WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Frustrated for seven innings by Iowa ace Jarred Hippen, Purdue baseball erupted for five runs in the eighth inning, highlighted by a three-run triple from Andrew Dixon, to rally for a thrilling 6-3 victory Thursday afternoon in the opener of the final Big Ten Conference series of the season.
With the win, the Boilers (34-18, 12-10 Big Ten) remained alive in the race to win at least a share of the regular-season conference title. But more importantly, Purdue strengthened its prospects of qualifying for the Big Ten Tournament for a program-high fourth straight year. The Boilermakers would need only one additional victory this weekend to clinch a berth in the six-team field.
While the crippling loss may not have completely eliminated the Hawkeyes (20-30, 9-13 Big Ten) from tournament contention, they no longer have a chance to catch Purdue in the standings.
With the Boilers trailing by a run and the bases loaded with one out in the eighth inning, Dixon tripled into the left field corner to give his team the lead for the first time.
Hippen (4-6) appeared to be in position to win a pitcher's duel with Matt Morgan after Iowa scored a pair of insurance runs to go up 3-0 in the top of the seventh. The Iowa lefty limited Purdue to four hits through the first six innings. The Boilermakers finally got on the board in the seventh thanks to a two-out unearned run.
Cameron Perkins struck out swinging to open the eighth inning, but reached first base safely on a passed ball. Kevin Plawecki followed with a missile to the wall in left center, doubling for the second consecutive at-bat and plating Perkins from first base. Now with the tying run in scoring position, Barrett Serrato was hit by a pitch to add another base runner to the developing rally.
Hippen made a nice play on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Tyler Spillner, throwing out Plawecki as the lead runner at third base for the first out of the inning. But moments later he hit Payton Bieker with a curveball to load the bases for Dixon, who had grounded into a double play in his previous at-bat with runners on first and second.
Dixon said his goal was to hit the ball in the air and drive in the game-tying run from third base. He hit a slicing fly ball down the left field line. Iowa left fielder Kyle Haen tried to make a diving catch but the ball landed fair and rolled into the corner for a bases-clearing triple. Bieker was right on the heels of Spillner as the two Fort Wayne natives rounded third base, scoring a few seconds apart.
Nick Wittgren retired the first two batters he faced in the top of the ninth and closed out the game for his 12th save of the season. Angelo Cianfrocco (1-0) earned his first collegiate win on the mound with an inning and two-thirds of scoreless relief, striking out three of the seven batters he faced. Morgan (nine), Cianfrocco and Wittgren teamed up for 13 strikeouts, one shy of a Purdue season-high.
Wittgren moved into second place on the Boilers' single-season saves list, one shy of Andy Helmer's 2000 record.
Purdue scored five or more runs in an inning for the 19th time this season. However, Thursday marked the first time since posting a four-run top of the eighth in the April 13 win against IPFW in downtown Fort Wayne that a big inning gave the Boilers the lead late in the game.
Eric Charles extended his hitting streak to 14 consecutive games with a leadoff single in the fourth inning, Purdue's first hit of the game against Hippen. Charles has now matched the longest streak of his career. Perkins needed some help from Iowa catcher Tyson Blaser, but he was able to reach base without an out being recorded for a 58th consecutive game dating back to last season.
Spillner was the only Purdue player to score twice in the win. He singled to open the fifth and seventh innings. Bieker followed with a base hit of his own in the seventh inning, marking the only time all game that the Boilers collected back-to-back hits against Hippen. After Dixon's 4-6-3 double play ball, Spillner scored when Iowa shortstop Kurt Lee bobbled a grounder off the bat of Stephen Talbott.
Talbott picked up an RBI an inning later when he plated Dixon with a sacrifice fly to left field. Three of the six runs Purdue scored against Hippen were unearned.
Morgan worked 6 1/3 innings of three-run ball in his final start at Lambert Field. The senior recorded six consecutive outs via the strikeout in the fourth and fifth innings, striking out the side in true 1-2-3 fashion in the fifth. With Mike McQuillan on third base and the game still scoreless in the fourth inning, Morgan struck out Phil Keppler for the second out of the inning. But Blaser followed with a double into right center, connecting for the first extra-base hit over the head of a center fielder at Lambert Field this season.
A run-scoring double from Lee chased Morgan in the seventh inning. Iowa scored another run on a base hit from Trevor Willis against Cianfrocco. But because the Purdue lineup was able to rally late in the game, the Boilers improved to 10-2 in games Morgan has started this season.