half game in 2001, a full game in 2005, was second (by five games) when Michigan set a Big Ten record by going 26-5 in league play in 2008 (the last year of four-game conference series), and was second by a game last year (going 1-5 against co-champs Illinois and Michigan State). Finally, Purdue should win the Big Ten for the first time in 103 years.