April 23, 2012

Purdue Diamond Notes

Although Purdue is ranked and leading the Big Ten, the Boilermakers were aware of some of the perception as they headed to Nebraska for a weekend series.

The Cornhuskers have more baseball tradition, having advanced to the College World Series three times, the last in 2005. The former Big 12 members play in a big stadium in a state known for collegiate baseball. A national story told of Nebraska's season, pointing out that the Huskers could get into first place in the Big Ten with a sweep of the Boilers, and even suggesting - whether intended or not - that that would be a very possible outcome.

No. 16 Purdue didn't take kindly to such inferences, and took two of three at Nebraska in a critical weekend set. One could argue that it was the Boilers' biggest series in years, because of the circumstance of playing for a conference title, and due to the environment; Nebraska had more than 15,000 fans attend over the three days.

"That's all we heard all weekend, is that Nebraska can tie for first if they sweep us," Coach Doug Schreiber said. "So we walked in hearing a lot of that, and to get the series win is big."

The series victory, Purdue's fifth in as many Big Ten weekends, keeps the Boilermakers (31-6 overall, 12-3 in the Big Ten) clear in the conference race. Purdue is two games up in the loss column on Michigan State (7-5) and Minnesota (7-5), with the former coming to West Lafayette next weekend.

""I think it's always a positive to play teams either right above you or right below you," Schreiber said. "Because you can kind of take care of two birds with one stone, you can knock them down and keep winning.

"That's what we had this weekend and that's what we have with Michigan State."

Schreiber says Purdue will approach the Spartans the same as they have others all season. MSU, which is 26-13 overall, was the favorite to win the conference title in the preseason, but if the Boilers can win their sixth straight conference series, then it will set them up well in the final two weekends.

"We can't think about winning one, or two or three games vs. Michigan State," Schreiber said. "We've just got to stay on task and keep trying to win the first three innings of the next game and keep it simple like that."

To the 'pen

Purdue's won games with its hitting this season, as the offense is ranked either first or second in the Big Ten in most categories. And has done so with its starting pitching, with its weekend starters turning in six straight quality outings heading into Nebraska.

But over the weekend vs. the Huskers, it was the bullpen that led the way.

Relievers Blake Mascarello and Nick Wittgren combined for eight innings of scoreless relief, allowing only three hits in their appearances Friday and Sunday, respectively, with six strikeouts.

"What Mascarello did was pretty special," Schreiber said of the senior lefty's outing Friday, when he didn't allow a hit over 4 2/3 to get the win, his team-high seventh of the season. "He faced 13 hitters and got 13 outs. That was obviously pretty special."

Wittgren was equally up to the task Sunday. Relieving Conner Podkul, who got the win after giving up three in 5 1/3 innings, Wittgren got out of a jam in the sixth, when Nebraska stranded runners at second and third with only one out, then worked the next three innings to get the save, his eighth.

"We knew we were going to extend him today," Schreiber said. "Ideally, we were thinking 7, 8, 9, but when the situation showed itself in the sixth, it was 'Hey, let's bring him in now.'"

Perkins comes up big

Third baseman Cameron Perkins might have set the tone for the weekend, with his back-to-back home runs to vaulted Purdue to a Friday win.

The second homerun came in the top of the fifth, immediately after the Cornhuskers had tied the game at 5 a half inning earlier.

"He stepped up big on Friday," Schreiber said. "The two home runs, especially the second one right after they had tied it at 5, really before some people had even gotten back in their seats, was big. All the sudden we were back up two and it really took the wind out of Nebraska, and I thought took the wind out of the stadium."

Perkins finished the weekend 5-of-13, with the two homers, five runs batted in and four runs scored.

"I felt like I saw the ball pretty well," said Purdue's 3-hole hitter. "In my position, you just have to know that when you hit in front of Kevin Plawecki that they are going to give you something to hit. They're not going to pitch around me, because when they do it's going to bite them in the butt. So I'm going to get a good pitch to hit in an at-bat. I just have to find it and put a good swing on it."

Perkins' weekend was nothing too unusual. He leads Purdue in batting average (.384, third in Big Ten), RBI (43, first), slugging percentage (.570, third) and homeruns (six, fourth).

"Perkins does a lot of things offensively," Schreiber said. "He can hit a home run, he's probably one of our better bunters. He can get an infield single, he can go to right field, but is obviously a pull hitter. He doesn't walk much, but other than that he can do a lot offensively."

The road ahead

Purdue will put its mid-week wins streak on the line twice this week, as the Boilermakers travel to Illinois State Tuesday before hosting Ball State.

The No. 16 Boilermakers have won 13 consecutive true mid-week games, dating back to March of last year. Purdue's loss at home to the Redbirds last season was its last mid-week defeat. Illinois State is 22-14 this season.

The Boilers defeated Ball State 15-2 on April 11 in Muncie. The Cardinals are 11-26.

After the two non-conference foes, the Boilermakers host Michigan State (26-13, 7-5) for three over the weekend at Lambert Field.

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