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2012 NCAA Baseball Tournament: Gary Regional Preview

Your Purdue Boilermakers have been selected as a regional host for the first time in the history of our baseball program, and because of construction issues we'll be playing at the U.S. Steel Yard in Gary. It's not quite West Lafayette, but we're at least close to home. Before I preview the other three teams, here are some quick, but important hits.

  • People have been curious about the fallout from the brawl in the Big Ten tournament with Indiana. Well, second baseman Eric Charles will be suspended for the Valparaiso game, as the conference announced a one-game suspension for him and Indiana's Casey Smith. Both have been reprimanded by the conference as well.
  • Tickets are now on sale for the regional via the Railcats website. Separate tickets will need to be purchased for each game as opposed to one ticket getting you in to both games on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Tickets are $8 for Adults and $4 for students with ID. I believe student tickets much be purchased at the gate. Let's turn this Black and Gold.
  • If you're in Chicago, South Bend, or anywhere in between you can take the Southshore rail right to the ballpark. Gary Metro Center Station is right next door. Here is schedule and ticketing info for that.
  • ESPN3 will broadcast at least the Friday and Saturday games online, with them likely coming on Sunday as well. Big Ten Network may pick up the broadcast as well, but nothing is definite yet.
  • Friday, Saturday, and Sunday will have a 3pm and 7pm first pitch local time (4pm and 8pm Lafayette time). Purdue will play in each 7pm game as long as it keeps winning, and will play ay 3pm Saturday if it loses Friday and 3pm Sunday if it loses Saturday.

Now, onto the Previews:

No. 4 Seed Valparaiso Crusaders (35-23)

Horizon League Regular Season and Tournament Champions

NCAA Tournament Appearances: 1958, 1963, 1966, 1967, 1968

Record vs. NCAA teams in 2012: 1-4

Record vs. Purdue: 18-63 (Purdue won last meeting 14-5 in 2010)

Valpo is not going to be a pushover even though we have Andrew Quinette in the bullpen, who transferred from the Crusaders a few years ago. They also have Kevin Upp, brother of Purdue freshman Kyle Upp. That gives us a little insight, but this is a legitimately good team, playing closer to home than we are, and they have a win over an SEC program on its home field. In fact, Arkansas was ranked No. 4 at the time of their victory, and finished 39-19 with Valpo being their first loss as part of a 20-2 start.

We were originally supposed to play them in a three-game series this year, but the re-structuring of the Horizon League schedule into a double-round robin made them cancel the weekend. We played at UCLA instead.

This is an opponent that makes a regular appearance on Purdue's schedule, so there is some familiarity. Their last win over us came in 2005 at the SteelYard in Gary. We have a few common opponents. They took two of three at Murray State to start the year and we swept the Racers. Valpo was 5-3 against Illinois-Chicago this year and we were 2-0. They also lost a 2-1 game to Indiana State in 16 innings and we beat the Trees 2-1 in 10. finally, we were 2-0 against IPFW and they were 1-0, while both teams were 1-0 against Ball State and Notre Dame. Their 147 RPI is not going to fool me. This is a pretty damn good team capable of pulling the upset, especially with Eric Charles out for the game.

We will likely see Tyler Deetjen (8-2, 3.22 ERA) on the mound. Since Valpo is normally the type of opponent we face in the midweek and we'll be favored it would not surprise me if we threw Robert Ramer (6-0, 3.65 ERA) and saved aces Joe Haase and Lance Breedlove for games two and three. It's an interesting strategy because I'd love to hold Haase and Breedlove for the last two games to assure a better chance of winning this regional, but on the other hand, you've got to get there first. I trust that Ramer can get us through this one, however, so I would not hesitate to start him, especially after he pitched well in the Big Ten title game.

Valpo hits the ball well, batting .292 and averaging 5.7 runs per game. Spencer Mahoney (.355, 23 RBI) is the table-setter. Tanner Vavra (.333, 1 HR, 19 RBI) is solid while Andrew Bain (.310, 19 RBI) leads the team in hits with 78. Valparaiso only has 14 home runs in 58 games, so they rely on small ball to score runs. Elliott Martin has 50 RBI, while Will Hagel has 42. The Crusaders have guys that can hit up and down the lineup with six guys batting over .300 and five guys with better than 30 RBI.

Jared Miller is the top guy out of the bullpen, boasting a 5-2 record and 2.06 ERA with eight saves. He has made 28 appearances on the season, by far the most on the team, so we will likely see him at some point. Deetjen does have three complete games, however.

No. 3 Seed Kent St. Golden Flashes

MAC Regular Season and Tournament Champions

NCAA Tournament Appearances: 1964, 1992, 1993, 1994, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011

Record vs. NCAA teams in 2012: 4-7

Record vs. Purdue: 0-3 (Purdue won last meeting 18-11 on 3/6/1999 in Louisville)

If you want an extremely dangerous team, look no further than the Golden Flashes. They finished the regular season near the bottom of most top 25 polls, won over 40 games, and they were a regional finalist last season beating Texas State and Texas before the Longhorns came out of the loser's bracket to win that regional in Austin. This team has been here before and they are not going to be afraid of Kentucky or Purdue. In fact, they have the most NCAA experience of the four teams in this field since they have been to the tourney for four straight seasons.

Senior David Starn (10-3, 1.77 ERA) and Sophomore Tyler Skulina (10-2, 3.94 ERA) give them an excellent 1-2 punch in their rotation. Junior Ryan Bores (8-2, 3.32 ERA) isn't exactly awful, either. Brian Clark (4-0, 0.44 ERA, 4 saves in 17 appearances) is there at the end to close games too. Their pitching is a major strength with a 3.55 team ERA.

Catcher David Lyon, like Robbie Hummel, is up for baseball's Lowe's Senior CLASS Award and he bats .288 with 10 homers and 40 RBI. Nick Hamilton (.377, 1 HR, 35 RBI), George Roberts (.368, 7 HR, 57 RBI), Jimmy Rider (.361, 5 HR, 49 RBI), and Evan Campbell (.346, 6 HR, 37 RBI) are formidable bats in their lineup. As a team, Kent State hits over .300 and they have smashed 41 home runs.

This team has more than enough power at the plate and pitching depth to win a pair of games and still be sitting there Sunday night at 2-0 with another solid pitcher waiting in the wings. They also have a feeling of unfinished business. They know they should have won the Texas regional last year. They've beaten Georgia Tech (the ACC champ), New Mexico State (the WAC champ) and Pepperdine as NCAA teams. If Kent State wins this regional (and they very easily could) it would not shock me if they made it to Omaha.

The only common opponents we have with Kent State are Ball State (they were 3-0 against them) and Penn State (0-2).

No. 2 Seed Kentucky Wildcats (43-16)

SEC at large selection

NCAA Tournament Appearances: 1949, 1950, 1988, 1993, 2006, 2008

Record vs. NCAA teams in 2012: 14-13

Record vs. Purdue: 5-1 (Kentucky has won last five since Purdue won 16-3 on 3/7/2003)

Purdue might be the No. 1 seed, but Kentucky has been ranked ahead of us all year and even spent some time at No. 1. They started the year 22-0 and that included a sweep of two-time defending National Champion South Carolina. This team finished 18-12 in the toughest conference in the country, tied with Florida (the No. 1 overall seed) and a game behind another National Seed in LSU. Three national seeds came from the SEC and Kentucky went 6-3 against them in the regular season. Quite frankly, Kentucky was royally screwed when the committee gave a hosting spot to Miami instead of them, especially since Miami crapped itself by going 4-6 against national seeds.

The only marginally logical reason for Kentucky not getting a hosting spot was that after a 22-0 start it went 21-16, but that was still against the friggin' SEC. Yes, Miami played in the equally tough ACC, but they finished much farther back than the Wildcats. Kentucky won every series except against Vanderbilt and Florida before running into a white hot Mississipi State team that beat them four out of five times in the last seven games.

We also have a few common opponents with Kentucky. We swept Murray State while the Racers shocked them 7-3 on May 15th. Murray State also lost to them 3-1 on March 14. They also swept three from Illinois-Chicago, but lost three times to Louisville. Indiana took them to 12 innings on May 9th.

If anything, the Wildcats weren't quite the same team away from home, going 11-10 in true road games and 29-5 at home. Corey Littrell (8-2, 2.66 ERA) is the best pitcher with former Miami player Jerad Grundy (5-3, 3.95 ERA) and Taylor Rogers (6-4, 4.31 ERA) rounding out a solid rotation. They don't rely on starters as much as Kent State and Purdue, however. Alex Phillips and A.J. reed have each won five games in relief , while Trevor Gott and Tim Peterson are each 3-0 with over 22 appearances. Gott (2.57 ERA) has nine saves, but Phillips also has seven saves.

Kentucky hits .297 as a team with Luke Maile (.313, 12 HR, 49) being the toughest out in the lineup. Reed not only has five wins as a relief pitcher, he also bats .314 with four homers and 42 RBI. Austin Cousino (.318, 9 HR, 38 RBI) leads them in average. Thomas McCarthy is the fourth and final hitter that bats over .300.

Kentucky was a scary 25-4 outside of the SEC, losing only to Murray State once and Louisville three times. Louisville was an NCAA at large team, however, and Purdue had no trouble at all against Murray State. What benefits Purdue is that the Wildcats have the much tougher opening game than the Boilers, plus Eric Charles would be back before any potential meeting.

Unfortunately, there is a good chance Kentucky is going to come in very pissed off. This team deserved a host spot and a No. 1 seed, and they got sent north to play one of the few northern teams on caliber with them. If they get past Kent State their match with Purdue should be fantastic.