Big Ten Tournament Notebook: Day 1

May 27, 2010
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By Collegebaseball360.com Contributor Chris Webb

Columbus, OH–The Big Ten Tournament is scheduled to stay in Columbus through 2012, returning to downtown’s Huntington Park, the site of the 2009 tournament, for the final two years after being played in Bill Davis Stadium this season. For Indiana coach Tracy Smith the tournament could stay in Columbus forever. A year after dominating the field for Indiana’s second tournament title championship, in claiming a berth to NCAA regional play, the Hoosiers appear to be picking up in 2010 where 2009 left off. A scary notion for the other five teams in the tournament’s field.

Where the power arms of Eric Arnett and Matt Bashore led the Hoosiers’ title run a year ago, southpaw Drew Leininger is stepping in for the 2009 MLB Draft picks and not missing a beat. As Indiana hopes to become just the second sixth-seed to win the conference tournament, a feat Ohio State accomplished in 2007, Indiana got off to a great start in defeating three-seed Northwestern 5-0.  The victory saw Leininger pitch a complete-game shutout, scattering just eight hits over the nine innings while walking two, striking out six.

“I like pitching in Columbus” the sophomore stated in the postgame press conference. With the numbers he has put up on the Bill Davis mound you can’t blame him. Wednesday’s game would be the second time in 2010 that Leininger started a game in the home stadium of the Buckeyes. On April 10th Leininger pitched nine innings without allowing a earned run as Indiana won 6-4 in 10 innings. The performance of Leininger was vital to the hopeful tournament success coach Smith would state.

“The first game is so important when you’re not the first or second seed, if you start off in the losers it’s virtually impossible to climb you’re way back though. Huge performance by Drew, people might say ‘why did you stretch him out and not save him’ our mentality is we’re not going to save we have to win the first one and he did his job” said Smith.

With Leininger on the mound and the vaunted Hoosier offense in support, though the seeding would indicate an upset, there was little doubt who the better team was on the day, and it showed right away in the first inning. The Hoosiers scored four runs in the top of the first off first-team All-Big Ten pitcher Eric Jokisch, giving Leininger more than enough support to cruise to victory.

“I know every game I go to pitch our offense is going to put up numbers, they have the whole year” Leininger replied in speaking to the early run support. “I just have to go and hold them the best I can, I know that I’m going to get a lot of help and support” mentioned Leininger as he stated he was locating his fastball inducing groundballs.

“Drew’s been our guy all year, we know when he goes out there he gives us a really good chance of winning” said rightfielder Michael Earley who went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI and run scored in the game. “He went out there today and got the job.”

Earley would be one of five Hoosiers to record a multi-hit game as every started recorded a hit in the 14-hit attack. Big Ten Player of the Year Alex Dickerson was held to two singles in three at-bats while scoring a run. With the victory Indiana will now play conference champion and one-seed Minnesota at 7:05. For Smith and his players they’re aware at what is at stake.

“One of my favorite sayings this time of year is ‘the hays in the barn’. I think as coaches a lot of the time, the only thing you can do late in the season is screw it up. You hope that you’re guys have a good attitude and relax. Our attitude with all of the things and injuries we’ve had to go through is just get in. We proved that last year once you’re in anything can happen. I know our guys are confident I love our mindstate. They’re not worried about failure or the results they’re just going out there and having fun which is what you want” said Smith following the game.

“We’re not going out and necessarily playing Minnesota, we’re going out there to play our game and not beat ourselves. We’re going to go out, do what we can” Earley stated in echoing Smith’s thoughts.

Big innings propels Hawkeyes flight

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Iowa Hawkeyes are as far as you can find from being the defending tournament champions. With a comeback 7-4 victory over Purdue, Iowa recorded its first Big Ten Tournament victory in 20 seasons.

In perhaps showing a bit of nerves and jitters, Iowa starter Jarred Hipped allowed two runs in the opening inning as a boisterous Boilermaker bunch enjoyed an early lead. In tacking on runs in the 3rd and 5th Purdue enjoyed a 4-0 at the game’s midpoint. Though trailing, Iowa head coach Jack Dahm felt no need to worry with his ace on the mound.

“I thought Jarred Hippen did a tremendous job in keeping us there. They got four runs but they weren’t going to score any more. That’s Jared continuing to mature as a pitcher, did an outstanding job plugging away, not panicing at all in playing pitch-to-pitch. Was an outstanding job by our guys and our pitching staff” stated Dahm.

With Hippen keeping Purdue at bay, the Iowa offense finally was able to string together a series of hits to put runs on the board in support of their ace. Tyson Blaser started the inning with a single through the left side followed by a Trevor Willis double off the center field wall. Willis advanced to third on a throwing error, Blaser scored. Kurt Lee singled to left to bring in Willis. Kurtis Muller followed in reaching by way of a fielding error. Both Lee and Muller would advance on a ground out before Mike McQuillan picked up an RBI with a single. Durant singled to right to score Muller to tie the start the game over at 4-4 going into the final four frames.

With Hippen cruising the momentum stayed on the side of the Black and Gold. Three runs were plated in the bottom of the sixth inning as a bunt single by Willis followed a walk and hit by pitch to load the bases. A double-play score the go-ahead and game-winning run before a Zach McCool two-RBI single scored to insurance runs. During the game deciding fifth and sixth innings Purdue was forced to use three pitchers to get out of the jam.

Purdue coach Doug Schreiber surprised some in electing to go with Matt Morgan on the mound opposed to All-Big Ten selection Matt Bischoff. Morgan pitched four innings allowing three runs, two earned off five hits in needing to be relieved in the fifth inning. Morgan did not walk a batter while striking out three. Joe Haase pitched just .2 innings in allowing the tying run off one hit in the fifth. Receiving the loss was Calvin Gunter after surrendering two runs to his credit in the sixth inning.

Trying to answer as to why Schreiber would sit his ace in game one, Dahm eluded to the fact his Hawkeyes have had a good bit of success against Bischoff while struggling against Morgan. There would be little unknown between the two as the teams squarded off in the Big Ten’s final weekend, a weekend that saw Iowa sweep Purdue, perhaps forcing Schreiber to go outside of the box. “He (Bischoff ) is one of the best pitchers in the conference, one of the best I’ve seen in the Big Ten in my seven years here, but for whatever reason we’ve had a lot of success against while Morgan has had a lot of success against us.

While questions were abound in Purdue’s pitching decisions, little could be had about Iowa as the sophomore Hippen continued to come up big. “I just had to keep them there” the left-handed stated in allowing the quick two runs. “I pitched the same way I had the entire season, I wanted to come out here and set the tone” said Hippen now 6-4 on the year.

It should come as no surprise that Hippen and his teammates felt little pressure when facing the early deficit. In the early season Iowa traveled to Austin, Texas for a four-game set with the Longhorns and Dahm spoke on how that trip provided confidence for his team in such a setting as tournament play.

“Before the first game against Texas we told our team we’re here for a reason. We have a strong nucleus of young players, freshman and sophomores, that one day will play in the NCAA Tournament either this year or next.  I told them when you’re in the tournament you’re going to play in an environment like Texas and we’re here to learn how to play in such an environment” said Dahm. “I felt that trip to Texas prepared us for the season and playing here.”

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