After winning six of seven games against lower competition Purdue baseball has struggled in its last few games. Last night the Boilers face Indiana in Bloomington for a non-conference affair that served as the only scheduled meeting with the Hoosiers this season and the result was a fifth straight loss before this weekend’s series at Alexander Field against Iowa.
Indiana 7, Purdue 6 (10 innings)
This was a wild game where Purdue had a great chance to break things open and Indiana was feast or famine at the plate. The first three batters of the game for Purdue walked and Zac Fascia brought home a pair with a two-run double. After another walk loaded the bases with no one out Indiana changed pitchers. Tommy Sommer entered, struck out the next two batters, and proceeded to through six innings of one hit ball as Indiana built a 6-2 lead.
The Hoosiers took the lead in the bottom of the first on an RBI double from Elijah Dunham and a two-run home run from Cole Barr. Scotty Bradley added a solo homer in the sixth and Matt Gorski later made it 6-2 with a two-out, two-run single. With the way that Sommer was throwing the Hoosiers appeared to be in great shape.
Purdue was able to mount a rally, however. Skyler Hunter scored on a bases loaded wild pitch in the seventh and Cole McKenzie followed with a big two-run double that was Purdue’s first hit since the second. Trailing 6-5 in the ninth Purdue appeared to be done when Ryan Howe grounded to short with two outs in the ninth, but the shortstop misplayed the ball. McKenzie then came through again, tying the game with a double to left and leading to a rare blown save for ace closer Matt Lloyd.
Purdue could get nothing going in the 10th, however, as Grant Sloan struck out all three batters and the Hoosiers won on a bases loaded walk-off single just inside the left field line in the bottom of the inning. Despite giving up a pair of home runs Purdue pitchers combined to strike out 18.
Iowa (18-13, 5-4) at Purdue (10-21, 4-4) 6pm Friday, 1pm Saturday, 1pm Sunday at Alexander Field
This weekend’s series is a critical one if Purdue is going to make this year’s Big Ten Tournament. The overall record is obviously not great, but this is a young team that is showing growth. The Boilers have six one-run losses on the season against four such wins. The offense continues to be an issue as Purdue is last in the league batting .224 and with a paltry four home runs while everyone else in the conference has at least 10. By comparison, Indiana has 58 home runs. Purdue is also last in the conference in walks with 90 and stolen bases with 17.
That all puts a lot of pressure on a pitching staff that is still coming together. The staff has a respectable ERA of 4.80 and is third in the conference with 276 strikeouts, but in 31 games Purdue has scored three or fewer runs 17 times. It is 3-14 in such games, but 7-7 when it scores at least four runs.
Iowa enters as a middle of the pack team in many categories. They are 7thin hitting with a .258 average and 14 home runs. They are sixth in pitching with a 4.10 ERA. Austin Martin is their top hitter and is fourth in the conference, hitting .352 with two homers and 17 RBI. Grant Judkins has been a solid starter on the mound for them, going 3-3 with a 1.70 ERA. Cole McDonald (4.30, 2-3) and Cam Baumann (5.03, 2-2) are the other two weekend starters.
The Hawkeyes have an excellent series win at Oklahoma State, but were swept at Indiana to start conference play. They responded by sweeping a very good Illinois team two weeks ago. This past weekend they took two of three from Rutgers.
One thing that should help Purdue is that it has been much better during its limited home schedule so far. The Boilers are 4-2 at Alexander Field so far this year and 16 of the remaining 22 games will be at home. The only road games left at Rutgers for three April 19-21 and at Illinois for three May 10-12.