It is Day 3 of the Big Ten Baseball Tournament and things are going to get serious! The first round went to chalk as they say with the top four seeded teams all taking the field today. Michigan State and Rutgers kick things off with a brunch start to their elimination game before the real fun would begin.
Speculation was that it would also be a day when two good-sized crowds show up with Iowans swimming across the Mighty Mo to watch Rick Heller’s boys take on the Hoosiers from Indiana, and then Nebraska fans able to put in a full day of work before heading to The Chuck for the nightcap against top seed Maryland.
When the stadium empties out tonight, two teams will remain undefeated and in the driver’s seat. One more will join Illinois to make their way home. And, two will try to figure out how they can find enough pitching to work their way through the bracket for another shot to win the whole thing.
#8 Michigan State - 6
#5 Rutgers - 4
The second “win or go home” game of the tournament kicked off Day 3 of the Big Ten Tournament with the Anthracite, Green and White Spartans from Michigan State taking on the Scarlet Knights from the State University of New Jersey. Michigan State was looking to continue their solid play down the stretch of the season, and Rutgers needed to grab a win to keep their regional hopes alive.
Michigan State got the 1-0 lead early as Brock Vradenburg drilled a double down the left field line and was knocked in by Mitch Jebb. The lead didn’t last very long as Rutgers was able to get three hits off Sparty starter Andrew Carson in the second, tying the game in the process. At that point both starting pitchers settled in for the next couple of innings until Michigan State would get a run each in the 4th and 5th, with a Vradenburg RBI single being the big swing. It appeared as though another run could have scored on the play, but the coach ended up holding him at 3B.
Rutgers then woke up in the bottom of the fifth and finally got to Spartan starter Andrew Carson, driving him from the mound after Josh Kuroda-Grauer laced a one out double. Ryan Lasko then drew a walk from reliever Joseph Dzierwa. The bases were then loaded when Chris Brito singled to left. Dzierwa then walked first baseman Evan Sleight to plate Kuroda-Grauer. Seeing enough of Dzierwa, Coach Jake Boss brought in Harrison Cook. He promptly hit Andy Axelson, scoring Lasko. Rutgers scored one more in the inning with a sacrifice fly by Trevor Cohen.
Sparty struck back in the top of the sixth to tie the game 4-4 scoring an unearned run on a Greg Ziegler single. Both teams put up goose eggs in the seventh. In the top of the 8th, MSU loaded the bases on a single and two walks. Joe Mazza then walked Brock Vradenburg to score Dillon Kark. Rutgers brought in Garrett French and he then walked Mitch Jebb to score Ziegler. This made the score 6-4 Michigan State after the top of the eighth inning. Rutgers did make it interesting in the bottom of the ninth as Chris Brito drove a ball deep to the wall with a runner on that could have tied the game if it had gone out, and they had the winning run at the plate with one out. However, it was not to be. Michigan State survives to play another day with a 6-4 win. Rutgers leaves with a 33-23 record on the season and since they went 0-2 in Omaha, they most likely saw their at-large bid for regionals disappear as well.
#3 Iowa - 9
#2 Indiana - 4
The buzz in the press box ahead of the game was that this was the matchup true baseball fans were looking forward to when the tournament bracket came out. Indiana took two of three from the Hawkeyes in Bloomington in April, yet the yellow and black have been playing very well at the end of the season, despite their top offensive threat sidelined due to a gambling probe.
Before we go any further, something that does not get enough attention in the Big Ten Conference is color accuracy, particularly with the yellow hue. Purdue does in fact wear gold. Michigan sports maize. However, there is nothing on the Pantone list of colors that would identify what Iowa wears anything other than yellow. This was all on display today as the Hawkeyes took the field with yellow caps and yellow shoes. Put Chico’s Bail Bonds on the back of their jerseys and you may have images of Tatum O’Neal on the mound. It is also important to note that there was a celebrity in the house as the legendary Dan Gable was on hand to cheer on the Hawkeye baseball team and his grandson. Let it be known that despite the success of the boys on the diamond, Iowa is a wrestling school. Gable’s presence is just a reminder of that.
Indiana started right-hander Luke Sinnard against an aggressive Iowa offense. He did his job and for the most part held the Hawkeyes in check, giving up but one earned run in six innings. Iowa was pesky in the early going, putting runners on base but were not able to string together enough hits to plate more runs. One thing you can set your watch to though is that Iowa will be there clawing and scrapping to the end.
The Hawkeyes countered by putting their flamethrower Brody Brecht on the mound. The All-Big Ten first-teamer showed once again that he is an all or nothing kind of a pitcher. He is going to strike you out, or will be so wild that he will walk or hit you. In his 4.2 innings the Hoosiers touched him up for three runs on four hits, showing that they could time his 98 mph pitches. Brecht struck out five, walked four, and hit two batters. Pretty much a typical Brody Brecht outing.
The fundamental difference in the game came after the two starters were pulled. One team’s bullpen was outstanding. The other one was full of players wearing red head to toe. Iowa’s three relievers threw 4.1 innings, gave up one hit and one run. Will Christophersen, came in with two outs in the 6th inning when it seemed like Indiana might get some life and absolutely slammed the door, striking out six of eight batters faced. With Iowa scoring four more runs in the top of the ninth, Coach Heller had the luxury of taking him out to save him for another appearance or two.
On the flip side, Hoosier relievers pitched three innings and gave up eight runs on six hits. That is a failure considering Sinnard turned over a lead to them. It also needs to be noted that the Indiana defense committed four errors, three in the first three innings. In the big picture, those did not cost them the game, but it was indicative of the overall performance of the second seed in this game.
A Sam Petersen three-run homer in the top of the ninth left Iowa fans dancing in the aisles and put a crimson cherry on top of a solid overall performance by the boys in yellow and black. They are now in the driver’s seat in the top half of the bracket and have a day off to enjoy the Kiewit Luminarium. Indiana will play Michigan Friday at 2:00 to see who gets another shot at the Hawkeyes.
#4 Nebraska - 1
#1 Maryland - 2
After the two teams combined for 59 runs in three games at the little Turtle Field in College Park the first weekend of May, a change of venue and the significance of a winner’s bracket game set the stage for a pitcher’s dual between Nebraska’s Jace Kaminska and the Terrapin’s Nick Dean. In front of an overwhelming pro-Nebraska crowd, the two right handers did battle, each of them finding ways to fight back from adversity. When Dean was pulled in the seventh inning after recording the first out, he had thrown 104 pitches. When the game was delayed by a lightening strike, Kaminska had thrown 99.
Speaking of a lightening delay, apparently a strike was seen with one out and Dylan Carey on first after being hit by a pitch in the top of the seventh inning with the score tied 1-1. That said, a low score like that may imply a boring game, but it has been anything but that up to this point. Nebraska jumped on Dean early, with Brice Matthews driving a pitch to the wall for a long out in his first at bat and Max Anderson getting the first hit of the game. However, Dean shut them down with a fly out and strike out of Charlie Fischer. Jace Kaminska showed some brass in the bottom of the first getting a huge strike out of Matt Woods after loading the bases giving up a hit, a walk and hitting a batter. That put a charge in Big Red fans.
Nebraska manufactured a run in the top of the second inning. Josh Caron was hit by a pitch and Dean walked Ben Columbus on four pitches. Dylan Carey put down a bunt to move both runners up 90 feet. Caleb Evans then grounded out to 2B but driving in Caron for the first run of the game. Cornhuskers up 1-0. That lead would hold as the first four-and-a-half innings seemed to move really fast. In the bottom of the fifth, Maryland put their run on the board when B1G POY Matt Shaw shot a singled up the middle with the Nebraska infield pulled in to protect against a runner on third. Tie ballgame. However, the Terrapins were done and ended up loading the bases against before Kaminska once again found that brass he had in the first to strike out Matt Woods.
In the sixth inning, Dean showed he was not finished as he recorded two strike outs. Kaminska answered with one of his own in the bottom of the inning. Then in the seventh, as mentioned above, things changed a bit. The delay lasted and hour and 33-minutes. By the time the teams were ready to take the field, Nebraska fans were amped! Big Red cheers preceded the first pitch and they were in it as closer David Falco worked the rest of the inning and through the ninth He’s an intimidator that thrives on being the villain, and Nebraska fans gave it to him, but the Nebraska offense could not score. In fact, after nine innings they had only four hits.
Corbin Hawkins started for Nebraska after the delay. He set Maryland down in order in the seventh and gave way in the eighth to Shay Schanaman after giving up a hit. Tonight was redemption for Schanaman as he went toe to toe with Falco setting down the Terrapins in order in eighth and ninth innings. He also was outstanding in the tenth inning, even nearly flipping over the dugout railing chasing a foul ball. But, in this game it often comes down to one pitch and Shay would love to have the one back that Nick Lorusso hit just over the wall beyond the outstretched glove of Luke Sartori to end the game. Maryland is the winner 2-1.
Friday — Day 4
There is no brunch game on Friday so no need to call in sick to start the holiday weekend a little early at the ballpark. An elimination games starts off the day at 2:00 p.m. with the Indiana Hoosiers taking on the Michigan Wolverines. The 7:00 p.m. game features the Michigan State Spartans against Nebraska, the first time they face each other this season.