Nebraska Cornhuskers (29-20-1) at Purdue Boilermakers (23-27)
Location: Alexander Field, West Lafayette, IN
Dates: Thursday May 18th-Saturday May 20th
Times (all CT): May 18th: 5 pm, May 19th: 5 pm, May 20th: 1 pm
Head Coaches: Will Bolt (4th season, 93-72-1) & Greg Goff (4th season, 385-336-1)
Radio: Huskers Radio Network, Huskers.com, Huskers App
“But Aaron,” you say. “We are playing Purdue, why do you have a picture of an Illinois player for your article?!” To which I direct your focus to the background behind the player. And there it is.
I don’t know about you, or about what Will Bolt is going to say publicly, but you know with where the teams are positioned for the Big Ten Tournament this year, and how things ended up last year, Bolt’s inner feelings about this series (along with mine) have to start with that tarp.
Nebraska has clinched a spot in next week’s tournament, though can still be seeded anywhere from 1 to 7 depending on this weekend. Purdue on the other hand, sits in 9th. While a sweep could potentially benefit Nebraska’s seed, it would destroy the Boilermakers chance at getting to Omaha. The Big Ten Conference knew exactly what they were doing when they scheduled this series for the final weekend.
Game 1: LHP Emmett Olson (6-3, 4.42 ERA) vs. Khal Stephen (7-3, 5.01 ERA)
Game 2: RHP Jace Kaminska (7-3, 4.52 ERA) vs. Jonathan Blackwell (5-5, 6.21 ERA)
Game 3: LHP Will Walsh (3-1, 4.42 ERA) vs. Kyle Iwinski (2-5, 4.60 ERA)
After a dominant start to the 2023 season, Emmett Olson had a rough 3-4 weeks. While he gave up 4 runs on 3 home runs in Fridays win vs Penn State, he seemed to be back on point for the majority of his outing. He was working fast, pounding the zone, and only allowed 4 total hits, albeit three of them being home runs. I’ll forgive him a bit on those, as he had a big lead and was constantly throwing that fastball for strikes.
The best pitching performance of the weekend for the Huskers was Jace Kaminska. He was his old consistent self as well, or even better, tying season highs with 7 innings pitched and 7 Ks. Though for the Nebraska coaching staff, the biggest numbers may be no walks or hit-by-pitches.
Will Walsh had another solid start on a Sunday for Nebraska. An unearned run in the 1st was all he gave up until he lost a little velocity in the 4th and gave up the 2 run home run. Then the Huskers had a lot of bullpen options because of how the weekend played out, so there was no reason to push past that point. Nebraska is going to need Walsh to try and build up a little more stamina going into the tournament. 4 innings is going to have to be the minimum for the bullpen straining schedule.
For Purdue, Khal Stephen transitioned from high usage bullpen guy as a freshman to Friday night starter this year. He has been their best pitcher all season, but got absolutely rocked last Friday against Indiana. His numbers look nothing like they did a week ago after giving up 10 earned runs, and 5 home runs in 3.2 innings against the Hoosiers.
Coastal Carolina transfer Jonathan Blackwell has had a rough season as the Saturday starter. He has a 5-5 record, 6.21 ERA and 55 Ks in 66 innings, but opponents are batting a healthy .299 against him. Kyle Iwinski excelled at the JuCo level the previous 2 seasons before coming to Purdue, but has been up and down this year. He leads the starters with a 4.60 ERA, but is 2-5 and has only 35 strikeouts in over 62 innings after being a big strikeout guy at the JuCo level.
Purdue Scouting Report
Purdue is about average in most offensive categories at the plate, pretty similar to the Penn State team that was just in Lincoln. First baseman Jake Parr is enjoying a breakout year as a Senior. After starting a combined 18 games his first 3 years, he has started 42 this season. He leads the team with a .340 batting average, and 15 doubles on the year, and also has 4 home runs and 34 RBIs.
Former Indiana transfer and second baseman Paul Toetz is building off of a solid first year with the team and is batting .321. He leads the team in hits, home runs and RBIs, with 59, 10 and 51 respectively. Outfielder Jake Jarvis is the other member of the lineup that can take the ball out of the park. He has 9 home runs on the season.
One place their offense is stellar, is on the base paths. Purdue leads the Big Ten with 96 stolen bases on 111 attempts. Thats 1.96 per game and an amazing 86.4% success rate. The “break even” point is considered 75%, so they are well above that. Outfielders Mike (don’t call him Michael) Bolton Jr. and Couper Cornblum alone are a combined 52 out of 58. They bat 1 and 2 in the lineup on most days, so they can get things moving quickly. Bolton also leads the team in walks and hit by pitches. Free passes to him have to be extremely limited.
Purdue has a lot of guys they use frequently out of the bullpen. JuCo transfer Aaron Suval is their bullpen ace, he leads the pen with 5 saves, a 4.46 ERA and he has struck out 37 in 42 innings. His downfall is his 29 walks. Houston transfer Jackson Dannelly leads the team with 23 appearances. He has a 5.97 ERA and 38 Ks in 34 innings. He has made 23 appearances, so don’t expect much more than an inning out of him, but we may see him multiple times on the weekend.
Purdue is towards the bottom of the conference in fielding percentage (and leaped over Penn State who fell to last in the conference after their defense’s awful weekend in Lincoln), but with the strong season the Big Ten is having on defense, they overall aren’t too bad with a fielding percentages at .970.
Nebraska is 17-10 all time against Purdue and 15-5 in the Big Ten era. They last met in the 2021 Conference Championship year. You may remember Nebraska lost the opener and Cade Povich was rocked in his first start as Nebraska’s ace. 6 hits, 4 walks, 3 runs in 3 innings pitched had people calling for him to be replaced after 1 start, and wondering what was wrong with that Nebraska team.
Nebraska ended up winning the next 3 games, and a few months later Povich was the conference pitcher of the year and the rest of the players were champions.
- Nebraska is 4-0 since Kyle Perry pulled the players away from the coaches and into the bullpen at Creighton after losing the continuation game. Perry is the most vocal leader on this team and has been for a few years. Perry himself has also backed up his talk since then, throwing 6 innings, allowing 1 run on 2 hits and striking out 5, while picking up a save on Senior Day.
- Brice Matthews needs 1 steal to be the first Husker to make the 20 HR - 20 steal club. There is currently 1 player in the NCAA that is 20-20 and that is Mac Horvath at North Carolina with 21 HRs and 22 stolen bases. 6 players reached the exclusive club in the last 12 years (2 in the regular season).
- Nebraska has clinched a spot in the Big Ten Tournament, but can’t really expect to jump much higher than where they are seed-wise with the schedule the teams above them have. So I wouldn’t expect them to put a lot of strain on their starting pitching, or use anyone more than 1 time in the series from the bullpen. A run in the tournament is going to take a lot out of a not particularly deep pitching staff for Nebraska.