April 12, 2012
Game Notes | Listen | Game Day Central (with Live Coverage Links)
Weekend Weather Forecast for West Lafayette, Ind.
Friday: 65 degrees, 20 percent chance of rain
Saturday: 75 degrees, 60 percent chance of thunderstorms
Sunday: 78 degrees, 40 percent chance of scatters thunderstorms
All-Time Series: Illinois Leads 150-77-1
Purdue Under Doug Schreiber vs. Illinois: Purdue leads 26-18 (Since 1999)
2011: Illinois won 2-of-3 (in West Lafayette)
Last Purdue Series Win: Purdue won 2-of-3 (2010 in Champaign)
Last Purdue Series Win vs. Illinois in West Lafayette: Purdue won 2-of-3 (2009)
First Meeting: Illinois 14, Purdue 5 (1893 in West Lafayette)
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- No. 18 Purdue baseball begins a challenging four-weekend stretch by hosting Illinois for a three-game series at Lambert Field, welcoming the defending Big Ten regular-season and tournament champs to the old ballpark for a final time.
First pitch is slated for 4 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. Head coach Doug Schreiber enters the weekend with 405 career victories. Schreiber could tie or break Dave Alexander's Purdue all-time wins record at the same ballpark where he was a four-year starting second baseman for Alexander from 1983-86.
The Boilermakers (25-5, 7-2 Big Ten) enter the week with a two-game lead in the Big Ten standings despite playing two of their first three conference series on the road. However, the next three weekends could ultimately determine whether or not Purdue can finally break through and claim that elusive regular-season Big Ten title. The Boilermakers take on Illinois (18-13, 3-3 Big Ten), Nebraska (23-12), Michigan State (20-11) and UCLA (22-7) the next four weekends. Those four opponents enter the weekend with a combined 83-43 record.
Illinois and Michigan State shared the Big Ten regular-season title last year. Purdue was a combined 1-6 against the Fighting Illini and Spartans in 2011. Nebraska sports the second-best overall winning percentage in the Big Ten this season as well as an offense that closest resembles the Boilers' attack.
Illinois' season-ending story a year ago was quite remarkable. The Fighting Illini came to West Lafayette the weekend of May 13-15 with a 20-24 overall record and tied with the Boilers in the Big Ten standings at 10-8. Purdue won the series opener behind a quality start from former staff ace Matt Morgan and a great overall game from Stephen Talbott. Illinois would not lose again until the NCAA Regionals.
The Fighting Illini scored twice in the ninth inning of the Sunday rubber game to post their first series win in West Lafayette since 1998. After sweeping Indiana and getting a little help from Northwestern, which handed Michigan State its only home Big Ten loss of the year on the final day of the regular season, Illinois won a share of the conference title and earned the No. 1 seed at the Big Ten Tournament.
Down 4-1 entering the ninth inning of their the Big Ten Tourney opener against Ohio State, the Illini rallied for four runs in the ninth to stun the Buckeyes. Illinois then beat Michigan State each of the next two days and was bound for the NCAA Tournament riding an eight-game winning streak. The Fighting Illini represented the Big Ten well at the Fullerton Regional, ending the seasons of Kansas State and Cal State Fullerton before being eliminated by Stanford.
Illinois lost a number of key players from last year's team but remains a battle-tested squad. Dating back to an April 8-10, 2011, series against Iowa, the Fighting Illini have won six of their last eight Big Ten rubber games. In four of those six series wins, including last weekend against Indiana, Illinois came back to take the three-game set after losing the opener.
Purdue enters the weekend winners of five in a row and nine of its last 10. The Boilermakers went 4-1 during their first week at home, March 27-April 1, but batted just .222 as a team that week. In the five games away from Lambert Field since, the team batted .342. Meanwhile, the pitching remained strong, allowing Purdue to outscore the opposition, 39-8, in the five wins.
Kevin Plawecki enters the weekend having hit safely in eight straight games and reached base safely in 25 consecutive contests. The latter streak ranks as the longest current run on the team and the third-best streak among active players. The junior has connected for three of his 12 career home runs against the Illini, including homers in games two and three of the series at Lambert Field last year.
Talbott's big game against Illinois a season ago saw him throw out a runner at the plate and hit a solo home run, with the two plays coming only moments apart to end the top of the third and begin the bottom of the frame. Lance Breedlove backed up Morgan's quality start with 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, retiring eight of the first nine batters he faced.
Cameron Perkins has been Purdue's hottest hitter over the last six games. He sat out the April 4 game Anderson University, but has managed to hit safely and record an RBI in five straight, compiling an 11-for-21, nine-RBI showing at the plate during that stretch.
Meanwhile, dating back to the March 13 win at Missouri State, Connor Podkul's first collegiate start, Joe Haase, Breedlove and Podkul (the projected weekend rotation) have teamed up to compile a combined 2.29 ERA over 78 1/3 innings. Haase and Breedlove have both won each of their first three Big Ten starts.
Illinois' projected starters for games one and two, Kevin Johnson and John Kravetz, are both products of Mount Carmel High School on Chicago's South Side. Purdue has faced Johnson each of the last two seasons. The right-hander pitched a complete-game shutout against the Boilers in Champaign as a freshman and put together another quality start (7 IP, 8 H, 2 ER) at Lambert Field last year.
Reliever Matt Milroy shared Big Ten co-Pitcher of the Week honors with Haase this week after striking out 10 of the 21 batters he faced in five innings of scoreless relief in last weekend's rubber game win against Indiana.