WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (Purdue Sports) – Purdue baseball opens Big Ten Conference play with another weekend series in the Land of Lincoln, visiting Champaign-Urbana for the second year in a row for a trio of games against the University of Illinois.
Game times are set for 5 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (all times ET). The Boilermakers (4-16) are playing at Illinois Field in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2001 and 2002. The Fighting Illini (12-10) visited Lambert Field in each of the final two years (2011 and 2012) of the old ballpark. The home team has swept each of the last two years.
Both teams were idle from conference play as the league schedule opened last weekend. Illinois is 5-1 at home this season after taking three of four against Xavier and defeating Indiana State and Illinois State in midweek action. Purdue and Illinois both recently lost two of three at Southern Illinois, which rallied to win the series after dropping the opener in consecutive weekends.
Despite owning a modest 3-3 record over their last six games, the Boilermakers enter their Big Ten schedule playing their best baseball of the season. The pitching staff has compiled a 2.85 ERA over the last six thanks to leaving 54 runners on base. Purdue has outscored the opposition 25-19 in the same stretch, with two of the three losses coming in one-run affairs decided in extra innings.
Illinois leads the Big Ten with the 95 walks drawn by its hitters. When the Illini get on base, they like to run. Dan Harleb’s team has attempted a league-high 49 stolen bases. Purdue catcher Sean McHugh, who was recently named to the Johnny Bench Award Watch List, has thrown out 12 base stealers (in 24 chances) to rank second in the conference.
Last year’s wild series in Champaign featured 62 runs over the three games. With the wind blowing out for much of the weekend, the Illini lit up the scoreboard with 17 runs in both the series opener and finale. Kyle Johnson, Cody Strong and Kyle Wood all homered in the series for Purdue but it was not enough to keep up Illinois, which racked up 18 extra-base hits. Jordan Minch will look for a longer outing this time around after he was unable to get out of the first inning in last year’s series opener.
Purdue is not expected to face Illinois’ ace pitcher Kevin Duchene this weekend. Duchene joined the weekend rotation after the series against Purdue last year and went onto win Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, leading the Illini to an NCAA Regional win against Georgia Tech. He has compete-game wins at Florida and Southern Illinois this year but missed his start against Xavier last weekend.
The Boilermakers have not faced projected starters Drasen Johnson (game one) and Rob McDonnell (game three) before. But game two starter Ryan Castellanos and closer Tyler Jay both pitched in last year’s series finale in Champaign.
Purdue’s strength of schedule as calculated by BoydsWorld.com continues to rank second in the nation behind only Stanford. The Boilermakers now hope that the challenging pre-conference slate makes the Big Ten season seem somewhat tame. But Illinois has also played some quality opponents, making some national noise when it twice against both Florida Gulf Coast and the University of Florida at a tournament in Gainesville the weekend of Feb. 28 through March 2. However, a 2-6 stretch followed before the Illini righted the ship recently with four straight home wins.
Probable Pitching Matchups
Friday: Jordan Minch vs. Illinois’ Drasen Johnson (Jr, RHP)
Saturday: Gavin Downs vs. Illinois’ Ryan Castellanos (So, RHP)
Sunday: TBA for Purdue vs. Illinois’ Rob McDonnell (Jr, LHP)
All-Time: Illinois leads 154-80-1
All-Time in Champaign: Illinois leads 87-38
Purdue Under Doug Schreiber vs. Illinois: Purdue leads 29-21 (Since 1999)
2013 Season: Illinois swept a 3-game series (April 12-14)
Purdue’s Last Series Win vs. Illinois: Swept a 3-game series (April 2012 in West Lafayette)
Purdue’s Last Series Win in Champaign: Purdue won 2-of-3 (May 2010)
First Meeting: Illinois 15, Purdue 4 (May 1893 in West Lafayette)