The UCLA offense will have to keep pace this weekend (Photo Credit: Scott Wu)
This weekend is a big one for UCLA and Purdue. It could determine who gets a national seed, which is a huge deal for everyone, but it is a little bigger for the Boilermakers. This is the best season that the program has ever had, going 34-7, being ranked in the top 15 and reaching fifth in the RPI. It comes at a good time, too, with a new ballpark set to open next season that will seat 1,500, be expandable to 2,500, having a complete press box and players facilities.
With the Boilermakers in the midst of an incredible season and this weekend being the biggest series they have ever played, we checked in with BoilerTMill from Hammer and Rails to get the lowdown on Purdue.
BN: This is the best season Purdue has ever had and this is probably the biggest series in Purdue history. What is the feeling like around the program and how have the fans responded?
H&R: I’ve promoted the baseball program for the past few seasons, mostly while looking for content and because my wife (a Miami Hurricane alum) got me hooked on college baseball. Still, given that we have virtually no history, it is still very new to most people. The crowds at the few home games we’ve had (and we’ve only played 11 so far at home) have been pretty good and people are excited about the chance to host.
We’re building a new on campus stadium that was supposed to be finished for this year, but unforeseen delays pushed it back to the point where it cannot be ready to go by June 1st for a regional. People are actually upset that we can’t debut it in the NCAAs, which is a landmark because most of the time people didn’t even realize we had a team. It’s a great boost going into next year when we get fancy things like lights, a bathroom with more than three stalls, a press box with more than four seats, and locker rooms. I think it will be a major boost for the program going forward, especially if we can win the Big Ten for the first time in 103 years (yes, it has been that long).
BN: UCLA and Purdue are quite similar in that they have strong offenses and solid, but not spectacular starting pitching. How much confidence do you have in the Purdue starters?
H&R: A lot, as Lance Breedlove and Joe Haase have been two of the best in the Big Ten. Joe Haase, who will pitch game one, is 7-0 and Purdue is 11-0 when he started. He’s a fast worker that gets a lot of ground ball outs. His last three starts have all finished in under two hours. Breedlove has been dominant at times and a hard-luck loser at others, but he’s 6-3 and we’ve only lost once in Big Ten play when he has pitched. Both have a complete game shutout on their records.
Our No. 3 starter is a freshman named Connor Podkul, and he has been effective despite only moving into the weekend rotation after the first two Big Ten series. He was a bit of a hard luck loser against Michigan State last week (the offense got shutout), but we won his previous three starts before that, including an 8-3 win at Nebraska.
BN: UCLA wins a lot of games because they are uber-athletic, in the field and on the bases. Is Purdue a team that can win games with defense or base running?
H&R: The defense is pretty solid, which is an improvement over last year. Eric Charles and Stephen Talbott are fairly speedy at the top of the lineup if needed. Kevin Plawecki is also a superb defensive catcher that is a possible draft pick in the top five rounds this year. Seeing your guys test his arm will be an excellent chess match.
As a team Purdue is 52 of 70 in stealing bases, so we usually get one per game. Plawecki has thrown out 12 of 27 runners, so teams have been afraid to run on him.
BN: Blake Mascarello and Nick Wittgren are the anchors in the Purdue bullpen, but how do the rest of the relievers look?
H&R: Mascarello has been unbelievable, especially since he leads the team in wins with eight. He’s 8-1 overall in 20 appearances and has a solid 1.84 ERA. Only Breedlove and Haase have thrown more than him, and it is not unusual for both of them to get into the eighth where we can go to Mascarello or Wittgren. That leaves little else in terms of weekend work for the rest of the pen. Wittgren is drawing a lot of attention from scouts, has nine saves, and has been lights out all year.
It will be interesting to see what happens because we have a pair of midweek games next week, so I doubt we’ll throw Robert Ramer or Calvin Gunter. Sean Collins has 10 appearances, however, and has been okay as a situational reliever. Brett Andrzejewski and Jack DeAno will also likely come on, but most of the time it is Mascarello and Wittgren that handle the work.
BN: The Boilermakers are getting a brand new stadium for next season. Walk us through what it's going to be like, how it compares to other ballparks and what it means for the program.
H&R: It is going to be one of the nicest parks in the Big Ten, as many fields in the conference are getting makeovers with the popularity of the game growing. We need it, too. Quite frankly, there are many high schools in the state of Indiana with nicer fields than we have now. We lack lights, a decent press box, locker rooms, even concessions and restroom facilities. I went to the Saturday Michigan State game last week and the men’s room had two urinals, a toilet, and a hydrocolator from about 1974 because it was the only place where it could be plugged in.
Given what this team is doing I think it is going to be huge for the program, and I appreciate that the administration is going to give them a facility that is more than worthy of hosting something like a regional. I can see it being an asset for something I proposed about a year ago, and I think you’ll like this idea too.
Given that the Big Ten and Pac-12 are working on schedule agreements across all sports and each conference has once school (Colorado and Wisconsin) that does not have a baseball program the problem of a team having an open weekend in each conference weekend I think a season-long Big Ten/Pac-12 challenge would be a fantastic idea. The two schools "on bye" could have a built in solution towards their scheduling hole and play each other. Make it a two year agreement so each school gets a home series with said opponent (I keep hoping you’ll come to West Lafayette next year) and it is beneficial for everyone:
1. The Big Ten schools get a marquee home non-conference series at least once every two years.
2. The Big Ten schools get a strength of schedule boost.
3. The Pac-12 gets a chance to adjust to travel before the NCAA Tournament.
4. Alumni bases all over the country (like our southern California Purdue club) get to see their schools.
How is this not a good idea?