Purdue closes regular season vs. Iowa for fifth year in a row

Photo Courtesy: Purdue Sports
Photo Courtesy: Purdue Sports

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (Purdue Sports) – Needing a three-game series sweep to extend its season into the Big Ten Tournament, Purdue baseball hosts Iowa for the final home weekend of the year at Alexander Field, closing out the regular season against the Hawkeyes for the fifth year in a row.

First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday. Conner Hudnall, Steve Maniago and Sean McHugh will be honored for their contributions to Purdue baseball prior to Saturday’s game.

The Boilermakers (12-35, 5-16 Big Ten) held leads of 4-0 (fourth inning), 5-3 (ninth inning) and 3-0 (seventh inning) last weekend at Minnesota but ended up losing three one-run games, falling to 2-8 in one-run affairs in Big Ten play this season. Purdue’s 17 one-run games (5-12 record) and eight extra-inning affairs (3-5 record) both represent the most in the league this season.

Illinois’ three-game sweep at Iowa (27-20, 8-13 Big Ten) last weekend kept the Boilers alive in the Big Ten Tournament chase. If Purdue had hung on to win at least two of its three games at Minnesota, it would have only needed a series win this weekend to leapfrog the Hawkeyes in the final standings. But after losing the series in the Twin Cities, the Boilers only chance to make the eight-team tournament field was to sweep Iowa.

However, with Penn State (5-15 Big Ten) also hosting Michigan State (8-13 Big Ten), there’s also a chance Purdue could sweep Iowa and still not get into the Big Ten Tournament. PSU has one fewer loss entering the weekend and thus would have a better winning percentage than Purdue, Iowa and MSU in the event of a pair of sweeps. The Boilermakers would come up on the short end of a three-way tiebreaker between Iowa, MSU and Purdue (determined by records vs. common opponents) after Iowa and MSU did not play during the regular season this year.

Northwestern (5-15 Big Ten) is also still alive in the Big Ten Tournament chase but needs to sweep Ohio State in Columbus to have an opportunity to qualify. The top six teams in the Big Ten standings – Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio State – have already clinched tourney berths.

Seniors Hudnall, Maniago and McHugh have demonstrated their versatility during their Purdue careers. McHugh has started 125 games over his four years and seen action at six different positions (catcher, third base, first base, shortstop, right field and DH) as a Boilermaker. He enjoyed a big series (6-for-12, 3 XBH) against Iowa at Alexander Field last season and is 9-for-20 with three home runs and five RBI against the Hawkeyes in his career. Another big weekend would make McHugh the first Boiler to win the team triple crown since 2007.

Two-year letter-winners Hudnall and Maniago have been regulars in the lineup this season. Hudnall has seen action at six different positions (right field, left field, first base, third base, DH and pitcher) and Maniago has played third base, second base and shortstop as a Boilermaker.

Iowa visits West Lafayette for the third time in the last four years. The Boilermakers swept a three-game series in 2011, but the Hawkeyes took all three games last season. The first two games were decided in extra innings, part of the six extra-inning affairs over the first 32 games played at the second-year ballpark.

Iowa has won 10 of the last 14 meetings in the series during this current stretch of annual series to close the regular season. That includes the Hawkeyes’ two wins vs. Purdue at the 2010 Big Ten Tournament in Columbus. A year ago, Iowa posted its first series victory in West Lafayette since 2002.

Iowa’s 27 overall wins this season under first-year head coach Rick Heller are its most since posting 30 in 2010. The Hawkeyes have enjoyed a strong season offensively, ranking among the top three in the Big Ten in numerous offensive categories. Iowa leads the league with a .385 team on-base percentage thanks in part to a Big Ten-high 73 hit by pitch. The Hawkeyes are also second in home runs (23) and stolen bases (77). Taylor Zeutenhorst has hit nine of his team’s 23 long balls.

On the mound, Iowa’s projected game two starter Sasha Kuebel has pitched well against Purdue each of the last two years. He surrendered just one run in a complete-game effort in Iowa City two seasons ago and was one out away from another complete-game win last year before the Boilers rallied to tie game. Center fielder Eric Toole enjoyed a five-hit effort in the middle game of the series at Alexander Field last year.

The 2002 and 2003 seasons marked the last time Purdue failed to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament in consecutive seasons.

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