First, the good news: Purdue is 6-1 and is starting to draw some minor attention nationally. D1Baseball mentioned them in this week’s Midwest Connection column. The 6-1 start is on pace with the 6-1 start Purdue had in 2018 when it made the NCAA Tournament.
Now, the bad: Things get A LOT harder this week. Yes, Campbell was a tournament team the past two seasons and on paper was a good challenge, but Maine is 0-6, Villanova is 3-3, Campbell is now 3-4, and Hofstra is 1-6. This weekend Purdue is headed to Minneapolis to join Iowa and Minnesota to face Duke, North Carolina, and North Carolina State in the inaugural ACC/Big Ten Baseball Challenge. All three teams Purdue will face are currently in the top 20 nationally. Technically, Purdue did have a win over a ranked team last season as Texas was #14 when the Boilers took one of four games in Austin last season, but the Longhorns finished 27-27 and missed the NCAA Tournament.
Purdue was 1-9 last season against top 25 teams last season, but had five top 25 wins in 2018. If Purdue can get a game or two this weekend it would be a huge long-term boost. All three games will take place at US Bank Stadium, which has a baseball configuration, so weather will not be a factor.
Friday vs. #20 Duke (7-1) 4pm
Purdue has a tremendous challenge in game 1 of the weekend. The Boilers will face All-American Bryce Jarvis, who was drafted by the Yankees in the 37th round out of high school and is expected to go significantly higher this year. Last week, he was perfect. Against Cornell he went 27 up, 27 down, striking out 15, for the first perfect game in Duke history and just the 31st perfect game in Division I history.
Jarvis is 1-1 on the season, as he went four innings and took the loss in a season-opening 2-1 loss to Army, but the Blue Devils have not lost since. Matt Mervis has paced them at the plate, batting .393 with 2 HR and 10 RBI. As a team they are batting .251 with 5 home runs so far, but their pitching has been excellent. As a staff they have a 0.75 ERA and Thomas Girard has been their Bo Hofstra at the back end with two saves. Aside from taking the second game of the Army series 9-8 they have given up three runs total in their other seven games, and just a single run in the last six.
Saturday vs. #18 North Carolina State (8-0) Noon
The Wolfpack have started the year red hot with sweeps of James Madison and Tennessee Tech, plus weekday wins over Longwood and UNC-Wilmington. They have not announced their starters yet but we should at least avoid their unquestioned No. 1 in Nick Swiney, who will likely pitch on Friday. David Harrison has made two starts and boasts a 1-0 record with a 0.84 ERA over 10 2/3 innings.
NC State has also been pounding the ball at the plate. They are batting .332 as a team with 12 home runs in eight games. Devonte Brown is batting .448 with 4 HR and 16 RBI as a menacing presence in their lineup. Tyler McDonough is batting .419 with 7 RBI, while Jonny Butler is hitting .345 with a home run and 10 RBI.
Like Duke, they have a strong pitching staff with a 1.75 ERA, but they are a better hitting team. It would seem Purdue has a slightly better chance in game 1, but they just have to get runs off an All-American who threw a perfect game last week.
Sunday vs. #16 North Carolina (7-2) 11am
We did not get a chance to play the Tar Heels two years ago despite being in their regional, but like the first two games of the weekend, they are an excellent team that not only is expected to make the NCAA Tournament, but they should be in the running to host one of the 16 regionals. They started the season by winning their first six games but ran into some trouble last weekend against a very good Dallas Baptist program. After taking the opener 9-0 North Carolina lost the next two games 6-3 and 3-0. They had a midweek win 8-0 over North Carolina A&T.
They are expected to throw Connor Ollio against us. He is 1-1 with a 3.12 ERA over 8 2/3 innings in two starts. Their offense has been hampered a bit this season with a .248 team batting average. Eric Grintz leads them, batting .438 with 8 RBI, while Dylan Harris has proved the power with three of their six home runs.
Obviously, facing three different ranked teams is a significant step up in weight class. Of the three Big Ten teams Purdue has the best record as Iowa is 3-3 and Minnesota is 4-4, but the Gophers have the home field advantage since they have scheduled 14 straight games in US Bank Stadium.
To be honest, if Purdue can take even one of these three games the weekend can be considered a success. If Purdue somehow takes two or even all three then it will have a huge boost to its NCAA chances. Purdue is playing pretty well at the moment. Bryce Bonner and Zac Fascia have the hot bats. Evan Albrecht and Tyler Powers are both hitting over .300 as a very pleasant surprise early on, and Albrecht has been clutch with 10 RBI. Cory Brooks has turned in a pair of solid starts on the mound as our No. 2, and there is always Hofstra at the back end.
Maybe Purdue can steal a game on Sunday or scratch a run or two off of Jarvis on Friday while getting a good outing from Trent Johnson. What lies here is an opportunity, and the Boilers have nothing to lose. If we get 2 of 3 or even all three Purdue is probably in the top 25 in its own right next week.