The Purdue baseball season has been one of growth. Now, the mettle will be tested significantly against regular season champion Minnesota on Sunday as the two meet for the post-season tournament championship.
Before its first conference game this season, Purdue was struggling with an 11-10 record. In fact, at one point – March 11 to 23, Purdue had dropped seven straight, the last of which was a loss to Lipscomb in West Lafayette. That’s a Lipscomb team that finished the season 24-30.
But when the conference competition began, the Boilermakers picked up the pace. It started with a three-game road sweep at Penn State on March 30-31.
Nick Dalesandro, Skyler Hunter & Jacson McGowan discussed a wide variety of topics at Saturday's postgame presser, including the program's turnaround, Sunday's matchup with Minnesota & the run production from the heart of the lineup. #BoilerUp pic.twitter.com/2yEuqbd35H— Purdue Baseball (@PurdueBaseball) May 27, 2018
But the old ways came back to haunt Purdue again. It lost 2 of 3 at Indiana and then the next two to Minnesota in West Lafayette.
Purdue lost those two games to Minnesota by a combined 40-15.
From that point, the Boilers hit their stride. They won 2 of 3 at Maryland, then a single win at home against IU. Then it was a 3-game home series sweep of Rutgers and 3-game sweep at Northwestern.
Those wins were part of a 13-game win streak, broken by losing 2 of 3 at Ohio State on May 11 to 13. Thereafter, Purdue won the last four the regular season, including a 3-game home sweep of Illinois.
"What really did change our season was the games with Minnesota," said Purdue catcher Nick Dalesandro Saturday during the post-game press conference. "That kinda fired us up a little bit, kinda made us re-think and re-evaluate what we wanted the season to be like. I think all the guys– they can agree – that we all bought into what the coaches said, listen to everything they are coaching us up on… there are a whole list of things that happened, but that’s what really turned our season around."
Now, Purdue has won three straight in the tournament to reach Sunday’s title game.
The 2 p.m., Sunday matchup against regular season champion Minnesota can cap off the season of growth by overcoming the Gophers’ domination of Purdue on April 13 and 14.
"Our first steps on defense during the Minnesota series were probably as bad as they were all year," said Purdue coach Mark Wisikowski. "Our readiness, the way the coaches prepared the team was our worst performance of the year. I take full responsibility. The guys were not ready to play."
Purdue (37-18) expects to start redshirt freshman Andrew Bohm, a 6-1 right-handed pitcher from Fishers, Indiana on Sunday. Bohm is 2-0 on the season with a 4.76 ERA. He has appeared in 10 games, starting three.
In 22 2/3 innings of work, Bohm has given up 22 hits with 12 walks and 26 strikeouts.
Minnesota (40-13) has not yet announced its starter.
The Gophers have six players hitting .300 or higher, led by Terrin Vavra who is batting .338. Vavra leads the team in hits (75), triples (3), home runs (9) and RBI (53). The 6-0 junior, bats as a lefthander, but throws the ball right handed.
His father, Joe, was the hitting coach for the Twins from 2005-12. He elder Vavra is now the quality control coach for the Detroit Tigers.
Second in average for the Gophers is Ben Mezzenga at .380.
Purdue, meanwhile, has three players hitting at .300 or higher, led by Alec Olund’s .344. Skyler Hunter is next at .323, followed by Nick Dalesandro at .310.
Coach Waz continued to highlight how important the assistant coaches have been to #Purdue's big improvements this year. He also acknowledged how its a joy to see the players' hard work & an aggressive style pay off. #BoilerUp pic.twitter.com/rjjNh7dewA— Purdue Baseball (@PurdueBaseball) May 27, 2018
• Minnesota is seeking its 10th tournament championship under coach John Anderson and first since 2010. In 2010, his team won the regular season and the tournament titles. He started coaching the Gophers in 1982.
• Purdue coach Mark Wisikowski is in his second season for the Boilermakers, finishing 29-27 last season. That was a significant turnaround from the year before, when his predecessor was 10-44.
• Minnesota is 8-3 all-time against Purdue in the post-season tournament and has won the last four against the Boilers since 2004.