The cruel part of the NCAA baseball tournament is that many regionals have a lot of very good teams in them. Only one can advance. Purdue was out in one of the tougher regionals with three ranked teams. Even though our Boilers were the No. 1 seed, Kentucky was a shunned No. 1 seed that deserved to host, and Kent State was ranked No. 25, one to the hottest teams in the nation, was a regional finalist last year, had been to four straight NCAA Tournaments, and have won 19 in a row as of last night to be one of the hottest teams in the country right now.
It sounds like I am making excuses, but there is no reason to hang our heads in shame even though Purdue lost out as a regional host. Consider the following:
- Purdue was the only regional host not playing on its home field.
- That stated, most regional hosts play 30+ home games on their home schedule. Purdue had 16.
- Five other regional hosts (Miami, North Carolina, Rice, Virginia, Texas A&M) have already been eliminated.
- We won our first conference title in 103 years.
- We shattered the school record for wins in a season with 45, and our program has been around since 1888.
- We won our first conference tournament
- We won our first NCAA Tournament game ever.
- We made just our second NCAA Tournament and first in 25 years.
- We hosted a regional for the first time ever.
- We were the best Northern team of the year by far and got tons of National respect.
- We were the first Northern team to ever be considered as National Seed
When it comes to tournament baseball, often the little things decide games between evenly matched teams. That exactly what happened to Purdue. Saturday night, a close ball call on a 3-2 pitch with two outs kept an inning alive for Kent State to score five of their seven runs. Today, Mother Nature conspired against us as a lazy fly ball to center was lost in the sun and bounced off a glove. That led to four of Kentucky's six runs.
In both games we lost, our opponent got every little break. Kent State got a double that was fair by about a foot and scored three runs. They scored five of their seven runs in an inning where the first two batters went down with ease. Today, Robert Ramer was on cruise control through three innings until the dropped fly ball. After said inning, we held them to two runs, which should be enough.
On the other hand, there are tons of examples where the little bounces went against us. Saturday night we had a pair of crippling double plays after getting the first two batters on base while trailing. Today, Barrett Serrato had a grounder that Matt Reida snagged on a good play. If it gets through, Purdue closes to 5-4 with two runners on. Instead, he ranged left and closed the inning. Many of Purdue's hits were right at defenders with heat, while both Kent State and Kentucky hit balls that simply found a hole.
The key going forward for Purdue baseball is to not have this season be the pinnacle. Next year marks 30 years since a Big Ten team reached Omaha, and many prominent college baseball writers felt this Purdue team was the best possible chance. Well, we came up short. We can either view this as the greatest season ever and one that is talked about in hushed tones, or as the building blocks for the future. A total of 14 seniors are gone, and Cameron Perkins, Nick Wittgren, and Kevin Plawecki have an excellent chance of being gone as high draft picks as juniors. That's a lot, but it is my hope that we will use this season as a spring board towards something better.
There are a ton of positives that a season like this can provide, especially with Alexander Field opening next year as the premier Big Ten baseball facility. With only 11.7 scholarships for the entire team, college baseball recruiting is always tricky, but now we absolutely need to own the state of Indiana. We need to get the best players that are here before Indiana, who is basically us two years ago right now, get their new field done. We also need to stay ahead of Indiana State and Notre Dame, the next two "best" programs in the state.
From there, we need to trust in coach Schreiber, who has very quietly earned his way to this season. He is the architect behind all of this. He toiled in virtual obscurity since May of 1998 to get to this point. He's never faced the pressure that coach Tiller, coach Keady, coach Painter, or coach Hope has faced in that time. Given time, he built this season, and I trust him to build even more.
Be proud, baseball Boilers. You have made a nothing program from nowhere relevant. It is up to the future players to build on what you've done.
Finally, I have to thank the Gary Railcats for providing a facility and doing an excellent of hosting. They went above and beyond to bring attention to their ballpark, and took care of everyone involved even with the bizarre 21 inning game.