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Baseball starts Big Ten play

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With some good weather this week it appears the spring has finally come to Indiana. With that, the baseball team has finally started to turn things around on the season. Purdue now stands with a 12-10 record after its first 22 games. That is a nice record considering they have won 9 of their past 11 games. Most of that has come against subpar competition such as Ohio and Chicago State, but this week the Boilers earned a quality road split at Missouri. Apparently they used a pitching machine in game one as the Tigers won 22-14. Purdue's nemesis once again appeared in this game as seven errors helped to erase a 5-0 lead after the first half inning.

Purdue earned the split, however, by winning 6-3 on Wednesday night. Blake Mascarello earned his first win on the season with six solid innings in the start. Brad Schreiber and Cameron Perkins each had home runs in the victory, which was the last game before opening Big Ten play this week.

With the combination of a poor record against one of the nation's weakest schedules Purdue's only hope of making the NCAA Tournament is to win the Big Ten. Unfortunately, there isn't exactly a precedent for this. The Boilers have never won the Big Ten Tournament and corresponding automatic bid in baseball. They also have not won a regular season title since 1909. That is not a typo. They have a Cubs-like streak of 101 years since their last conference baseball championship.

The quest to end that drought ends this weekend as Purdue hosts Minnesota. The Golden Gophers were one of the conference favorites coming into the season, but they have had a rough pre-conference schedule. They sit at 9-16 even after playing a few home games in the Metrodome. They have had a pair of losses to Alabama, a loss to Oklahoma State, a loss to a top 10 Louisville team, and they had to go 12 innings against non-Division I St. Thomas.

Purdue will likely face a Friday-Saturday-Sunday rotation of Seth Rosin, Luke Rasmussen, and Austin Lubinsky. Rosin was a third team all-Big Ten selection last year with a 7-1 record. This season he is 2-2 in six starts with a 4.15 ERA. Rasmussen and Lubinsky have struggled, however, to a combined 0-6 record in eight starts. Both pitchers have an ERA over 6, so if Purdue can get past Rosin in game 1 they have a shot to take the series. We will of course counter with the all Matt rotation of Bischoff, Morgan, and Jansen.

In a close game the Gophers have a huge edge with Scott Matyas, one of the best closers in the conference. While Purdue has excelled at blowing late leads Matyas often slams the door shut with a 1.74 ERA in nine appearances with three saves. He was a second team all-Big Ten selection last year and broke single season school records for saves with 15 and conference saves with 10. He also earned a save in Minnesota's NCAA Tournament win over Southern last year.

This will not be our first game against an NCAA Tournament team from a year ago. Missouri went to last year's tournament and even won a game in the Mississippi regional. Minnesota won two games before falling in the LSU regional. They swept Purdue in a three game series last season at the Metrodome 4-3, 3-1, 5-2.

Minnesota's leading hitter is AJ Pettersen, who is batting .359 with 18 RBI. Mike Kvasnicka is batting .298 and he leads the team with four home runs to go with 17 RBI. As a team Minnesota bats .281 with only eight home runs. Their pitching staff has given up twice as many home runs, letting down a pretty strong lineup.

This should be a good series this weekend. Purdue would do very well to take two of three and get a solid start on one of those six Big Ten Tournament spots. If they can do it at the expense of one of the conference favorites, even better. Northwestern is the only team that currently has a worse record than Minnesota, so we need to take care of business against the teams behind us. With a trip to Michigan, who is a solid team, coming up next week Purdue must get a good start in conference play.