Purdue Opens New Campaign at Fourth Annual Big Ten/Big East Challenge

PURDUESPORTSDOTCOM Tyler Spillner is a .438 career hitter (14-for-32) at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge.
PURDUESPORTSDOTCOM
Tyler Spillner is a .438 career hitter (14-for-32) at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge.
PURDUESPORTSDOTCOM

Feb. 15, 2012


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Probable Starting Pitchers
Friday vs. Cincinnati: Joe Haase (Sr, RHP) vs. UC's Andrew Strenge (Jr, RHP)
Saturday vs. Connecticut: Lance Breedlove (Sr, RHP) vs. UConn's Pat Butler (Jr, RHP)
Sunday vs. Notre Dame: Calvin Gunter (Sr, LHP) vs. UND's Will Hudgins (Sr, RHP)

Weekend Weather Forecast for Clearwater-St. Petersburg
Friday: 74 degrees, 40 percent chance of rain
Saturday: 79 degrees, 30 percent chance of rain
Sunday Morning: 69 degrees, 60 percent chance of rain

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue baseball begins one of the most anticipated seasons in recent program history under the fair skies of Florida's Gulf Coast, opening its new campaign at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge for the fourth consecutive year.

The Boilermakers (37-20 in 2011) take on Cincinnati (Friday at 1 p.m. at Jack Russell Stadium), Connecticut (Saturday at 10 a.m. at Walter Fuller Complex) and Notre Dame (Sunday at 10 a.m. at Al Lang Stadium) this weekend in the greater Clearwater-St. Petersburg area. Purdue was matched up with UConn and Notre Dame at the season-opening Challenge for the second year in a row.

One of the major goals of the Big Ten/Big East Challenge is to pair northern schools against each other during the national season-opening weekend. The Challenge was expanded this year to feature 10 Big Ten teams, all but newcomer Nebraska. The majority of the teams in Clearwater-St. Pete this weekend will be making the transition from indoor practice facilities to live outdoor action.

Coming off a 37-win season in which they tied the program's single season wins record, the Boilermakers are one of the favorites to win the Big Ten this season. But well before the conference play gets underway March 23 in Columbus, Purdue will be tested by a formidable nonconference schedule. While the first three weekends all feature numerous tough games, the Boilers are scheduled to play seven of their first nine contests at neutral sites.

Purdue jumpstarted its successful season a year ago with a strong showing at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge. The Boilermakers recorded wins over nationally-ranked Connecticut and Pittsburgh, finishing as one of only three Big Ten teams to post a winning record. Purdue also exceeded its win total in its first two years of the event.

The season-opening win against UConn in 2011 was arguably the Big Ten highlight of the event. Although the Huskies scuffled out of the gate, they lived up to their 2011 preseason billing, winning the Big East regular-season title and reaching the Super Regionals of the NCAA Tournament. Connecticut was picked third in the 2012 Big East preseason coaches' poll behind favorites St. John's and Louisville. Notre Dame (No. 6) and Cincinnati (No. 7) were predicted to qualify for the eight-team Big East Tournament as well.

Purdue also hosts Louisville on Tuesday, March 27, for the home opener at Lambert Field.

Kevin Plawecki and Tyler Spillner have been the Boilers' standout performers at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge during their careers. Plawecki has hit safely in all seven games he has played in Clearwater-St. Pete, entering the weekend 14-for-24 (.583) with eight RBIs at the event. He represented Purdue on the All-Tournament Team last year. Spillner, meanwhile, is a .438 career hitter (14-for-32) at the Challenge, recording six doubles, eight walks and 10 RBIs.

But it was Barrett Serrato who led the way at the plate for Purdue at 2011 event, earning Big Ten Player of the Week honors and kickstarting his First Team All-Big Ten campaign. Serrato hit safely and drove in a run in all three games, finishing the weekend 6-for-9 with four RBIs.

The last two Purdue-Cincinnati games, both played in Clearwater, have been wild affairs. The Boilermakers scored seven times over the final four innings to rally for an 11-10 walk-off win in the 2009 season opener. The Bearcats returned the favor in 2010, stunning Purdue by scoring seven times in the bottom of the ninth inning in a 7-6 final. Cincinnati's probable starter, Andrew Strenge, and relief ace Zach Isler both pitched in the 2010 game.

The Bearcats are led at the plate by Indiana natives Justin Glass (.326, 19 XBH, 45 RBIs, from Fort Wayne) and Braden Kline (.326, 19 XBH, 31 RBIs, from Warsaw). Both players earned All-Big East honors in 2011.

Connecticut lost five starters and four starting pitchers from its Big East title team. Junior second baseman LJ Mazzilli (.338, 31 XBH, 32 RBIs), the son of MLB veteran and former manager Lee Mazzilli, has garnered Preseason All-America acclaim as the Huskies' top returning player. Right-hander Pat Butler is expected to start on the mound. He pitched in seven games a year ago, earning three victories but tallying only six strikeouts in 27 innings.

The lone lowlight of the 2011 Challenge from a Purdue point of view was a 19-2 blowout loss at the hands of Notre Dame on Saturday evening at Al Lang Stadium on the waterfront in Downtown St. Petersburg. The two teams will square off again at the same location this year. The Boilermakers will be looking to snap a six-game losing streak against their in-state rival dating back to 2003.

Purdue took an early 2-0 in last year's meeting before Notre Dame scored 19 unanswered runs, punctuated by an 11-run fourth inning. It turned out to be the biggest inning of the year by an opponent.

The Fighting Irish's senior right-hander Will Hudgins is expected to start on the mound Sunday. He pitched in the 2009 Purdue-Notre Dame game in Clearwater but did not face an active Boilermaker. Hudgins served as UND's relief ace last season, compiling a 1.73 ERA and a .222 batting average while earning four wins over 18 appearances.

At the plate, Eric Jagielo (4-for-6, 4 RBIs), Joe Hudson (4-for-5, 3 runs) and Alex Robinson (5-for-5, 3 runs) enjoyed arguably their finest games of 2011 against Purdue.

The Boilermakers are expected to feature an opening day starting lineup comprised entirely of returning starters that are either juniors or seniors. Purdue is also scheduled to start three seniors on the mound, but Joe Haase, Lance Breedlove and Calvin Gunter are all making their first career starts at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge.

Complete Big Ten/Big East Challenge Schedule
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2012
10 a.m. Games
West Virginia at Northwestern, Al Lang Stadium
Louisville at Minnesota, Jack Russell Memorial Stadium
South Florida at Ohio State, Walter Fuller Baseball Complex
1 p.m. Games
Cincinnati at Purdue, Jack Russell Memorial Stadium
Pittsburgh at Iowa, Al Lang Stadium
Notre Dame at Illinois, Walter Fuller Baseball Complex
4 p.m. Games
Connecticut at Indiana, Al Lang Stadium
St. John's at Michigan State, Florida Auto Exchange Stadium
Seton Hall at Penn State, Jack Russell Memorial Stadium
7:30 p.m. Game 
Pittsburgh at Michigan, Florida Auto Exchange Stadium

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2012
10 a.m. Games
Connecticut at Purdue, Walter Fuller Baseball Complex
 
Indiana at Cincinnati, Al Lang Stadium
Notre Dame at Iowa, Jack Russell Memorial Stadium
1 p.m. Games
Seton Hall at Michigan, Al Lang Stadium
Michigan State at South Florida, Jack Russell Memorial Stadium
Minnesota at St. John's, Walter Fuller Baseball Complex
4 p.m. Games
Louisville at Illinois, Al Lang Stadium
West Virginia at Penn State, Bright House Field
Northwestern at Pittsburgh, Jack Russell Memorial Stadium
7:30 p.m. Game
Ohio State at Seton Hall, Bright House Field

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2012
10 a.m. Games
Purdue at Notre Dame, Al Lang Stadium
Illinois at St. John's, Jack Russell Memorial Stadium
Michigan at West Virginia, Walter Fuller Baseball Complex
Penn State at Cincinnati, Walter Fuller Baseball Complex
Michigan State at Louisville, Walter Fuller Baseball Complex
1 p.m. Games
Minnesota at South Florida, Al Lang Stadium
Ohio State at Connecticut, Jack Russell Memorial Stadium
Iowa at West Virginia, Walter Fuller Baseball Complex
Indiana at Pittsburgh, Walter Fuller Baseball Complex
Northwestern at Seton Hall, Walter Fuller Baseball Complex