Purdue’s overall record of 22-9 looks good, but the momentum of the red hot start to the season is gone. After starting 18-1 Purdue is now 4-8 over its last 12. Even worse, in terms of strength of schedule it has yet to play a top 50 team and it is 0-4 against teams in the top 100. This weekend the Boilers had one last chance to make some hay against the bottom half of the Big Ten standings, but it was unable to do so as it dropped a series at Penn State.
Penn State 12, Purdue 7
Once again, a big inning doomed Purdue. After taking a 4-0 lead in the top of the third thanks to a two run single from Evan Albrecht the pitching staff completely collapsed in the bottom of the inning. CJ Backer loaded the bases with two singles and a hit batsman, then was relieved by Ricky Castro. Castro then walked three batters and Tayven Kelley would add a three-run double as the Nittany Lions plated eight in the bottom of the third.
Penn State would add three more in the fourth, two on a two-run homer from Josh Spiegel, and it was enough for them to cruise to the win. Purdue would add two in the fifth and one in the sixth, but left the bases loaded in the sixth. Curtis Washington went 4 for 5 at the plate and Paul Toetz was 3 for 5, but the Boilers left 10 runners on base.
Purdue 11, Penn State 5
Finally, the pitching was better. Jackson Smeltz, who has become the ace of the staff, moved to 6-0 on the season. he struck out 7 in 6 1⁄3 innings, but had a bit more of a rough outing than the gem he threw last Friday against Indiana. He gave up 5 runs, but only three were earned. Eric Hildebrand closed the game out with five strikeouts in 2 2⁄3 innings of scoreless ball.
Troy Viola had a two-run double and Pablo Lanzarote had an RBI double as Purdue raced out of the gate with five runs in the top of the first. Matt Wood got two right back in the first for Penn State with a two-run home run, but that was all Smeltz would give up until the fifth. Penn State aided Purdue by committing four errors and giving up seven walks.
Penn State 7, Purdue 5
Purdue got off to another hot start with two runs in the first despite not getting a hit. Washington scored on a sac fly from Cam Thompson and Paul Toetz scored on a passed ball, but Penn State got both runs back in the bottom of the inning. It would stay 2-2 until the fifth, when Penn State got a two run single from Spiegal. The Nittany Lions added two more in the sixth, but a two-out rally by Purdue in the seventh got it to 6-5. Washington, CJ Valdez, and Thompson each drove in runs, but Purdue left the bases loaded, then went 1-2-3 in the final two innings while Penn State added a seventh inning insurance run.
While a sweep would have been disastrous, losing the series at Penn State is not great. Purdue is now halfway through the Big Ten schedule and it is only 4-6 (with two games getting completely cancelled). It stings because this was against the weaker teams that Purdue is scheduled to play. Maryland, Iowa, and Michigan are all in the upper half of the conference and they represent nine of the final 12 regular season league games.
If Purdue is going to make the NCAA Tournament it is going to have to play its best baseball against the toughest teams left on its schedule. There are 21 regular season games left and Purdue probably has to win 14 of them to even have a chance at this point. It is difficult, but not impossible.
Purdue travels to Illinois-Chicago on Tuesday before hosting Evansville on Wednesday. A solid Belmont team then comes to Alexander Field over the weekend for a non-conference series. To get back on track Purdue needs at least a 4-1 week.