Purdue baseball has turned a bit of a corner in it season after the start of Big Ten play. The Boilers have won four of their first five conference games despite the offense still struggling to score runs. A major reason has been the loss of Ben Nisle. Nisle has been out of the lineup for unknown reasons the past few weeks. He was hitting .294 with a home run and 8 RBI through 14 games before missing the last 13. Considering the lack of power in the lineup (Purdue has just two home runs in 27 games (by far the fewest in the conference), the loss of his bat is a big one.
Still, Purdue has gotten it done for the most part. Heading into last night’s game against Indiana State the Boilers had won four straight games and six of their last seven to improve to 10-16. The Trees were a solid opponent as well, entering with an impressive 21-4 record, an RPI of 27, and they were receiving votes nationally in the coaches poll.
Indiana State 4, Purdue 3
For the second time this season Purdue dropped a midweek game to the Sycamores 4-3. Tyler Powers scored in the bottom of the seventh on a sacrifice fly from Evan Albrecht to give Purdue a 3-2 lead, but Indiana State responded with a run in the eighth and a run in the ninth for the win. The eighth inning run scored via wild pitch while a sacrifice fly drove in the run in the ninth.
Purdue did have a chance to tie in the ninth. Ryan Howe led off with a single and was sacrificed over to second by Set Gergely. He went to third on a groundout, but could not score as Bryce Bonner grounded out to end the game. Howe finished the night 2 for 4 with an RBI triple but was twice stranded on third to end an inning.
Purdue (10-17, 4-1) at Nebraska (14-9, 4-2)
This weekend’s series is a big one for Purdue if there is going to be a huge turnaround to make the postseason as an at large team. The Boilers currently sit a half game out of first place because of Sunday’s weather cancellation against Penn State, but its four conference wins have come against teams that are a combined 1-7 in conference play. Purdue also still has series against Michigan State (5-21, 0-5) and Rutgers (8-17, 1-2), so the schedule is very favorable to at least make the Big Ten Tournament. Winning the Big Ten or turning things around for an at large NCAA bid won’t happen without winning the series this weekend.
The Cornhuskers opened conference play by sweeping Michigan State and taking one of three at Minnesota. They were swept in four games at defending national champion Oregon State in late February, but beat a good Texas Tech team and won a series at Baylor. They are third in the Big Ten with a .272 average at the plate. Their pitching is in the middle of the pack with Purdue, but the Boilers have been striking out batters left and right. Purdue pitchers have notched 238 strikeouts in 27 games, good for third in the conference.
Aaron Palensky is their best hitter, batting .344 with 15 RBI. He is just ahead of our own Skyler Hunter. They have a solid No. 1 starter in Matt Waldron, who is 3-0 with a 1.95 ERA. They are not a team that hits for a lot of power (just nine home runs), but their numbers are Ruthian compared to Purdue. Colby Gomes has been good at the end of games with four saves. Nate Fisher is also 4-1 on the mound in six starts with a 2.29 ERA.
Purdue’s pitching has been pretty solid of late. Patrick J. Smith has come on as a top starter with a 3-1 record and 3.24 ERA. He was excellent in the 1-0 win over Penn State last week. Andrew Bohm has had some bad luck in the No. 2 spot, but has overall done well in his last few outings. Ryan Beard could stay in the No. 3 spot where he has made five starts, but he pitched in relief last night. That could give Kyle Wade his first Big Ten start on Sunday. Bo Hofstra has settled into the late innings role very well with a 1.27 ERA in 12 appearances with a 2-1 record and 3 saves.
The pitching has developed nicely, but it is still the offense that is an issue. Through 27 games Purdue has been shutout four times, has scored only one run an additional four times, and has scored only two runs another four times. In 16 of 27 games Purdue has scored 3 or fewer runs and it is 3-13 in such games with two of those wins coming last weekend.
This is a big weekend for Purdue, as it comes during a stretch where we play eight straight games against top 65 teams. The last such stretch was the opening seven games against Southern Miss and Texas where we went 1-6. A series win would be a huge confidence boost and it would keep Purdue in the Big Ten race for a while.