Boilers Set for Exciting Baseball Season
by Brett Swick
Feb. 6, 1998
Entering his seventh season as the skipper of the Purdue baseball team, head coach Steve Green brings a veteran team to the field and a young staff to the mound. The Boilers rebounded from a slow start in 1997 by winning 22 of their final 25 games to finish third in the final Big Ten regular season standings and reach the conference tournament for the third time in five years. Seven of nine position starters return in 1998, but the success of this year's team depends largely on the impact of the young pitching staff. As is generally the case, the success of the Boiler pitching staff will have a large impact on the team's Big Ten finish. Coach Green welcomes seven true freshmen to this year's staff. Purdue lost nearly its entire starting rotation from last season, returning only sophomore southpaw Russ Morgan (3-3, 52.0 IP). Gone are Mike Hedman (6-4, 2.87 ERA), Chris Bloomer (6-3, 85 K in 73.1 IP), Matt Luce (6-2, 5.29) and Jeff Reder (3-2, 2.98, 6 saves). Morgan will likely be one of the top starters for the Boilers. However, the remainder of the rotation will be up-for-grabs going into the preseason. Early season candidates to join the rotation are sophomore right-hander Andy Helmer, freshman righty Laramie Sandquist and freshmen left-handers Dave Gassner and Ben Kaebisch. "Sandquist, Gassner and Kaebisch each showed a lot of promise in the fall," Green said. "Each will be asked to step up and provide us with some big innings this spring." Sophomore Jeremy Ballard (3-1, 4.71, 23 K in 21.0 IP) will anchor the Boilermaker bullpen, giving Purdue a solid closer. "Ballard is a bull dog," Green said. "He is going to battle for you." Freshmen Matt Vander Weg and Austin Bilke will join sophomores Brent Tinkle and Ryan Banas along with hard-throwing senior Phil Davis in the Boiler bullpen. Rounding out the staff are freshmen Kyle Kowalski and Carlos Gomez. The Boilermakers lost a big bat when 1997 team MVP Anthony Grieco (.389, 11 HR, 49 RBI) graduted last May. However, Purdue will not be lacking behind the plate in '98. First team All-Big Ten and All-Region designated hitter Bill Bennett (.327, 6 HR, 38 RBI) moves behind the plate this year. The senior hits for average and power and has a good eye at the plate, ending the '97 season with a 29-game on-base streak. His leadership means as much to the Boilers as his offensive numbers do. "Bill Bennett is the heart of our team," Green said. "He is one of the most unselfish players I've had the pleasure to coach." Sophomore transfer Erik Frei comes to Purdue from the University of Hartford. Frei will see action when Bennett is in the DH spot. Fifth-year senior Steve Lorek (no errors in 17 games) returns to provide the Boilers with a strong defensive catcher. Junior Brad Brown, redshirt freshman Brandon Buck and freshman Kris Luce could also see some action behind the plate. Purdue returns 75 percent of last season's infield, which was superb defensively and very productive offensively. Senior Mike Rothstein (.346, 8 HR, 41 RBI) gives Purdue left-handed power in the middle of the lineup and a solid glove at first base. Junior Ryan Cole (.296, 30 RBI) had one of the best defensive seasons ever by a Boiler third baseman in '97, committing only six errors in 53 games. Redshirt sophomore Daryl Hallada (.324, five home runs, 38 RBI) was a pleasant surprise at shortstop last season. The switch-hitter was effective at the plate and even better in the field as a freshman. With Rod Metzler (.308, 7 HR, 45 RBI) gone to the Kansas City Royals organization, second base is wide open. Freshmen David Blomberg and Nate Sickler will battle redshirt junior Ryan Bettencourt for the starting spot.
"I would stack our infield defense up against any in college baseball today," Green said. "They are not the flashiest; they just work harder and make the plays." The Boilermakers return all of last year's outfielders. Seniors Robb Ramacher in left (.288, 24 RBI, 47 BB) and Mark Tomsyck in center (.270, 24 SB) combined for only one error last season. Ramacher covers a lot of ground in left field and has a strong, accurate arm. Tomsyck, a strong leadoff hitter and excellent base stealer, possesses great range in center. Junior Todd Ellinger (.333, 15 RBI) and sophomore Mike Rose (.264, 3 HR) could platoon again in right field. Ellinger give the Boilers a solid left-handed bat and has improved defensively. Rose, who doubles as a linebacker on the football team, is a strong power hitter with a great arm. Sophomore Chris "Hank" Walker returns as the Boilermakers versatile fourth outfielder. He has great speed and has played all three outfield positions for Purdue. Sickler and freshman Pete Shuey may also see action in the outfield. "Our outfield defense has really improved over the last couple of years," Green said. "They take pride in their work and it shows." The Boilermakers open the season with a three-game series against Louisville on Feb. 21-22 in Louisville, Ky.