An interesting story is taking place on the west side of Purdue's campus right now. Something that has not happened since William McKinley took office as President of the United States may be happening in a few weeks. After today's results, Purdue's baseball team sits in first place all by itself atop the Big Ten Standings. They carry a half game lead into tomorrow's season finale against Michigan State, with series remaining at Illinois (23-22, 8-10 Big Ten) and Iowa (21-25, 8-10 Big Ten) each of the next two weekends. Tomorrow's game against the Spartans is the only game on the Big Ten schedule, meaning a Purdue victory would give them a sweep and a full game lead when everyone in the conference has six games to play.
This is nothing short of amazing, especially when you consider the way Purdue started the year. They are currently 28-17, 10-7 in the conference, but they started 1-6 overall and lost four games to Big East schools down in the Tampa area to start the year. They have lost games to Cincinnati, Minnesota, and Indiana in which they held a lead in the ninth inning. They have lost games to Missouri and West Virginia with seven errors in each game, but they keep on chugging. Minnesota and Ohio State came into the year as the favorites in the Big Ten, but both have struggled mightily. That has made for an exciting conference race where last place Michigan State can make the entire conference be separated by two games with a win tomorrow. Someone has to win this thing, so it might as well be Purdue.
The Boilers have not won a conference title since 1909. They came close in 2001, losing by a half game to Ohio State because a game at Michigan State was snowed out earlier in the season. Purdue had won the other three games of that scheduled four game series, so who knows what would have happened. Purdue's other close call was two years ago when they set a school record for conference wins, only to finish second to Michigan by five games as the Wolverines ran away with the league.
Needless to say, this is uncharted territory for the baseball team. If you're still on campus tomorrow I urge you to go out and support these guys who are having a fantastic year. Most of the team is made up of underclassmen as well, so this could be setting the table for something even bigger. Tomorrow is their final conference home game of the season, with only a non-conference game on May 18th against Butler remaining as far as other home games.
Yesterday Mrs. T-Mill and I made the trip on a Saturday with nothing to do to see these guys play. We saw what most Big Ten baseball fans have known for most of the year: that Matt Bischoff is really, really good and has a strong case for Big Ten Pitcher of the Year. Purdue advanced its conference record to 6-0 when he pitches as he struck out seven in 7 1/3 innings. He struggled a bit by giving up three runs in the top of the seventh when Michigan State tied the game at 4-4, but the offense bailed him out. Ryan Bridges had a one out double in the bottom of the inning and scored on a seeing-eye single from Drew Madia. After Kevin Plawecki was hit by a pitch freshman Angelo Cianfrocco (son of Purdue great and former Major League Archi Cianfrocco) nailed a huge three run homer to center field. Joe Haase pitched a perfect ninth for the save and 8-5 win.
Today was another dramatic win, as Jonathan Lilly singled home Plawecki with two outs in the eighth for a 6-5 win. This team is finding ways to get the job done despite some early season struggles and deficiencies in the bullpen and on defense. They also have a trio of freshmen making huge contribution. Plawecki, Cameron Perkins, and Cianfrocco have all come up huge as rookies this year. Perkins hold the state high school record for season batting average (.723 as a junior) and career average (.675) in Indiana.
Baseball will never have the same level of support as the football and basketball teams. In fact, they have not even been able to raise the $1 million needed from donors to upgrade Lambert Field to the level of most other college parks. Still, these guys are working hard and are on the cusp of a conference title that can go a long way towards improving the program's profile.
Maybe it is because I have become a big college baseball fan through Mrs. T-Mill, who has a pretty awesome facility to watch a game in, but I have really come to like and support Purdue baseball when the team doesn't have a lot of fans. There was a good crowd of diehards there yesterday, but I know there can be a lot more support as well. With this team being on the brink of something special, now is the time to hop on board. Go out and support the guys tomorrow as they try to change the face of the program.