The annual spring break trip for Purdue baseball is always a busy one. The Boilers often have a traditional weekend series in a far flung locale, followed by a couple of midweek games there and another weekend series on the back end. Last season Purdue played 8 games out in California against Cal State Northridge and Santa Clara. This year Purdue heads to Louisiana before picking up three games in St. Louis next week. This eight game stretch, followed by a Tuesday, March 20 game, mark some of the first true road games of the year. It also leads into the home opener at Alexander Field on March 23rd against Lipscomb.
It is an important stretch too. Technically Purdue has played just one true road game, that being Sunday’s 11-6 loss at Stetson. The Boilers are 8-1 at neutral sites, however. They have positioned themselves extremely well through the season’s first 10 games to reach the NCAA Tournament. Starting tonight they can be in an even better spot. The NCAA changed up its evaluation criteria a few years ago to give northern teams a small boost when it comes to consideration for the tournament. Road games now get a 1.3 multiplier (and consequently, home games a 0.7 multiplier) in the RPI formula. That means any wins over the next week carry a nice little bonus.
In terms of the RPI, Purdue is currently 9th nationally. The state of Indiana has become a bizarre nexus of early high RPI teams. Indiana is 5th at 9-3 even after losing its home opener to Cincinnati on Tuesday. Notre Dame is 23rd at 6-4 (and thus they are Purdue’s best win), and they will stay high through a brutal ACC slate. Indiana State is at 31 with a 6-5 record (and has a home and home with Purdue). Butler is at 46 after a 10-1 start.
Because of this, the coming week presents a great opportunity for Purdue baseball. The Boilers start a three-game series tonight at Tulane (6-7) before playing Tuesday night at Southeast Louisiana (9-5) and Wednesday at Nicholls State (3-10). On the way home they will play Friday through Sunday at St. Louis (4-7), a team we have already beaten 5-2 in winning the Alamo Irish Classic.
Purdue (8-2) at Tulane (6-7)
Friday to Sunday, March 9 to 11 at 7:30, 3 and 2 p.m. ET
Greer Field at Turchin Stadium / New Orleans, Louisiana
All-Time Series: Tied 1-1
Last Meetings: Split a 2-game series (1950 in New Orleans)
Tulane: RHP Kaleb Roper | Jr. | 0-2, 6.94 ERA, 3 APP, 3 GS, 11.2 IP, 10 H, 9 ER, 6 K, 7 BB
Purdue: RHP Tanner Andrews | Sr. | 2-1, 0.92 ERA, 3 APP, 3 GS, 19.2 IP, 20 H, 2 ER, 19 K, 4 BB
Tulane: LHP Ross Massey | Jr. | 1-1, 4.50 ERA, 4 APP, 2 GS, 12.0 IP, 12 H, 6 ER, 6 K, 6 BB
Purdue: LHP Gareth Stroh | Jr. | 2-0, 1.65 ERA, 3 APP, 3 GS, 16.1 IP, 11 H, 3 ER, 6 K, 7 BB
Tulane: RHP Keagan Gillies | So. | 1-1, 3.71 ERA, 3 APP, 3 GS, 17.0 IP, 12 H, 7 ER, 11 K, 5 BB
Purdue: RHP Bo Hofstra | Fr. | 1-0, 0.87 ERA, 5 APP, 0 GS, 10.1 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 7 K, 3 BB
The first big note here is that Purdue has switched up its Sunday starter. JuCo transfer Ryan beard was brought in to secure that spot, but has struggled in his three starts so far. He has a 5.62 ERA and has made it through just 8 innings in his three starts total. Mark Wasikowski will turn to freshman Bo Hofstra instead. Hofstra was the Big Ten Freshman of the week for his performance in the Alamo Irish Classic. He has made 5 appearances out of the bullpen and carries a 0.87 ERA with a 1-0 record and a save over 10 1/3 innings. If he can transition to the No. 3 starter role well Purdue will have a formidable 1-2-3, and beard can work out what he needs to work out as a weekday starter. Tanner Andrews (2-0, 0.92 ERA in 19 2/3 innings) and Gareth Stroh (2-0, 1.65 ERA in 16 1/3 innings) have both been excellent at the top of the rotation. Andrews is now 10-4 in his last 18 starts dating back to the beginning of last season.
Purdue’s bullpen has also been excellent (with much of that owing to Hofstra). The Boilers are second in the conference with a 2.82 team ERA. Preseason All-American Ross Learnard got tagged with two earned runs and the loss in the first Notre Dame game when he gave up a game-winning 2-run homer, but he has settled down considerably. Cameron Williams and Trent Johnson have also done well. The Boilers are still waiting for Dalton Parker to come around, as he was slow to start the year due to injury. Parker led the team with 6 saves in 16 appearances last season, but so far in one appearance he was knocked around, giving up four runs (three earned) without recording an out in his only appearance.
Purdue also currently leads the Big Ten in batting with an impressive .313 average as a team. In that, Purdue currently has the best three hitters in the conference. Nick Dalesandro leads the league with a .472 average through 9 games. Skyler Hunter is second at .447 and Jacson McGowan is attempting to win the Big Ten triple crown. McGowan is crushing the ball with a .447 average, 6 home runs, and 17 RBI. He leads the conference in home runs, is second in RBIs, and is tied with Hunter for second in batting average.
Tulane enters the weekend having lost 4 of its last 5. It lost 2 of 3 over the weekend hosting long-time powerhouse Cal State Fullerton. It then dropped both midweek games to New Oreleans 8-7 and SE Louisiana 13-12. Jonathan Artigues leads them in hitting with a .340 average. Matt Rowland has three home runs for them, but so far Purdue has given up just one homer, the long ball Learnard gave up against Notre Dame.
On the mound the matchups favor Purdue. Tulane has a 5.20 team ERA and the Hunter-Dalesandro-McGowan trio has been tearing up pitching. Kaleb Roper is 0-2 with a 6.94 ERA at the top of the rotation and Ross Massey has also struggled with a 4.50 ERA and 1-1 record.
Looking at the stats here, Purdue needs to win this series. Taking a road series at a traditionally strong team like Tulane would be a huge confidence boost to the program. Tulane has made 21 NCAA Tournament appearances and reached the College World Series in 2001 and 2005. As I said in the beginning, this is a great opportunity for the team. A series win here means we can seriously consider an NCAA Tournament berth for only the third time in program history.