It’s the middle of February, and some days there's snow on the ground, some days it's freezing, other days it’s nice and cool. Nevertheless, baseball season is upon us.
The Boilers open up their season today against No. 21 Southern Miss in a three-game series over the next two days.
Purdue is coming off one of its best seasons in program history. Last season, the Boilers had a 16-16 start to the season and then went on a 21-2 run to elevate themselves to a second-place finish in the Big Ten. They entered the Big Ten championship with a 37-12 record, where they eventually lost.
However, the huge stretch they put together allowed the Boilers to slide into the NCAA tournament, only the third time in program history they have done so. Purdue ultimately lost two games to Houston, but earned its second-ever win in the tournament in program history after defeating North Carolina A&T.
After a historic season like last year, the Boilers say they are anxious to start the season and get back to playing.
“The guys felt even though they had a great year last year and over-achieved in a lot of people's books, they felt like by the end of it they might have left some things on the table,” said head coach Mark Wasikowski. “We saw that in their preparation throughout the winter and the early spring months.”
Although Purdue’s season last year was magical, it may be hard to get the same production out of this year’s group. Purdue lost four players to the draft and a handful of other players who were key during last year's run.
Jacson McGowan and Nick Dalesandro, two of Purdue's best players behind the plate, were both drafted. Tanner Edwards and Ross Leonard also departed from Purdue for the draft. Gareth Stroh, No. 2 in the pitching position, transferred to Nebraska.
The Boilers have a lot of questions to answer heading into today’s game.
“We have a couple of junior college transfers — Johnny Sage and Cole McKenzie — both those kids have come in and swung the bat exceptionally well,” said Wasikowski. “Owen Jansen, who was here last year and didn’t play as much as he would have liked to, had a tremendous summer and came back this fall and was a very good player.”
The most promising returner this year is sophomore Ben Nisle. He is expected to replace McGowan and take on the role of best power hitter. McGowan had 13 home runs and 59 RBI last season. Those are big shoes for Nisle to fill, but the sophomore is capable. He finished last season with seven home runs and 43 RBI and was a freshman All-American.
“He didn’t have a place to go,” Wasikowski said. “Now he could potentially be a guy that leaves school early.”
Those Boilers have a tough opening schedule for the 2019 season. They play No. 21 Southern Miss this weekend, then head to Texas. Texas was in the College World Series last year and both teams are sure to be in the tournament this year. After losing the pieces Purdue did, the first couple of weeks in the season will answer a lot of questions for this team.
“Those will be really awesome atmospheres going down in those environments with those type of fans,” Nisle said. “That will really prepare us for the postseason, and playing at those sites will be huge for us.”