It might be a bit of a surprise given that we’re just a couple of weeks away from the end of the regular season, but the marquee game in the Big Ten on this Saturday of action was actually a non-conference game taking place in Minneapolis between Minnesota and a Long Beach State team eyeing a spot as a regional host for the first time since 2008.
For the low down on that game and everything else that went on in the Big Ten, let’s take a look at Saturday’s results.
#12 Long Beach State 6
Minnesota’s postseason hopes are largely on life support at this point, barring winning the Big Ten Tournament in Bloomington in a couple of weeks, what with an RPI currently up above 70, but by evening their series with the Dirtbags, and doing so in impressive fashion, the Gophers proved that they could be dangerous if they could just find their way into the field of 64.
After LBSU jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the third on a Lucas Tancas three-run home run, Minnesota answered back with a three-run third inning of their own. The game stayed knotted at 3-3 until the top of the sixth, when the Dirtbags struck for a single run on a Laine Huffman RBI single, part of the shortstop’s 4-for-4 day at the plate.
Apparently, that just made the Gophers angry, as they answered back for nine runs in the bottom of the sixth. Big hits in the frame included a two-RBI single off the bat of Luke Pettersen, a two-RBI double for Micah Coffey, and a two-run single for Cole McDevitt that rounded out the scoring.
In his start for Minnesota, Brett Schulze was far from untouchable, as he allowed four earned run on five hits and three walks in his 5.2 innings, but he did battle to get deep into the game and he showed a knack for the strikeout pitch, as he had nine of them on the day.
Long Beach State has long looked like a sure-fire regional host team, and their dominance of the Big West suggests that that might still be the case, but with an RPI that’s nearing 30, it would behoove them to win the series finale on Sunday to avoid putting that status more in jeopardy.
Michigan State 2
The Huskers squared up their series with the Spartans behind veteran starting pitcher Derek Burkamper, who spun a gem in his team’s victory. He threw seven innings, giving up five hits and two unearned runs with two walks and three strikeouts. He was also incredibly efficient, as he threw just 93 pitches in the outing.
Michigan State actually led this one 2-0 until the bottom of the sixth inning, when Nebraska broke out for three runs. Mojo Hagge drove in Angelo Altavilla, who had started the inning with a single and then moved to second on a wild pitch, for the first run of the inning, and later, Ben Miller drove in two more with a double.
In the eighth, the Huskers struck for two more runs, one on a bases-loaded walk and another on a Luis Alvarado sacrifice fly, giving them insurance runs that they would turn out not to need, thanks to clean eighth and ninth innings from Chad Luensmann and Alvarado, who picked up his ninth save of the season, respectively.
Nebraska is right around the bubble in terms of RPI right now, and it’s huge for them to capture the series finale on Sunday. Winning the Big Ten regular season would very likely get them in even if their RPI isn’t in an ideal place, but they probably won’t want to leave it up to that much chance. The only games on their schedule after Sunday is a three-game series with RPI 207 Penn State to end the season. Even if they win all three of those games, there’s a chance their RPI will drop, so they need to create as much cushion as possible.
#15 Michigan 9
In keeping pace with league-leading Nebraska, Michigan took advantage of a giving Purdue defense to clinch a series victory over the Boilermakers. Of the nine runs scored by the Wolverines, four were unearned.
Purdue workhorse Gareth Stroh did a good job of keeping his team in the game throughout. He threw eight innings, giving up six hits and six runs (four earned) with four walks and two strikeouts. He’s not the most dominant pitcher in the conference by any stretch of the imagination, but his steady presence in the rotation has been a big part of Purdue’s turnaround season.
It was a 4-2 game as things headed to the top of the eighth, but that’s when Michigan started to play add-on, with two runs crossing the plate in the eighth and three more doing so in the ninth. Johnny Slater had a huge day at the plate for the Wolverines. He went 4-for-5 with three runs scored and three RBI. In the leadoff spot, Jake Bivens also had a nice day, going 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI. Combined, that pair had six of Michigan’s nine hits as a team and five of the nine team runs.
On the mound, they pieced it together, with Alec Rennard (4.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K) and Ryan Nutof (3.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R) leading the way.
Penn State 2
After a tough loss to the Nittany Lions to get their series started on Friday, the Hoosiers bounced back with a 5-2 win on Saturday.
Starting pitcher Pauly Milto was good, just as he has been for much of the second half of the season, after he pressed into duty in the starting rotation during the Nebraska series. He threw six innings on this day, giving up six hits and no runs with three walks and seven strikeouts.
Offensively, Indiana got contributions up and down their lineup, led by two-hit days from Alex Krupa (who also had a home run), Tony Butler, and Logan Sowers.
We saw, after Friday’s game, how far Indiana fell in the RPI with just a single loss to Penn State, so the importance of clinching the series on Sunday won’t be lost on them.
After tough 2016 seasons, few would have bet on both Purdue and Northwestern qualifying for the Big Ten Tournament in 2017, but that’s looking like more and more of a possibility as the season winds down. On Saturday, the Wildcats did their part by taking home an 11-3 win over the Terrapins.
Northwestern’s Hank Christie was solid in his start, throwing eight innings, giving up six hits and three runs with one walk and three strikeouts. Christie has more than done his part for the team this season. He’s now 4-3 on the season with a 4.20 ERA, and he’s the only pitcher on the staff who has started a game every weekend.
On offense, they were led by Joe Hoscheit, who went 3-for-5 with a triple, two runs scored, and two RBI. Connor Lind, Jake Schieber, and Nick Paciorek all chipped in with two RBI as well.
Maryland, meanwhile, will need to come back and win the finale on Sunday to avoid losing their third straight conference series after dropping sets to Indiana and Illinois the previous two weekends.
Ohio State 12
Ohio State jumped on Iowa starting pitcher Ryan Erickson and never looked back. They tagged the lefty with seven hits and five earned runs in four innings of work, with four of those runs coming in a big fourth inning for the Buckeyes.
Meawhile, OSU starter Connor Curlis didn’t get a ton of help from his defense, but he battled through and put his team in a position to win. He threw six innings, giving up six hits and four runs (one earned) with two walks and four strikeouts.
This was actually a tight, 8-7 game late, but a couple of key things happened. For one, OSU turned the game over to reliever Seth Kinker, who threw 2.1 shutout innings, with just one hit allowed, to close things out. Also, the Buckeyes struck for four more runs, including a solo homer from Shea Murray and two-run shot from Conner Pohl, in the top of the ninth to extend their lead.
In the loss, Iowa got a home run from junior first baseman Jake Adams, his Big Ten-leading 18th of the season.