For five innings today it looked like Purdue was going to move on to the Chapel Hill regional final against North Carolina tonight. Purdue scored twice in the fourth and twice in the fifth to take an early 4-0 lead against the Cougars. Freshman Andrew Bohm was also pitching brilliantly, and had been the beneficiary of three double plays in the first four innings.
Unfortunately, the bullpen completely melted down.
After Bohm allowed two runners to get on with a single and a walk with one out in the fifth Bo Hofstra came on in relief. A double steal moved runners to second and third, allowing Houston to get its first run on a grounder before Hofstra ended the inning with a strikeout.
Hofstra then walked the leadoff man in the sixth and hit the second batter. After a flyout Joe Davis made it 4-2 with an RBI single. Connor Hollis made it 4-3 with an RBI double and Cooper Coldiron tied it on a groundout.
The Boilers escaped a bases loaded, 1 out situation in the bottom of the seventh when Ross Learnard coerced another double play, but Purdue’s best reliever was shelled in the eighth. Davis led off the inning with a home run to right field. Coldiron then doubled with one out and scored on a single from Landon Etzel. Tyler Bielamowicz and Grayson Padgett then each followed with RBI triple to break the game open. The normally reliable Learnard, who was named a third team All-American this week, took the loss in his final appearance as a Boiler.
Purdue had plenty of chances to get more earlier in the game. It got on the board in the fourth when McGowan led off with a single and Nisle followed with a walk. After Evan Kennedy sacrificed the runners over Alec Olund delivered an RBI single. Evan Warden then loaded the bases when he was hit by a one out pitch, and Nisle scored on a wild pitch. Purdue should have gotten a third run on the play, but the pitch was so wild it went into the third base dugout. Olund had to go back to third, and after Tyler Powers walked Harry Shipley grounded into an inning ending double play.
Purdue added two more in the fifth on solo home runs from McGowan and Nisle and the Boilers were cruising. That would be the end of the offense though. Purdue had runners at first and second with one out in the seventh, but Hunter was thrown out at home on a single from Kennedy.
Purdue closes its season at 38-21 and even with a pair of losses to Houston where the bullpen got knocked around in the late innings, it has to be considered a huge success. This team was picked to finish 11th in the Big Ten back in February, meaning it would not have even made the Big Ten Tournament. Instead it recorded the second most wins in a single season in school history, the third NCAA Tournament berth, and second ever NCAA Tournament win. Purdue hung with Houston in both games before their potent lineup got to our bullpen.
There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of from this season, and it really feels like it is building to something more, unlike the 2012 team that was the culmination of a long buildup.
Purdue’s six seniors deserve a ton of credit as well. They persevered through the 10-44 year just two years ago and are an enormous part of this team’s success. Tanner Andrews won 15 games over the last two seasons and emerged as a real ace. Ross Learnard saved a school record 15 games this year and was a two-time All-American. Harry Shipley was great all year at the top of the lineup. Alec Olund led the team in batting average. Evan Kennedy was a reliable DH all season and Cameron Williams pitched well out of the bullpen with a 2-2 record in 15 appearances. Mike Kornacker also received his degree this year, but might return next year as a 5th year guy. He was solid out of the bullpen as well.
These guys were true leaders for this team and helped lead a massive turnaround in just two seasons. Any further success by the program will come on the foundation they laid.
And there is still a lot returning next season. Assuming they are not drafted too high this week, McGowan and Nick Dalesandro will return as seniors next season. Purdue also gets back Evan Warden, Tyler Powers, No. 2 starter Gareth Stroh, Bohm (who will likely move into a weekend role), Ryan Beard, Dalton Parker, Milo Beam, and Nisle who all played a ton this year. Bo Hofstra and Trent Johnson also had promising seasons as freshmen on the pitching staff.
There shouldn’t be the huge dropoff like there was after 2012. There are enough pieces returning that Purdue can definitely return to the NCAAs next season, and hopefully stay around a little longer.