Last year was a great runaround for Purdue baseball. The program returned to the Big Ten Tournament for the first time in 5 years and was a full 19 games better than it was in 2016. Mark Wasikowski’s first year was a definite success at 29-27, and most of the roster returns for a promising 2018 campaign. The schedule for that campaign was released today, and it will be a challenging one.
The Boilers begin the season February 17th with a three-game series at Baylor, who was an NCAA Tournament team a year ago as the 2 seed in the Texas A&M Regional. The following weekend Purdue returns to Texas for the Alamo Irish Classic and four games in San Antonio against St. Louis (a team Purdue swept last season), Incarnate Word, and Notre Dame.
For the first weekend in march Purdue will play Central Michigan, Stetson, and Virginia Tech in the Westin lake Mary Stetson Invitational at Stetson. A week after that Purdue will play three games at Tulane, a perennially strong program that reached the 2001 and 2005 College World Series.
After visiting Tulane Purdue has its first two midweek games at Southeastern Louisiana on March 13 and Nicholls State on March 14. They will then finish their spring break trip with three games at St. Louis March 16-18. SE Louisiana won a game in the Baton Rouge regional last year.
The first game in the state of Indiana will be at Ball State on March 20th, and the home season opens with a three-game set against Lipscomb on March 23-25. We then host Valparaiso on March 27 before starting the Big Ten season at Penn State March 30-April 1
On April 3rd and 4th Purdue hosts Oakland for two games, then goes to Indiana for a three-game set. Purdue took two of three from the Hoosiers last year, but IU still made the NCAA Tournament.
After going to Bloomington Purdue hosts Ball State April 10th, then hosts Minnesota April 13-15. The following midweek features a home and home with Indiana State before going to Maryland, another NCAA team, April 20-22. Maryland was 1-2 in the Wake Forest Regional last season.
On April 24 Purdue hosts Chicago State before an April 25th non-conference home game against Indiana. We then get three straight home games against Rutgers, followed a week late by three against Northwestern. The 9-game home stand closes on May 8th against Fort Wayne.
The final Big Ten road series is May 11-13 at Ohio State before coming to to face Oral Roberts on May 15 and Michigan May 17-19. After that, it is the Big Ten Tournament, which will be played at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha.
Overall this is a tough schedule. Purdue has four series against NCAA Tournament teams (Baylor, Indiana, Maryland, and Michigan) with three of them on the road. It also has midweek games against NCAA teams in Indiana and SE Louisiana for 14 games against 2017 NCAA teams. Playing the likes of Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Stetson, and Tulane are also tough. As usual, it is tough starting with 19 straight road games, but the back end has 24 home games.
Purdue returns its top two starters in Tanner Andrews and Gareth Stroh. Ross Learnard, who was one of the top relievers int he nation last season, also returns. Learnard had a0.58 ERA in 27 appearances last season and a 6-0 record. Jacson McGowan, Nick Dalesandro, and Skyler Hunter also return. McGowan and Dalesandro combined for 92 RBI last season and Hunter led the team with a .323 average. Human bruises Harry Shipley and Evan Warden, who were hit by pitches a combined 54 times last year, are also back.
This should be a pretty good team. Reaching at least 30 wins is a realistic goal, with 35 wins as a possibility. Anything over 35 might be enough for an NCAA berth. Indiana reached the NCAAs last year at 34-24-2 against a strong schedule, while Nebraska was in at 35-22-1 (but they won the regular season B1G title.