It was a rough weekend in Omaha for Purdue baseball. The team made its first appearance in the conference tournament since 2018, but it was a short one. Rutgers tore open the opening round game late and Iowa won the elimination game on a ninth inning run on Friday to send the Boilers home at 0-2.
Rutgers 10, Purdue 3
Purdue’s opening game was delayed as the entire tournament was a wash on Wednesday. The Boilers and Scarlet Knights were finally able to take the field Thursday afternoon and took a very early lead with a three-run second inning. Cam Thompson had a two-run home run and Steve Ramirez drove in a run with an infield groundout, but the rest of the game would be one of missed opportunities offensively.
Rutgers got a pair of runs in the bottom of the second to tie it, but Purdue was in business in the third after a Curtis Washington single and CJ Valdez double to start the inning. Purdue then had some hard luck as Troy Viola hit a slicing foul ball to right that the Rutgers right fielder appeared to catch, but he ended up dropping the ball. It is a situation where an out there would have been productive, as Washington would have easily scored from third on a sac fly had the right fielder held on. Instead, Viola struck out, Paul Toetz struck out, and after Thompson was hit by a pitch Evan Albrecht popped up to leave the bases loaded.
The Boilers had a similar chance in the sixth with the game still tied 3-3. Jake Jarvis and Steve Ramirez led off with singles, Mike Bolton Jr. then had a 3-0 count, but Rutgers pitcher Garrett French battled back to get him to strike out. He then followed with a strikeout of Washington before Valdez grounded out to end the inning with no damage.
Things fell apart for Purdue in the seventh, as Rutgers had four walks around a sacrifice bunt to finally break the tie. They got another run on an infield single and a third on a groundout before a two-run single to left. The Scarlet Knights would add two more in the eighth to close it.
Iowa 5, Purdue 4
This one was another frustrating one, as Purdue once again had a couple missed opportunities. Troy Viola gave Purdue a 1-0 lead on a solo home run by Troy Viola in the second. That would hold until the fifth, when Iowa scored three to go up 3-1. Ramirez got one back with an RBI groundout in the fifth, but an RBI double in the top of the sixth made it 4-2 Iowa. In the bottom of the inning Thompson made it 4-3 with an RBI single, then an error at third on an inning-ending ground ball allowed Toetz to score.
That would be Purdue’s final run, but the Boilers botched a golden opportunity in the 7th. Ramirez led off with a single and Tyler Powers followed with a walk. Ramirez was then picked off at second, and that prevented him from scoring on a single from Valdez later in the inning. Iowa then retired the final seven batters and got an RBI single in the ninth for the win.
It was a frustrating end to a season where Purdue started red hot at 18-1. Admittedly it was built on a very weak schedule, but Purdue still finished a respectable 29-21 with eight games cancelled due to weather. Splitting those eight, given the opponents, was more than reasonable, so this team showed some promise in building for next year.
It should be a solid season next year, too. Purdue returns all three main weekend starters in Jackson Smeltz, Wyatt Wendell, and Troy Wansing, as well as CJ Backer, who made eight starts. They all showed moments of promise as starters throughout the year, so the rotation should be solid. The bullpen will need improvement, as it was downright bad for large stretches. Khal Stephen was only a freshman and he led the bullpen with 23 appearances, but with an ERA over 8. Smeltz was an Third Team all-Big Ten selection despite missing the last six weeks of the season with an injury. Wansing also made the all-Big Ten freshman team.
At the plate things look promising. CJ Valdez was a First Team all-Big Ten selection as a DH and could return since he is only a junior. Curtis Washington and Mike Bolton Jr. were 1-2 in the conference in stolen bases and are juniors that could return. Cam Thompson’s team high 13 home runs and 56 RBI were among the league leaders and he can return as well. Jake Jarvis is another junior that batted over .300. Paul Toetz and Pablo Lanzarote are also major contributors that could return.
It should be an interesting year in 2023. A lot of key pieces are able to return, so if some transfers or promising freshmen compliment them it has the chance to be a special year.