Since the magical 2012 season, when Purdue went 45-14, won its first Big Ten title in over 100 years, its first Big Ten Tournament ever, made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 25 years, hosted a regional, and got its first ever NCAA Tournament win, Purdue baseball has been in a funk. With an early 2-1 lead and Lance Breedlove on the mound Purdue gave up 5 runs in the second inning against Kent State in the winner's bracket final. The Boilers were one strike away from getting out of the inning without giving up so much as a hit, but it all came apart in that inning and the Boilers have struggled ever since.
Purdue would lose to Kent State 7-3, then be eliminated by Kentucky the next day 6-3 (where a dropped fly ball in center field led to four runs). Since then Purdue has gone 17-34 (6-18), 13-37 (6-18), and 20-34 (6-17) for a total record of 50-107, 18-53 in Big Ten play. To add insult to injury, Purdue has seen the rest of the Big Ten surge ahead with Indiana making it to the College World Series in 2013, being a national seed in 2014, Illinois being a national seed in 2015, and a record five teams making the NCAA Tournament last year (Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, and Michigan).
It has been a combination of things. The Big Ten has gotten a lot better even after Purdue spent a ton of money with the new Alexander Field (which is a gorgeous park, BTW, even if Purdue has struggled all three years there). The uniform start date and RPI bonus for winning on the road has helped the Big Ten greatly. Purdue also lost a ton of talent from that 2012 team. There could be three players from that team on Major League rosters in 2016, so it was damn good.
Purdue might have finally started to turn the corner last season, however. Purdue closed the season by winning 6 of its last seven, and that included series wins over Nebraska and Penn State for its first conference series win since winning at Penn State in March 2013. Purdue did not make the expanded 8-team Big Ten Tournament, but it closed the season strong and showed some promise for 2016.
There are some good pieces coming back, and the roster is loaded with 13 seniors that have been through a lot in their time at Purdue. Here are the top returners:
Gavin Downs - The 5th year senior led the team in wins last season with a 5-4 record even with a huge 6.60 ERA. He has started 23 games over the past two seasons and owns an 8-10 record.
Shane Bryant - Bryant is in his second hear after transferring from Indiana Wesleyan and the 5th year senior played at McCutcheon in high school. Last season he was a respectable 3-3 in eight starts with a 4.82 ERA.
Matt Frawley - It was a rough season for Frawley. He was the best starter in terms of ERA at 4.55 in 12 starts, but he was often the hard luck loser as he was 1-9. He often was facing the opposing team's best pitcher and Purdue just could not get him enough offense. Frawley earned two saves in his only two relief appearances.
Alex Lyons - Lyons made 20 relief appearances and even earned one start. He had 33.2 innings pitched as the top worker that comes back from the bullpen.
Kyle Wood - Wood was named the team MVP and has become almost exclusively the first baseman after beginning as a promising pitcher. He started 7 games in 2013 and had an ERA of 5.00, but arm injuries have made him a position player. Last year he batted .326 with 6 home runs and 34 RBIs, all to lead Purdue.
Kyle Johnson - Johnson also had an excellent season at the plate and returns after batting .286 with 6 homers and 34 RBIs. He is a four-year starter in center field and has batted .259 with 10 homers and 77 RBI in his career.
Cody Strong - Another four-year player, Strong struggled a bit at the plate last year with only a .227 average. He has still be a solid defensive presence at second base. And was named the team's defensive player of the year.
Jack Picchiotti - With four home runs and 28 RBIs Picchiotti was one of Purdue's best hitters with men on base. He was primarily Purdue's catcher, but also played in the outfield and at third base.
Brett Carlson - Carlson started at four different position and batted .235 with 19 RBIs. He was in his first year as a transfer from Austin Peay, where he twice played in the NCAA tournament and helped the Governors win a couple games once there.
Harry Shipley - Purdue's shortstop was one of the very few underclassmen who played a lot as a freshman last year. He started all 54 games at shortstop and batted a solid .274 with 51 hits and 16 RBIs. He is a solid leadoff hitter who should set the table well this year.
Once again, Purdue faces a challenging early schedule where it hopes some wins away from home can build an early NCAA profile. Purdue opens February 19th in the Atlanta Invitational, where it will play at Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State, and Georgia State. All three teams have had recent NCAA success.
The first full weekend series comes the following weekend at California, who made the NCAA Tournament and won two games in the College Station Regional last spring. Purdue follows that with a four-game series at East Tennessee State, then the Millard Management classic at Kansas against St. Louis, North Dakota, and Kansas.
On March 18-20 Purdue has a pseudo-home series in Kokomo at the new Municipal Stadium there against Ohio, who was the MAC champion and reached the NCAA Tournament last year. The home schedule begins on March 23 against Louisville in a weeknight game. The Cardinals were the No. 3 National Seed in the spring but were upset two games to one in their Super Regional by Cal State Fullerton.
The Big Ten season has home series against Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Minnesota. There are road series at Indiana, Maryland, Northwestern, and Penn State. Indiana has made three straight NCAA Tournaments while Maryland has won a regional each of the last two years. There is also a late season non-conference series against Cal State Northridge, as the 13-team Big Ten (Wisconsin does not have a baseball program) means someone is on a "bye" every week.