It’s time for college baseball again! Last season Purdue experienced one of the biggest turnarounds in all of college baseball under coach Mark Wasikowski. After a dismal 10-44 2016 season Purdue rebounded to go 29-27, 12-12 in the Big Ten, and reach the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2012. Once there Purdue was two and done, as it lost to Nebraska 15-9 and Maryland 5-2, but the season was a resounding success in year 1 under coach Wasikowski.
This weekend year 2 gets underway. College baseball’s uniform start date is always the third Friday in February, naturally giving the southern and western teams an advantage. Purdue will play its first 19 games of the season away from home, starting with a three-game set at Baylor Friday through Sunday.
Pitching should be the strong suit of the team, as Purdue returns its top two starters and added one of the better JuCo pitchers in the country as a Sunday starter. Tanner Andrews (8-4, 4.52 ERA) was solid last season on Fridays and this week will be the third straight year he has started the season opener. Purdue was 10-5 in his Friday starts, and he was twice named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week. His best game was a complete game shutout of Southeast Missouri State.
On Saturdays Purdue will throw Gareth Stroh (5-4, 3.89 ERA), who was also in the Saturday spot last season. Stroh also had a Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honor to his credit when he threw a complete game two-hitter against Illinois. In total he made 15 starts and had one relief appearance, earning a save against Indiana State. The junior left-hander was excellent in Big Ten play, going at least 6 innings in 6 of his 9 Big Ten starts.
Sundays will have a newcomer, as junior Ryan Beard joins the team from the College of Southern Idaho JC. He had a microscopic 0.84 ERA, the best in all of NJCAA Division I last season. He finished 6-3 last season in 12 starts, so he should be an excellent Sunday option for Purdue. When it comes to midweek starters Mike Kornacker has the most experience, going 1-2 in 8 starts last season with a 5.62 ERA.
Purdue also has plenty of strength in the bullpen. Ross Learnard return as one of the best relievers in the nation, and he has already been named as a Second Team All-American last year. He had a streak of 35 2/3 scoreless innings and closed the year with a 6-0 record and 0.58 ERA to go with 4 saves. This was across 27 appearances, the most of any pitcher on the roster. Sophomore Dalton Parker also had a decent year out of the bullpen and he returns. He was 2-3 with a 4.60 ERA and a team high 6 saves last season. Cameron Williams (3-0, 3.60 ERA, 3 saves) is also back to provide senior leadership.
At the plate Purdue returns a ton of experience as well. Sophomore Skyler Hunter led the team with a .323 average and 34 RBI, good enough for freshman all-Big Ten honors last season. Nick Dalesandro (.297, 3 HR, 42 RBI) and Jacson McGowan (.292, 8 HR, 50 RBI) are also back after leading the team in runs batted in. Infielder Evan Warden (.281, 4 HR, 25 RBI) is back as a bit of a do-everything player. Those four guys were the top four hitters all season last year. Harry Shipley can set the table too in painful ways, as he is Purdue’s all-time hit-by-pitch leader with 58. Shipley was 10th in the Big Ten with 42 runs scored and Warden was second with 50 runs scored.
Catcher Bryce Bonner and outfielder Alec Olund give Purdue another pair of experienced players. Mike Madej and Evan Kennedy make it so that Purdue’s top 9 hitters from a year ago are all back. As a whole, 18 players return from last year’s roster. The leaders in virtually every hitting and pitching category are back. A pair of redshirt freshmen pitchers in Andrew Bohm and Matt Moore are also expected to contribute.
As mentioned, Purdue’s first 19 games are away from home as befits a northern team in college baseball. Right off the bat Purdue faces one of the best players in the nation as D1Baseball.com rates Baylor’s Shea Langeliers as the top catcher in the country. Purdue will play Virginia Tech and Stetson, two strong teams, in the Stetson Invitational in two weeks. Purdue also plays three at Tulane and St. Louis later on. The Alamo Irish Classic in San Antonio against St. Louis, Incarnate Word, and Notre Dame will highlight next week’s schedule.
The home schedule officially begins March 23rd with a three-game set against Lipscomb. Minnesota, Rutgers, Northwestern, and Michigan will come to Alexander Field for 3-game Big Ten series, while Purdue will travel to Penn State, Indiana (the conference favorite), Maryland, and Ohio State for league series. Purdue has midweek home-and homes scattered with Indiana State and Ball state, while the marquee home game is a special midweek non-conference game against Indiana on April 25th that will be broadcast on ESPNU. Oakland (twice), Valparaiso, Chicago State, Fort Wayne, and Oral Roberts also come for midweek games.
The Big Ten Tournament this season will be played May 23-27 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, the home of the College World Series. If Purdue makes the NCAA Tournament for the third time in its history that will begin the following week. According to D1Baseball Purdue is picked to finish 8th in the 13 team Big Ten (remember: Wisconsin does not have a baseball program), which would be good enough for the last spot in the Big Ten Tournament. Baseball America has Indiana as the conference champ with Maryland and Nebraska as NCAA teams. Last season a record tying five Big Ten teams (Indiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Iowa, and Michigan) made the NCAA Tournament.