April 30, 2012

Purdue Diamond Notes

When Purdue reaches the end of the Big Ten season, it might look back at Saturday's extra-innings comeback win vs. Michigan State as critical to its run.

The Boilermakers trailed 3-0 entering the bottom of the eighth, before scoring one then and two more in the ninth - the last coming when down to their last strike with two outs and the bases loaded - to tie; they won 4-3 on a walk-off single in the 14th.

Considering Purdue lost Game 3 5-0, being shutout for the first time this season, the Saturday rally changed the weekend from a potential series loss to a series win.

The No. 13 Boilermakers (34-7 overall, 14-4 in the Big Ten) now get a break from the Big Ten, when they travel out of conference for a two-game set at UCLA over the weekend. They'll get to watch the other conference teams jockey for position in Week 7, knowing the worst they can do is be two games up with six to play.

It's a comfortable position.

"If you look at our record, we're 14-4 now in conference," said Coach Doug Schreiber, whose team won Game 1 vs. MSU 6-2 on Friday, "and some people are going to look and think that we just walked through this thing and demolished teams. But that's not the case. Almost every game has been tight through the middle innings, but we've found a way to win many times. It hasn't been just sitting in the dugout with cushy leads and not giving up any runs."

Purdue is two games up in the loss column on Minnesota (9-6) and Indiana (9-6) and 3.5 overall on those second-place teams overall. The Gophers host Penn State (8-7) this weekend, before road series at Illinois and Nebraska; Indiana hosts Nebraska (8-7) this weekend and goes to Northwestern before finishing with a series vs. Ohio State in Bloomington. The Boilermakers are 4.5 up on a four-pack that includes the Cornhuskers, Spartans, Fighting Illinois and Nittany Lions.

Purdue came through back-to-back Big Ten weekends, facing two of the top contenders in Nebraska and Michigan State, with a 4-2 record.

"We'd take it," senior second baseman Eric Charles said after Sunday's loss. "But it's kind of one of those things: it's not a good feeling to lose on that last day."

Healing up

It's finals week, so the Boilermakers are off until facing the Bruins over the weekend.

They'll take a couple days to rest, before a full practice Wednesday. The timing for a bit of a break is good, considering Purdue's got a few players nicked up.

Left-fielder Stephen Talbott missed the final two games of the MSU series - played in cooler-than-ideal temperatures - while nursing a sore hamstring. Shortstop David Miller has a bruised right hand, which has affected him at the plate. He was 0-of-10 Friday and Saturday, before Schreiber gave freshman Bennett Oliver a start in the finale. Saturday, right-fielder Barrett Serrato, the hero of Friday with a fourth-inning grand slam, dislocated the pinkie finger on his right (throwing) hand while diving back to first on a pick-off attempt. He stayed in an inning, before coming out. But the senior was back in the lineup on Sunday.

Schreiber says each is day-to-day.

"We don't play 'til Saturday, so it's a little bit longer week," the 14th-year head coach said. "Yeah, I think (the break) comes at a good time."

Measuring stick

When Purdue got together to schedule this series against UCLA, few would have through it would have national implications.

But it does. The No. 11 Bruins (28-12) and the 13th-ranked Boilers are vying for one of the top-eight seeds in the Baseball Championship, giving them chances to be the host schools in the Regional and Super Regional rounds of the tournament.

Purdue, one of the biggest surprises of the collegiate baseball season, considers the series a measuring stick.

"We've got to make sure we're ready, because we're not going out to UCLA for a vacation or to see what it's all about, or see how good they are," Schreiber said. "We're going out there to get some work in and make a statement for ourselves and play the game hard.

"It's important, especially on the heels of a loss. You don't want people to look at you and the next thing you know, you dump three games at UCLA and are on a four-game losing streak. There's some doubters, or people wondering 'What is this team really about?' To me, it's kind of like a bounce-back game when we go out there."

Hosting possibilities?

Purdue might play itself into position for not only its first bid to the Baseball Championship since 1987 (and only second all-time), but could be a host school.

Where the Boilers would play, however, has been the question, considering its current home, Lambert Field, is ill equipped to host such a mini-tournament. And its future home, Alexander Field, will not be completed in time.

A couple options appear to be emerging. One is Parkview Field in Fort Wayne, home of the minor league TinCaps. The minor league affiliate of the Padres has reached out to Purdue, saying it'd be willing to be the home of the Boilermakers from May 31-June 2. The TinCaps have games on May 31 and June 1, but could move those games later in the evening, to allow for the four-team, double-elimination tournament.

Another possibility is the Gary U.S. Steel Yard, with the RailCats out of town that weekend.

It appears more remote that Purdue would play at Indiana State, with the Sycamores as a third- or fourth-seed playing on their home field. ISU is a possibility to win the Missouri Valley, or get an at-large. But the NCAA would be setting new precedent by allowing a lower seed to host; previously, only 1- or 2-seeds have been host schools.

The week ahead

Purdue is in finals, with no mid-week game, before facing UCLA. The Boilers will fly west on Friday, before playing two vs. the Bruins on Saturday, then a single on Sunday.

UCLA, meanwhile, plays at Long Beach State on Tuesday, before hosting the Boilers at Jackie Robinson Stadium over the weekend.








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