It appears the nadir of Purdue baseball is over under first year coach Mark Wasikowski. Since winning the Big Ten with a 17-7 record in 2012 the Boilers went a dismal 20-75 in the following four seasons. The last two have been especially bad, as Purdue was 6-17 in 2015 and 2-22 in 2016.
After this past weekend Purdue has now won more Big Ten games this year than in the previous two combined. Purdue swept Illinois in three games at Alexander Field for its first ever Big Ten weekend series sweep since the park opened in 2013 (and just the second ever since sweeping Southern Illinois in 2013). It was also Purdue’s sweep of a Big Ten opponent anywhere since sweeping Penn State at Penn State in the second series of the 2013 season. It was also a dominant weekend on the mound as the Purdue pitching staff gave up just four runs, its best weekend since giving up just six runs in a four game weekend last year against Cal State Northridge.
Friday: Purdue 4, Illinois 2
Purdue has been dominant in Friday games this season and Friday was no different. Tanner Andrews moved to 6-2 on the season and Purdue got its 8th Friday win in 10 tries with a 4-2 victory. Mike Madej had a two-out, two-run double off of Ty Weber to give the Boilers a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Illinois got a run back in the second, but Purdue made it 3-1 with a run in the fifth when Evan Warden singled, went to second on a bunt, and scored on an error.
Illinois got that run back in the top of the sixth, then Nick Dalesandro drove home Warden after he had doubled for the final run of the game. Andrews wasn’t as sharp as usual. He lasted five innings and walked eight with four hits, but was only hit for one run. Dalton Parker gave up a run in four innings of relief for his fifth save.
Saturday: Purdue 4, Illinois
Garth Stroh was damn near perfect. The likely Big Ten Pitcher of the Week hurled an absolute gem to clinch the series on Saturday. A perfect game in baseball is 27 batters faced and 27 batters retired with no one reaching safely. Stroh faced only 29 batters in a complete game and near shutout. Michael Massey led off the fifth with a single for Illinois and Jack Yalowitz had a solo home run with two outs in the ninth inning. That is all the Illinois offense did. Stroh struck out eight for the complete game and had 13 fly ball outs and 6 groundouts.
Purdue once again got started early with two runs in the first. Both came with two outs as Dalesandro singled and stole second. Skyler Hunter drove him home with a single, then Jacson McGowan drove him home with a single. Purdue picked up two more in the seventh when Bryce Bonner and Milo beam both scored on a throwing error. With the way Stroh was pitching that was more than enough. Stroh needed only 98 pitches for his fourth victory of the season, and the bullpen was able to set up lawn chairs on the roof of the Madia Batting Facility and watch the Grand Prix.
Sunday: Purdue 2, Illinois 1
Things were a little more tense on Sunday for Purdue as both teams settled into a pitcher’s duel, but the Boilers ended things with their second walk-off win of the season. Mike Kornacker went 5 2/3 scoreless innigns, but Purdue had only a 1-0 lead after scratching out a fifth inning run. Evan Warden was hit by a pitch, went to second on a ground ball, stole third, and scored on a sacrifice fly from Dalesandro.
The Illini tied it off of Cameron Williams in the eighth and nearly took the lead. Tyler Engel singled home David Craan with two outs. The Illini then had runners at second and third, but Ross Learnard retired Massey on a fly ball.
In the top of the ninth Illinois had a runner at second after a one-out double by Doran Turchin, but Nick Dalesandro made the following diving catch to save a run:
In the bottom of the ninth the first two batters for Purdue got out, but Milo Beam squeezed out a full count walk. He then stole second and scored on a ground ball that got through the thirdbaseman for the walk off win.
Purdue now sits at 22-18 overall and 9-6 in the Big Ten. The 22 victories is the most in a single season since 2012, and the 9-6 mark is good enough for 3rd place in the conference. Purdue is all but assured of reaching the Big Ten Tournament for the first time in five years now. This coming week Purdue hosts IPFW, who is only 5-29 overall and dead last in America in the RPI at 299. They come to Alexander Field on Tuesday night. Next week is Purdue’s bye weekend in conference play (with only 13 baseball playing schools there is at least one team playing out of conference each week), and Purdue will host the Billikens of St. Louis, who are 23-13.