Big Ten Conference Baseball Season Opens on Friday
March 27, 2008
The 2008 Big Ten Conference baseball season opens on Friday with all 10 of the conference's squads in action. Illinois travels to Michigan State, Indiana heads to Minnesota, Iowa plays at Michigan, Northwestern faces Purdue, and Ohio State hosts Penn State, all in four-game series.
Penn State and Ohio State will play in the first-ever baseball game televised by the Big Ten Network when the squads open the conference portions of their schedules at 6:35 p.m. ET on Friday at Bill Davis Stadium in Columbus. The Buckeyes are the defending Big Ten Tournament Champions and put together a 10-6 record in early-season action. OSU is led by Cory Kovanda, who is third in the Big Ten in batting average (.455) and second in on-base percentage (.524). Penn State is 5-12 on the year and is led on the mound by Golden Spikes Award candidate Drew O'Neil. The reliever has finished nine of the Nittany Lions' 17 games and is tied for the conference lead with three saves. The right-hander owns a 1.29 ERA and is holding opponents to a .214 average.
Michigan will begin its Big Ten title defense on Friday at 3:05 p.m. ET as the Wolverines host Iowa at newly-renovated Ray Fisher Stadium. Michigan has won the last two conference titles and advanced into the Super Regionals of last year's NCAA Championship. Nate Recknagel leads the Wolverines at the plate, owning a conference-best .767 slugging percentage and seven home runs. On the mound, Chris Fetter is tied for second in the Big Ten with 26 strikeouts, 11 of which came in seven innings against Pittsburgh on March 9. Fetter was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week and earned a spot on the College Baseball Foundation's All-Star Lineup for his efforts. Michigan enters conference action with a 10-6 overall record and a No. 25 ranking in the latest Baseball America poll. Iowa comes into the contest with a 7-9 mark on the season and is led by Caleb Curry, who is among the Big Ten's leaders in average (.452), slugging percentage (.532), on-base percentage (.514), hits (28), RBI (21) and stolen bases (12).
Also opening the conference slate with a Friday afternoon contest, Illinois heads to Michigan State for a 3:05 p.m. ET matchup at Oldsmobile Park. The Illini enter the game with a 9-6 mark, while the Spartans are 7-9 in pre-conference play. Kyle Hudson leads Illinois at the plate, ranking second in the Big Ten with a .456 average and nine stolen bases, and is first with an on-base percentage of .529. Ryan Hastings and Dominic Altobelli have provided the power for the Illini, each ranking in the conference's top 10 in slugging percentage with respective marks of .574 and .537. Kyle Day leads the Spartans at the plate, owning a team-best .333 average with a squad-high 15 RBI.
Northwestern and Purdue square off at Lambert Field in West Lafayette to open the conference slate on Friday with the first pitch set for 4 p.m. ET. The Wildcats' Mike Kalina leads the Big Ten with a .472 batting average and also ranks in the top five in slugging percentage (.642) and on-base percentage (.509). Northwestern opens conference play with an overall record of 4-9 with two of those wins earned by senior right-hander Bo Schultz. Purdue will counter on the mound with a Big Ten-best team ERA of 3.14, led by Allan Donato and Matt Bischoff who own respective marks of 2.10 and 2.19. Last year's Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Bischoff leads the conference with an opponents' batting average of .167. The Boilermakers enter the conference slate on a five-game winning streak and have an overall record of 7-11.
Minnesota hosts Indiana in the fifth matchup of the opening weekend with first pitch set for 6:35 p.m. CT on Friday. The Golden Gophers enter the contest with a 10-9 record, including their most recent win, a 12-5 decision over No. 2 Missouri on Wednesday. Matt Nohelty leads Minnesota at the plate, ranking first in the conference in hits (36), second in runs scored (20) and stolen bases (9), and eighth in average (.419). On the mound, the Gophers own more combined strikeouts than any other Big Ten team with 145, led by Kyle Carr's 26 and Tom Buske's 25. The Hoosiers bring a 10-7 record to the Metrodome and are led by a pair of sophomores. At the plate, Josh Phegley ranks among the Big Ten's leaders in average (.446), slugging percentage (.615), on-base percentage (.519), runs scored (20) and RBI (17). Matt Bashore fronts IU on the mound, ranking first in the conference in ERA (1.62) and strikeouts (41). The left-hander was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week on March 17 after striking out a Big Ten season-high 12 batters in eight innings against Portland on March 14.
Beginning with this weekend's series between Penn State and Ohio State, the Big Ten Network will nationally televise 23 regular-season Big Ten baseball games and several more Big Ten Tournament matchups. Each Big Ten team will appear on the network at least three times throughout the course of the season, while nine of the 10 teams will have at least one home television appearance.