All good things come to an end, and Purdue’s winning streak to start the 2022 season ended Thursday night in Bloomington, Illinois. Purdue was slated to play the Illinois State Redbirds in a four game hybrid series. The first two would be Thursday and Friday at Illinois State, while Saturday and Sunday would be in West Lafayette. The Boilers dropped the opener in extra innings, then weather cancelled the Friday game. Further bad weather on Saturday meant a Sunday doubleheader, and Purdue took both games to move to 17-1 on the season.
Illinois State 4, Purdue 3 (11 innings)
For much of this one it looked like Purdue was going to go down, as the Boilers only managed a run on a Cam Thompson sac fly in the 7th. Illinois State scored twice in the third and one in the seventh, while starting pitcher Derek Salata had a no hitter through six innings.
Ninth inning rallies have become a staple for Purdue though. The Boilers loaded the bases with no one out, then CJ Valdez drew a walk to make it 3-2. A fielder’s choice from Thompson tied it and sent us to extras.
Unfortunately, Purdue couldn’t take advantage of getting the leadoff man on in both of the extra innings. Illinois State then walked it off on a wild pitch that scored JT Sokolove.
Purdue 9, Illinois State 2
Purdue 7, Illinois State 6 (10 innings)
A beautiful day for baseball in West Lafayette saw the Boilers win both ends of a twinbill. In game 1 Purdue got up early with three runs in the first, two courtesy of a two run home run by Thompson. Curtis Washington would later homer as part of a three-run sixth inning, while Paul Toetz drove in a run in the third and two in the sixth. Wyatt Wendell moved to 3-0 on the season by striking out 10 and giving up just one run on four hits in 6 1/3 innings.
Game two was a lot more back and forth and involved another ninth inning rally. A four run third inning by Purdue gave the Boilers a 4-1 lead. Even Albrecht had an RBI single, then Valdez followed with a two run single and Thompson brought in a run on a dropped fly ball. Thompson would have another home run in the fifth, but Illinois State got two runs of its own in the fifth, one in the sixth, and two in the eighth to lead 6-5 entering the ninth.
As he has done so often, Michael Bolton Jr.’s speed caused trouble. He led the ninth off with a triple and scored on a groundout to tie it. Albrecht then won it by singling home Troy Viola in the 10th.
At 17-1 Purdue is off to a tremendous start to the season. It is ranked in a couple of college baseball top 25s (there are a lot of them), but so far the big three of Baseball America, D1baseball.com, and the USA Today Coaches poll have them just outside the top 25. Last week they were 26th in the coaches poll, but this week they dropped slightly due to the one loss.
A large reason for this is the general weakness of schedule Purdue has faced in getting to 17-1. Purdue has the conference’s best record ahead of Maryland’s 16-3, but it is against the 239th (out of 301) strongest schedule in Division I. The midweek win over Charlotte at Charlotte on March 2nd is Purdue’s best win, as they are 13-6. Everyone else is under .500, though Illinois State is 7-8 now and does have a win over highly rated Arkansas.
In terms of NCAA Tournament hopes, Purdue is basically in the best shape it can be in. It needed to pile up wins against this weak slate and did just that. The RPI is now at a solid 44, which is right in line for an at large berth, and the two Illinois State wins look good since they are at 33. The midweek win over Dayton last week is also decent, as they are at 90.
To make the tournament I think Purdue needs to be in the neighborhood of 35-37 wins overall and over .500 against the 24 game Big Ten schedule. In 2018 Purdue had 34 regular season wins, but it played a tougher non-conference schedule and got three additional good wins in the Big Ten Tournament. There are 12 remaining non-conference games and Purdue likely needs to win at least 8 of them, starting this Tuesday against a 3-12 Northern Illinois team at home. The toughest remaining non-conference games are a home and home against Indiana State (11-7) and a three-game home series with Belmont (14-7). The rest are a home and home with Illinois-Chicago (5-10), and home games against Northern Illinois tomorrow, Purdue-Fort Wayne (2-17), Evansville (7-12), Valparaiso (7-9), and Butler (8-9).
The Big Ten schedule also starts this week, as Purdue hosts Ohio State for three games Friday-Sunday. The Buckeyes are 7-11 on the season and were swept by Texas State in their toughest challenge. They still have played a much stronger schedule (37th nationally), so it will be interesting to see how Purdue responds. An expected win over NIU tomorrow, plus a weekend series win would have Purdue in excellent shape as we approach midseason.