OMAHA, NE- With head coach Mark Wasikowski, starting pitcher Tanner Andrews, and infielders Harry Shipley and Evan Warden seated at the dais waiting for their postgame press conference to begin, Purdue relief pitcher Dalton Parker ducked his head into the press room.
“You guys look big time,” Parker joked, eliciting smiles from his coach and teammates.
Parker was simply looking to give them a hard time, but he was right. They looked big time, not only behind those Big Ten-branded microphone flags, but also on the field in the Boilermakers’ 8-2 win over Ohio State on Wednesday.
It starts with Andrews, who was outstanding in his outing after something of a rocky start. In the first inning, he found himself in trouble quickly. Kobie Foppe singled with one out, and then advanced to third when a pickoff throw to first went into right field. After Conner Pohl walked, Tyler Cowles doubled into right-center, bringing home two runners and staking OSU to a 2-0 lead.
After that, he settled in. The Buckeyes didn’t score again the rest of the game, and the three hits they collected in the first inning (Dillon Dingler had single that didn’t score a run after the Cowles double) were half of what they would have for the entire game, as the righty went on to throw a complete game, giving up six this and two runs with one walk and seven strikeouts on just 109 pitches.
In a situation where keeping your pitching fresh and as on-schedule as you can is the name of the game, a performance like his is huge. For Andrews, the difference between the first inning and the rest of the game was something you hear time and again from coaches and their pitchers all across the country – he started to command his secondary stuff better.
“When we played them two weeks ago, he (Andrews) pitched 99 pitches, coach (Greg) Beals said, and 66 of them were fastballs,” Cowles said. “So we were just being a fastball-hitting team. We were going to sit fastball, and then once he started locating that breaking ball, we kind of started chasing a little bit. That’s what was the game-changer.”
Warden and Shipley, meanwhile, were part of a 13-hit attack that put pressure on OSU pitching all game and then exploded for five runs in the sixth to make a 3-2 Purdue lead an 8-2 lead. The former went 2-for-3 with a double out of the eight-spot in the lineup, while the latter was two-for-five with five RBI, including three RBI on what was a dagger of a three-run double in that big sixth inning. Also chipping in were Skyler Hunter, who was three-for-five, and Tyler Powers, who was two-for-three.
All around you is evidence that this isn’t your father’s Purdue team. This win gives them their first in Big Ten tournament play since winning the tournament in 2012, after going 0-2 last year as something of a surprise entrant. Andrews gives them an ace that can compete with any in the league, a veteran-laden offense can put up runs in bunches, and they’ve got depth that they just haven’t had in the past.
“We’ve got a lot of players that do one or two things exceptionally well, and so we’ve just come to the point now where we’ve given guys opportunities all year long, and they’ve told us, basically, how to run the club,” Purdue head coach Mark Wasikowski said. “Our job was just to pay attention to what they told us through their play…The bottom line is we’re trying to find a role for everybody, and we don’t give anybody a role, they earn everything they get.”
At the same time, this is still a team with an underdog edge to them. They weren’t picked to finish this high in the Big Ten. Not even close, as a matter of fact. And despite finishing second in an extremely competitive Big Ten season, their individual players didn’t receive a ton of accolades at the end of the year. They didn’t have a single player named to All-Big Ten First or Second Team. Often times, you’ll hear players and coaches say that they don’t care about this kind of stuff and that it doesn’t matter, but this Purdue team clearly noticed and they’ve taken it to heart and used it as fuel.
“I think that people feel the same way (as last year), especially when you look back and you see that only a few of us got third team in the conference and we finished second in the Big Ten,” Warden said. “I think a lot of us are pretty insulted and have a chip on our shoulder when we play and have a lot to prove, especially when they pick us to finish 11th and we finish second and still didn’t get anybody on the second or first team.”
The preseason respect might not have been there, and the postseason accolades might not have followed up their 2018 team success in the standings, but on Wednesday, it was clear that this was a group eager to prove that they are, in fact, big time.