It is Purdue’s turn to have the week off from conference play. Since there are only 13 programs in Big Ten baseball there is at least one team off each week of conference play. Many programs try to schedule a home series during this time since, as northern schools, they start the season on the road for weeks. The improvement of the conference as a whole has led to some interesting matchups too, as some of our conference brethren have used their open weeks during league play to schedule some bigger names.
For example: Penn State has taken advantage of a similar quirk in the Pac-12 (only 11 Pac-12 schools have baseball, as Colorado has no program) to get Arizona to come to State College for their bye week this year. Nebraska has Arizona State coming to their place in a few weeks. Michigan went to Texas Tech during its bye. Minnesota hosted Oklahoma, Iowa hosts a strong UC-Irvine program, and Ohio State went all the way to Hawaii.
For a rebuilding program I have no problem with what Purdue has done. We will be hosting Southeast Missouri State to get some extra home games. In 2012 former Coach Schreiber used the bye as an opportunity and played three games at UCLA, but we’re not ready for that. Instead we get a return home series after Purdue played three and won two at SEMO during the third weekend of the 2017 season.
First, however, let’s look at this week’s midweek games, as Purdue got a pair of wins at home.
Purdue 10, Chicago State 1
As I have talked about when we played them in basketball, Chicago State is really a school that probably should not be a Division I athletics program. They are hopelessly underfunded and struggle at virtually everything because the school itself is beyond broke. They make for an easy midweek buy game match up even in a year where we’re struggling. Redshirt freshman Cory Brooks made the second start of his career in a comeback from Tommy John surgery and got the win after pitching four innings of hitless ball. He was clearly on a pitch count as he is coming back, but he struck out five on 56 pitches and he faced 13 batters. There is even talk of moving him into the weekend rotation next week against Michigan State. As a staff Purdue gave up only four hits and struck out 11.
At the plate Milo Beam moved into the leadoff role and did extremely well. He was 2 for 3 with three runs scored and 2 RBI. Purdue set a record with 10 stolen bases in the game. Cole McKenzie and Tyler Powers each had three steals.
Purdue 11, Purdue-Fort Wayne 2
As bad as Chicago State is, Purdue-Fort Wayne is worse. The Mastodons are now a dismal 5-33 record and are rated 298th nationally in the RPI, leading only St. Peter’s. Patrick J. Smith got the start and earned his fourth win of the season with four innings of one-hit ball. Zac Fascia drove in four runs on two hits while Ryan Howe added his second home run of the season. A six-run fifth inning blew the game open as Purdue led only 4-2 through five.
SE Missouri State (19-23) at Purdue (15-25)
Friday 6pm, Saturday 6pm, Sunday 1pm
The Redhawks have a couple of bats in their lineup that can cause a few problems for us. Tyler Wilber is one of the best hitters in the OVC batting .391 with 2 HRs and 33 RBI. Austin Blazevic is also batting .321 with 3 homers and 23 RBI. They are hitting .260 as a team, but the only high major competition they have really faced is a midweek loss at Vanderbilt.
After struggling at the plate for much of the weekend at Rutgers last week we should welcome the SEMO pitching staff. They have a staff ERA of 5.51 and have given up a whopping 48 home runs on the season. Considering Purdue has only hit 7 as a team, something will have to give. Noah Niznik (2-2, 2.84), Dylan Dodd (4-4, 4.63), and Daniel Bergtholdt (4-4, 4.86) make up the weekend rotation for them.
Purdue’s rotation continues to be in flux. Trent Johnson and Andrew Bohm both had quality outings last weekend at Rutgers. The third spot is still up for grabs, however. Ryan Beard is now out for the season with a torn ACL and Patrick J. Smith started last night. We could see Dalton parker, Kyle Wade, or James Kulak start Sunday’s game as they all have starting experience. Brooks could also go here as well.
At this point in the season Purdue is not going to make the NCAA Tournament as an at large team, so the goals have changed. This is a great time to get the bats going and get some experience and momentum for next season while trying to also make the Big Ten Tournament. We should be able to win at least two this weekend if not all three, and a very weak Michigan State comes to town next weekend. Depending on what happens in the five weekend series around the conference we’ll have a better idea of what we need to do going into the final nine games of the league season.
Purdue is also still a very young team with most of the pieces coming back next season. Smith, Nick Evarts, Beard, and Trevor Cheaney are the only four seniors on the roster and Cheaney has not thrown a pitch all year due to injury, so he might return. This was after he threw in a team high 29 games last season. In terms of juniors that have a shot of getting drafted Skyler Hunter and Zac Fascia might be the only ones. That means if Purdue can get a winning streak going here and make the Big Ten Tournament it could set up for a nice 2020 season.