Purdue's wait is over
Boilermakers end 103-year drought by winning Big Ten title
Purdue baseball is breaking new ground in all sorts of ways this season.
With an unprecedented win total, a new stadium in the works and garnering NCAA Regional hosting duties for the first time in program history, big things are happening for the Boilermakers.
The Boilermakers ended a more than century long league championship drought by claiming their first Big Ten Conference regular season title since 1909, and then followed up with the program's first-ever Big Ten Tournament title. Purdue earned its second NCAA Tournament bid, and first since 1987, and was duly rewarded for a 44-12 record as one of 16 regional hosts.
Following last season, the Boilermakers broke ground on a new baseball stadium (Alexander Field) that will not be ready in time for tournament play, but they have still brought NCAA postseason baseball to the State of Indiana as they will host the NCAA Regional at the U.S. Steel Yard ballpark in Gary, Ind.
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In a short time, large strides have been made in Purdue's quest to become a national contender in collegiate baseball.
"I think it is a stepping stone to what Purdue baseball can do in the future," senior right-hander Joe Haase said. "Coach (Doug) Schreiber is doing a great job getting good recruits, and with our new stadium you're not going to wait a 100 years for the next Big Ten championship. We've won more Big Ten games than any other Purdue team in the four years I've been here. We've produced consistent teams over the last few years but just haven't been able to finish it out in crunch time."
While the Boilermakers are an extremely balanced club, the consistency and effectiveness of the pitching staff has been the backbone of the team's success. Yes, Purdue is hitting .318 as a team, and scoring almost seven runs per game, but on the mound, from top to bottom, the pitching staff has quietly been the star. The staff boasts a 3.10 ERA - 23rd best in the nation - and has given up a minuscule 2.19 walks per game, which ranks third in Division I.
"The pitching and defense this year has really been a big key for us because they allowed us to win some of these low-scoring games," Schreiber said. "Our offense is what everybody talks about, but when you're facing really strong pitching, you're not going to score eight runs a game and get 15 hits a game."
Haase (10-1, 3.41 ERA) and fellow senior right-hander Lance Breedlove (8-5, 2.82 ERA) are a one-two punch in the starting rotation, despite the fact they may not be racking up the punch outs.
"Our pitching coach Tristan McIntyre came in this year and talked about how he wanted us to get soft contact in four pitches or less," Breedlove said. "That's what we preach every day during practice. As a pitching staff, we really trust our defense to make the plays behind us. We know we're not going to strikeout everybody. We just have to throw strikes and let the defense behind us do the work."
The coaching staff pieced together a successful rotation and bullpen after losing potential Friday night starter and power pitcher Brad Schreiber to Tommy John surgery following last season.
"Joe (Haase) is not your prototypical Friday night pitcher," Schreiber said. "He throws about 86 to 87 mph, but he knows how to pitch. He's not going to overpower and get strikeouts that way, but he's a legitimate five-pitch pitcher. He's a mix guy, keeps hitters off balance and works both sides of the plate."
Haase was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Year for his efforts as the Boilermakers No. 1 pitcher, while Breedlove was a second team all-conference pick. The two have allowed just 35 walked combined in a total of 190.2 innings pitched.
"Joe and Lance pound the zone and work both sides of the plate," Schreiber said. "We stress minimizing the free bases, but at the same time you can't just throw the ball down the middle. You still have to have command of the zone. They've done a great job of trying to make their defense work for them, and making hitters put the ball in play."
Senior lefty Blake Mascarello (8-1, 1.72 ERA, 3 saves) and junior right-hander Nick Wittgren (3-0, 1.89 ERA, 10 saves) have been brilliant in relief, but the starters have confidence in the entire bullpen.
"Our bullpen has been outstanding all year," Haase said. "I have full confidence in any of the guys coming out of the pen, even the ones who don't have a lot of innings. They have been locked down all year and that is a big difference between this and other years."
The Boilermakers are also reaping the rewards of deeply experienced roster that lists 14 seniors as well as several veteran junior players.
"I think experience has been a big factor this year," Haase said. "We know what it takes to win and we've shown that. We don't really press when we're down. Having a lot of veterans on the field has really benefitted us this year."
That experience shows, especially in the close games. Purdue has compiled a 13-5 record in games decided by two runs or less, and is 3-0 in extra-inning contests.
"Most of the games have been close through the middle innings, and we've found a way to make a key play or a key pitch or get that timely hit," Schreiber said.
"We never give up," Breedlove said. "We don't panic. We've had some great wins this year, and have come back multiple times. We always trust we'll find a way to win."