Purdue already credits Minnesota for turning around its baseball season. Now the Boilermakers are in position to show they belong among the best in the Big Ten.
The conference’s top two teams avoided potential elimination games Saturday, with No. 1 seed Minnesota pulling away from Ohio State 8-1 and second-seeded Purdue rallying past Illinois 11-5 on a steamy day at TD Ameritrade Park.
It sets up a 1 p.m. Sunday championship pitting the league’s most consistent recent power against a program that hasn’t played meaningful May baseball in six years.
“We’re trying to win one baseball game at a time and (Sunday) we get another chance against a very, very well-coached Minnesota club that came into our field this year and absolutely mopped the floor with us,” Purdue second-year coach Mark Wasikowski said. “I think our guys remember that very, very well. I know that we’re not the same club that we were back then and we’re very much looking forward to the chance to play again against them.”
The Gophers pounded out 40 combined runs in two wins over the Boilermakers in mid-April. Purdue is 22-3 since then, including a Saturday victory fueled by four runs in both the fifth and seventh innings against error-prone Illinois.
“That (Minnesota series) kind of fired us up a little bit, kind of made us rethink and reevaluate what we wanted this season to be like,” Purdue catcher Nick Dalesandro said. “I think all the guys would agree, we all bought into what the coaches said and listened to everything they’re coaching us up on.”
Purdue (37-18) took advantage of three errors by fourth-seeded Illinois — the top fielding team in the Big Ten this season — and got three RBIs from Skyler Hunter and Jacson McGowan while rallying from an early 4-1 hole. The bullpen provided 6 1/3 innings of shutout relief after starter Ryan Beard scuffled early.
Minnesota (40-13) trailed seventh-seeded Ohio State after three innings, then posted six runs against four Buckeye pitchers in the sixth to take command. The Gophers also benefited from four OSU errors and nine walks to back Big Ten pitcher of the year Patrick Fredrickson, a freshman who fired six innings of one-run ball.
A win Sunday would make the Gophers the first team since Indiana in 2014 to sweep the league regular-season and tournament titles. Purdue last won the tourney in 2012, then plodded to an 89-176 record (32-87 in league play) the next five seasons.
“They are a different team, in my opinion,” Minnesota coach John Anderson said of Purdue.
Wasikowski agreed, saying his group doesn’t have players “coming off of the 96 mph, lucky-gene-club tree.” Rather, he said, they are a max-effort, risk-taking group, as evidenced by seven attempted steals (four successful) and an array of strong defensive sequences Saturday.
Now they have an opportunity to be called conference champs.
“That Minnesota team, probably the classiest team we’ve played all year,” Dalesandro said. “But we’re definitely looking forward to getting another shot at them.”