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Purdue Baseball Hosts Belmont for Non-Conference Series

It is another must-win weekend.

Courtesy of Purdue Baseball

Maybe one day the weather will cooperate for Purdue baseball. It has certainly done a number this spring on the Boilers. After starting 18-1 a string of postponements seems to have disrupted the momentum of hot start. The weather problems continued this week as a Wednesday night home game against Evansville was cancelled. That brings the grand total of games lost due to weather to six, while a seventh against Purdue-Fort Wayne is pending as postponed.

The Boilers did have a midweek game this week at Illinois-Chicago, but a 9-6 loss dropped Purdue to 4-9 since the 18-1 start. That slide started against Illinois-Chicago on March 29th when Purdue blew a 9-0 lead after six innings. On Tuesday Paul Toetz was able to tie it at 6-6 in the top of the eighth with a double to left field, but the bullpen lost all control yet again and gave up three in the bottom of the inning.

Purdue now sits at 22-10 and 4-6 in the Big Ten with 12 conference games and six non-conference games remaining. The skid here, especially in conference, has severely damaged any NCAA Tournament hopes. While the overall record is good, the weakness of the schedule means Purdue’s RPI is far outside of at large consideration. The RPI is at 140 and Purdue does not have a single win against a top 100 team. It hasn’t even played a top 50 team, and it is 0-4 against teams rated 51-100 with three losses at #63 Illinois and a home loss to #71 Indiana State. Late blown leads against Illinois-Chicago, Indiana State, and Illinois combined with a few extra inning losses have really hurt Purdue. The best win is a midweek road win at #114 Charlotte back in March.

The chance to really stack wins up is over, and the cancelled games hurt in a couple of ways. First, Purdue lost a chance to beat a couple top 100 teams in Evansville and Indiana State. Second, the lost games against Ohio State hurt because they were against one of the bottom teams in the conference, and we need conference wins in order to make the Big Ten Tournament. Third, the lost games against Bellarmine and Illinois State were great chances to add a few more wins to the overall total.

The Boilers are really up against it now. 12 of the final 18 games come against top 100 teams, meaning the meat of the schedule is here right as the pitching staff continues to struggle. It is a double edged sword, really. This is the hardest part of the schedule, but if Purdue can somehow reactivate its earlier magic the opportunity is there to get some good wins and really boost the RPI. In order to even have a chance the NCAAs Purdue likely has to go 5-1 at worst in those six non-conference games and 9-3 in the Big Ten games. That would put Purdue at 36-14, 13-9 headed into the Big Ten Tournament. Even then, winning a couple games in Omaha would be a very good idea (and the automatic bid for winning said tournament is there).

Belmont (23-14, 9-3 OVC) at Purdue (22-10, 4-6 B1G)

Friday to Sunday, April 22 to 24 / Watch B1G+

Series Opener: Friday, April 22 at 6 p.m. ET

Middle Game: Saturday, April 23 at 6 p.m. ET

Series Finale: Sunday, April 24 at 1 p.m. ET

Alexander Field / West Lafayette, Indiana

PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS

Friday: Jackson Smeltz (R-Jr, LHP) vs. BU’s Andy Bean (So, LHP)

Saturday: Troy Wansing (Fr, LHP) vs. BU’s Joshua South (Jr, RHP)

Sunday: TBA for Purdue vs. BU’s Jalen Borders (So, LHP)

The recent cold stretch means the NCAAs are now a long shot, but there is still time to turn it around. It begins this weekend with a non-conference home series against Belmont. Since Wisconsin does not have a baseball program it means at least one team in the Big Ten has to find a non-conference series each week in league play. This week the Bruins come to Alexander Field and it is the highest rated non-conference series on the schedule. They are rated at 80 in the current RPI and feature a 23-14 overall record with a 9-3 mark in Ohio Valley Conference play. That is good enough for first place in that league, so this is an NCAA caliber team. In fact, a series win for them at a major conference team could get them in the discussion for an at large bid.

Their best win is a single game at Wofford, a top 30 team in the RPI. They have also played Vanderbilt and Alabama and have an upcoming game at No. 1 Tennessee. In terms of common opponents, they have beaten Evansville in a midweek game and they took a game out of three against Dayton.

Tonight’s pitching matchup should be a good one. Jackson Smeltz is the one Purdue pitcher that has done well of late. He is 6-0 with a 2.86 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 50 1/3 innings. He will face Andy Bean, who is 6-1 with a 4.29 ERA in the same number of innings. As a staff Belmont has a 4.59 ERA, while Purdue is at 5.21 and climbing fast. During this 4-9 stretch Purdue has given up at least 8 runs nine times (but somehow won two of those in 17-14 and 16-15 slugfests).

The pitching was slightly better last weekend against Penn State, but the hitting failed to come through in the clutch. Evan Albrecht is in the midst of a tight battle for the Big Ten batting title with a .402 average. He is third in the league while CJ Valdez is sixth at .364. Cam Thompson is second in the league with 47 RBI and third with 10 home runs. Curtis Washington and Mike Bolton Jr. are tied for the Big Ten lead with 22 stolen bases each. Belmont is batting .280 as a team, but given Purdue’s struggles that doesn’t mean much.

With no margin for error Purdue has to win each of its five remaining weekend series, starting this weekend. A sweep would guarantee nothing, but it would at least be a nice schedule boost as any win this weekend would be Purdue’s best according to the RPI.