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The most important weekend in Purdue baseball history looms on the horizon.
Entering the 2012 campaign, you had to know where the Boilermakers came from to realize just big of strides this program has made over the past few seasons, especially this spring. The Boilermakers likely will soon end this drought, but as of right now, Purdue hasn’t won a Big Ten regular season title in 103 years.
Yes, to go with that little fact, you can go ahead and assume the Boilermakers also have never reached to the College World Series. So, throw the words national title or CWS and Purdue in the same sentence, and don’t be surprised if some Boilermakers blush.
Who can blame them?
From the time preseason previews came out until now, Purdue has been all about taking care of business. The Boilermakers entered the season with plenty of doubters despite being ranked relatively high in the first Perfect Game Top 50. But this team has just taken care of business every step of the way.
Purdue opened the season in impressive fashion by sweeping the Big East/Big Ten Challenge field, while it beat East Carolina and Western Carolina in another tournament the next week before making the biggest statement by sweeping the Auburn tourney with wins over host Auburn and Southern Mississippi.
Amazingly, the Boilermakers haven’t let off the pedal since the first three weeks of the season, compiling a 34-7 overall record, 14-4 mark in the Big Ten, while earning a top-10 ranking by PG and earning a spot squarely in the mix for one of the coveted top eight national seeds.
“I’m very much impressed with the way we’ve been able to keep up our level of play this season,” Purdue coach Doug Schreiber said. “In the nature of baseball, it’s tough to consistently go out there each night and win because a lot of times the ball may not fall your way. But even on days when our offense hasn’t been great, our pitching has stepped up in impressive fashion.”
Going into the season, the Boilermakers were expected to have one of the nation’s more productive offensive lineups. And right on cue with predictions, they’ve been impressive at the plate, hitting .318 entering this weekend’s series against the Bruins.
Talented infielders Eric Charles and Cam Perkins lead the way hitting .394 and .367, respectively, while veteran catcher Kevin Plawecki is hitting .372 with four homers and 34 RBIs. Both Perkins and Plawecki should be selected between the fourth and eight rounds in the upcoming MLB draft.
“We’ve just gone out there and found ways to win. We seem to get a lot of timely hits,” Schreiber said. “We’ve got a bunch of veterans out there that when the tough gets going, they simply do not panic. They’re very business-like in their approach.”
Purdue’s pitching staff, by far and away, is the biggest surprise this spring. The Boilermakers seemed to be in real trouble before the season when they lost impressive starting pitcher Brad Schreiber to an injury for the season, making the starting rotation a virtual game of musical chairs.
Surprisingly, the Purdue rotation and bullpen are doing a fantastic job this season. Joe Haase serves as the staff ace and has a 3.38 ERA in 66 2/3 innings. He also has struck out 38 and walked 15, while teams are hitting him at a .270 clip. Meanwhile, right-hander Lance Breedlove has been a huge surprise with a 2.71 ERA in 73 innings. Teams are hitting him at just a .244 clip.
“You know, Haase is the type of guy who will sit in the 85-88 range with his fastball, but what makes him so special is the fact he throws five pitches -- fastball, curveball, cutter, changeup and splitter,” he said. “He’s just the type of guy that goes out there, gets into the flow of the game, and thinks about different ways to attack hitters.
“Lance’s fastball command has been really good this season, and his breaking ball and slider have been good pitches, too,” he said. “He’s got a really nice slider that sits around 80 on the gun, but the biggest thing for him is that he has been able to get ahead of hitters. He’s pounding the strike zone right now.”
Purdue also has received very consistent and productive campaigns from relievers Blake Mascarello and Nick Wittgren. Mascarello served as a starting pitcher last season, but shifted to the bullpen this spring. He has excelled in that role, making 20 appearances with an excellent 1.84 ERA in 49 innings.
Typically, Mascarello bridges the gap between the starting pitchers and stud closer Nick Wittgren. But he also is known to also go extended relief at times.
“Blake had trouble last season as a starter, just getting through those second and time through the batting orders. This year, I told him, no matter how well you do, you’re going to be our guy in the bullpen,” he said. “He has answered the call in this regard.”
Meanwhile, Wittgren is the stalwart of the bullpen. The hard-throwing right-hander, expected to be a seventh-12th round pick in the upcoming draft, has a 1.71 ERA in 26 1/3 innings of work. He also has recorded nine saves and held teams to a .232 batting average, much the way of a fastball that routinely sits 90-92, sometimes touching 93.
With a stout offense, a surprising weekend rotation and a bullpen possessing a two-headed monster, the Boilermakers press forward this weekend with an incredibly tough series against UCLA, one that if they should win, likely would assure them a national seed come postseason time.
The Big Ten hasn’t earned a No. 1 seed even in an NCAA Regional since Ohio State accomplished the goal in the Atlantic II Regional in 1994. And the league certainly hasn’t earned a national seed since those began in 1999.
Purdue has a chance to make real history … beginning this weekend.
Coastal Carolina (30-13) -- The Chanticleers received some bad news earlier this week with the loss of stud right-handed pitcher Josh Conway, but are still sizzling hot heading down the stretch. The Chants swept Liberty last weekend, are 8-2 in their last 10 and are in the midst of a six-game winning streak.
Virginia (31-14) -- It was only a matter of time before it happened, but the Cavaliers are playing an outstanding brand of baseball heading down the stretch. The Cavaliers did a clean road sweep of Miami last weekend, and move forward aiming for an NCAA Regional host site. The Cavaliers are 8-2 in their last 10 and winners of seven-straight.
South Carolina (34-11) -- It’s still funny to think of a few weeks ago when the Gamecocks had plenty of doubters. However, they’ve really played a tremendous brand of baseball the past five weeks. The Gamecocks are 9-1 in their last 10 games and have won seven-straight contests. Most importantly, the Gamecocks have now captured five-straight SEC series wins.
Florida State (37-7) -- The Seminoles have played the most consistent brand of baseball of any team in the country this spring. The ‘Noles have won nine of their last 10 games and are winners of eight-straight contests. FSU is the clear-cut favorite to be the top national seed with a home series coming up against Maryland.
Oklahoma State (26-17) -- The Big 12 appears to be a three-bid, or possibly a four-bid league, and the Cowboys are close to entering the equation. OSU has won eight of its last 10 games and is a winner of eight-straight contests. Most importantly, the Cowboys have swept two-straight Big 12 series against Texas Tech and Kansas State.
Gonzaga (27-16) -- It’s crazy to think the Bulldogs were squarely in the mix for an NCAA Regional host site just a couple of weeks ago. The Bulldogs have fallen on hard times the past couple of weeks, most recently dropping a tough home series to Loyola Marymount. The Zags are 3-7 in their last 10 and have dropped three-straight games.
Tennessee (22-22) -- There was a point in time when the Volunteers were considered to be on the postseason bubble, but that now seems like ancient history. The Vols really have struggled in SEC the past few weeks, most recently getting swept by Mississippi State and Auburn.
Marshall (15-28) -- High expectations weren’t placed on the Thundering Herd entering the spring, but it’s still disappointing to see them struggle so much. The Herd enters this weekend’s series against Rice last place in Conference USA. Additionally, Marshall is just 2-8 in its last 10 contests.
Kansas State (19-27) -- Wildcats head coach Brad Hill has worked his magic in past campaigns, but it didn’t work this spring. K-State got swept by Oklahoma State last weekend and is in trouble heading down the stretch. KSU is 1-9 in its last 10 games and has dropped nine-straight contests.
Pacific (11-31) -- The Tigers weren’t expected to do huge things in the Big West, but they didn’t see this type of campaign coming. Pacific is dead last in conference and is 1-9 in its last 10 games. Additionally, it has dropped seven-straight contests and finishes the regular season against Cal State Fullerton, UC Riverside, Long Beach State and Cal State Northridge.
PITCHING MATCHUPS TO WATCH
South Carolina LHP Michael Roth vs. Arkansas RHP Ryne Stanek
-- It doesn’t get much better than this when it comes to premier pitching matchups. Roth is a crafty left-handed pitcher that can get up to 88-89 with his fastball at times, while Stanek is the hard-throwing prospect-type who can reach back and touched 96-97 at times. Roth has outstanding numbers. He has made 11 starts and has a 2.57 ERA in 73 2/3 innings. He also has struck out 60 and walked 18, while teams are hitting him at a .192 clip. Meanwhile, Stanek has started 11 games and has a 2.52 ERA in 64 1/3 innings. He has struck out 60 and walked 21, while teams are hitting .234 against him.
LSU RHP Kevin Gausman vs. Mississippi RHP Bobby Wahl
-- Two of the nation’s best prospects and pitchers will toe the rubber to begin a crucial SEC series. Gausman, a draft-eligible sophomore, could be the top pick in the upcoming draft with a fastball that touches 98 and good secondary stuff. Wahl, meanwhile, pitches up to 94-95 with his fastball and will be one of the top pitchers taken in the 2013 draft. Gausman has started 11 games and has a 3.12 ERA in 75 innings. He also has struck out 97 and walked 20, while teams are hitting him at a .242 clip. Meanwhile, Wahl has started 11 games and has a 2.09 ERA in 60 1/3 innings. He also has struck out 67 and walked 23, while teams are hitting him at a .211 clip.
Oregon RHP Alex Keudell vs. Arizona RHP Kurt Heyer
-- The Ducks and Wildcats butt heads in a huge Pac-12 series this weekend. Keudell is an extremely consistent right-handed pitcher, while Heyer is a decent prospect with a fastball that typically sits in the 88-91 range. Keudell has started 11 games and has a 1.87 ERA in 81 2/3 innings of work. He also has struck out 46 and walked 14, while teams are hitting him at a .225 clip. Meanwhile, Heyer has started 11 games and has a 2.42 ERA in 85 2/3 innings of work. He has struck out 71 and walked 13, while teams are hitting him at a .256 clip.
Oregon State LHP Ben Wetzler vs. Stanford RHP Mark Appel
-- The Beavers are aiming for a host site and the Cardinal hopes to solidify their national seed chances. Both pitchers hope to start the weekend on a positive note. Wetzler has a good curveball and can sit in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball. Meanwhile, Appel is one of the nation’s elite prospects and is coming off a sensational start against UCLA last weekend. Appel was up to 97 last week and consistently sits 92-94. Wetzler has started 11 games and has a 3.18 ERA in 70 2/3 innings. He also has struck out 50 and walked 24, while teams are hitting him at a .226 clip. Meanwhile, Appel is 6-1 with a 2.73 ERA in 79 innings. He has struck out 81 and walked 20, while teams are hitting .218 against him.
Oklahoma LHP Jordan John vs. Oklahoma State LHP Andrew Heaney
-- The annual heated Bedlam Series between the Sooners and Cowboys resumes this weekend, and it’s a big one for both teams as they aim for at-large bids to the NCAA postseason. John is a very intriguing left-handed prospect to watch for the 2013 draft, while Heaney is the nation’s premier left-handed starter in this year’s draft. Heaney was recently up to 90-92 against Texas a few weeks ago. John has started six games and has a 2.36 ERA in 80 innings. He also has struck out 76 and walked 20, while teams are hitting him at a .240 clip. Meanwhile, Heaney has started 11 games and has a 1.82 ERA in 84 innings. He has struck out 102 and walked 18, while teams are hitting .195.
SERIES TO WATCH
No. 4 South Carolina at No. 15 Arkansas
-- The Gamecocks have been a completely different team since a series loss to Florida at home several weeks ago. As a matter of fact, they’re winners of five-straight SEC series and will once again enter a three-game set without injured right-handed pitcher Colby Holmes. But still, this Gamecocks team is not one to doubt. Meanwhile, the Hogs pitched exceptionally well last weekend against Florida with right-hander DJ Baxendale rising to the occasion. Baxendale and the Hogs must once again rise up this weekend if they want to move closer to solidifying a host site. -- PG Pick: ARKANSAS
No. 3 LSU at No. 22 Mississippi
-- The Tigers were in terrific shape for a national seed before dropping a series to Kentucky two weekends ago. Now, after taking care of Georgia last weekend, the Tigers really could improve their national seed resume with a road series win over the Rebels. Keep an eye on outfielder Raph Rhymes, who’s having an incredible year with a .500 average, three homers and 46 RBIs. For the Rebels, they’re just on the outside looking in when it comes to a host site. They need stud right-handed pitcher Bobby Wahl to start the weekend on a positive note. -- PG Pick: OLE MISS
No. 8 Florida at No. 5 Kentucky
-- The Gators once again are dealing with some key injuries, but hit the road this weekend in dire need of an impressive series win to hold on to a national seed. It wouldn’t get much more impressive than earning a series win over the Wildcats. UF must get big-time starts from left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson and others. For the Wildcats, they got caught looking ahead a little bit last weekend, dropping two of three on the road to an improving Vanderbilt squad. UK still has a little leeway entering the weekend, while it’s time for UF to put things together. -- PG Pick: KENTUCKY
No. 10 Stanford at No. 23 Oregon State
-- This important Pac-12 series has major implications not only in conference, but also on the national stage. The Cardinal has one of the nation’s top one-two punches on the weekend in left-handed pitcher Brett Mooneyham and right-handed pitcher Mark Appel, but both tend to go into lulls at times. Both must be exceptional this weekend against the Beavers, who desperately need a strong showing this weekend to improve their long-shot at most NCAA Regional hosting chances. -- PG Pick: OREGON STATE
No. 7 Purdue at No. 14 UCLA
-- In terms of actual implications on the national stage, it probably doesn’t get more important than this series. Though it’s being getting downplayed by Purdue coach Doug Schreiber for good reasons, there’s no question this series means everything to the Boilermakers. Should Purdue take care of business against the Bruins, there’s a very good chance it’s a national seed entering the postseason. For those of you scoring at home, the Big Ten has never had a national seed. -- PG Pick: PURDUE
No. 13 Oregon at No. 9 Arizona
-- The Wildcats have quietly put together a very solid campaign this spring with ace right-handed pitcher Kurt Heyer leading the charge. Arizona needs some help from an RPI standpoint to get in the national seed mix, but things could change in its favor this weekend. The Wildcats must be great against the Ducks, who possess one of the nation’s best pitching staffs with a solid set of starters, led by Alex Keudell and Jake Reed. UO would solidify its position as a potential national seed with a series win, while the Wildcats would get more in the discussion. -- PG Pick: ARIZONA
New Mexico at No. 28 TCU
-- The Lobos made a splash earlier this season when they took two of three from the Horned Frogs at home. That series win was extremely impressive at the time, but things are a little different these days. The Lobos are still playing a good brand of baseball, while the Frogs are healthier than they’ve been all-season long. Keep an eye on Lobos big-time slugger DJ Peterson, who’s hitting .437 with 13 homers and 57 RBIs. Meanwhile, the Frogs have one of the nation’s elite sophomore arms in right-handed pitcher Andrew Mitchell. -- PG Pick: TCU
Maryland at No. 1 Florida State
-- It’s never a good thing when your postseason hopes essentially hinge on going on the road and taking at least two of three from the nation’s top team. That’s precisely the situation the Terrapins are in this weekend. Maryland has a rough 8-16 ACC record and must rise to the occasion this weekend with Brett Harman and others leading the way. Meanwhile, the Seminoles really have taken a huge step forward from a pitching standpoint this season and would only further solidify their national seed with a series win over the Terps. -- FLORIDA STATE
No. 48 College of Charleston at No. 33 Clemson
-- This is one of the more intriguing series to watch this weekend. The Cougars were in our postseason projections this week, but definitely aren’t completely safe on the postseason bubble. The Cougars would greatly increase their chances of making the NCAA postseason with a huge road series win over the Tigers. Meanwhile, Clemson right-handed pitcher Kevin Brady will miss the weekend series with an injury, so it must find a way to move forward without the big-time ace pitcher. A series win this weekend likely would punch the Cougars’ ticket to the postseason. -- PG Pick: CLEMSON
No. 30 Auburn at No. 35 Georgia
-- This series won’t get a lot of traction on the national stage, but it’s a big one when it comes to how many teams the SEC will put in the postseason. The Tigers are narrowly in the field of 64 this week after sweeping Tennessee last weekend. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs took yet another step back last weekend with a road series loss to LSU, dropping to 9-12 in the league. Another series loss this weekend and the Bulldogs likely would be in big trouble the final few weekends. -- PG Pick: GEORGIA