2007 Big Ten Baseball Tournament Preview
May 21, 2007
The field is set for the 2007 Big Ten Baseball Tournament hosted by this year's Big Ten champion, the University of Michigan. The Wolverines earned the top seed for the second consecutive year and the right to home-field advantage with their split of Iowa on Saturday. The Wolverines were trailing 2-0 in the second inning of the second game when they won the championship, thanks to Indiana beating Minnesota 10-7 to eliminate the Gophers from the conference title chase. The double-elimination tournament kicks off on Wednesday, May 23, with No. 4 Iowa taking on No. 5 Illinois in game one. Michigan and second-seeded Minnesota both have earned byes and will begin their respective championship quests on Thursday afternoon.
Michigan Wolverines (21-7 Big Ten)
Michigan has allowed the third fewest runs against conference teams during the regular season, with a team ERA of 4.83. That number is due in large part to the pitching of Mike Wilson, Chris Fetter and Zach Putnam, who rank in the top 10 of ERAs in the conference. Wilson (3-0 Big Ten), a sophomore southpaw, leads the Wolverine staff with an ERA of 4.17, while Putnam (4-1 Big Ten), a 6-foot-2 right-hander, follows with just 4.58 earned runs allowed per conference game. In addition, Putnam is ranked second in the conference with 42 strikeouts in just 49 innings pitched. Both pitchers lead the team with seven wins overall this season.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (18-9 Big Ten)
On the mound, sophomore ace Tom Buske will lead the Gophers into the postseason with a 3.86 ERA. Gary Perinar should see plenty of action as well as he carries a 5.91 ERA into the tournament and is 4-2 against conference opponents. Perinar has struck out 35 batters in similar innings for the fifth-best ratio in the Big Ten. Senior southpaw Marcus McKenzie (8.48 ERA) also has four conference wins this season and rounds out the Minnesota staff that has compiled the second best ERA in conference (4.80).
The Gophers are led on offense by sophomore outfielder Matt Nohelty, who has posted a .398 batting average and 26 runs scored through the conference season. Behind Nohelty is Mike Mee who has hit .375 in conference with a team-high 29 RBI. Third baseman Nat Hanson has contributed a .367 average and has knocked a team best five balls out of the park while starting every game in the hot corner. As a team, the Gophers are third in the conference with a .322 batting average.
Penn State Nittany Lions (20-10 Big Ten)
Penn State has used catcher Joe Blackburn and outfielder Rick Marlin to slug in most of its runs this season. Blackburn has started every game behind the plate in compiling a .357 average and 17 RBI while Marlin closely follows with a .340 average and team-high 21 RBI. Crossing the plate more than any other Lion is Scott Gaffney who has contributed 23 runs scored, but he also holds a bat of his own with a .347 average that includes five home runs and a .582 slugging percentage to lead the team.
Penn State will face No. 6 Ohio State in the second game of Wednesday night's tournament opener at 3:35 p.m. ET.
The Hawkeyes have relied on its batting lineup for most of the season, evident in a second-best .327 team average in the conference. Centerfielder Travis Sweet has been ripping the ball all over the field this season and is currently fifth in the Big Ten with a .387 batting average. His 43 hits ties him for the fourth-highest conference total this season. Senior shortstop Jason White is the Big Ten's best in three categories that include runs scored (38), home runs (8) and total bases (75).
After a quiet freshman year, Nick Erdman has vaulted into the spotlight and has become of the Hawkeye's go-to guys on the mound in his sophomore campaign. With a 4.79 ERA, Erdman has collected six conference wins to tie Tanner Roark of Illinois on top of the conference leader board. With Mike Schurz out the rest of the season due to injury sustained in last week's Corridor Classic, the bullpen will have to find a way to replace this solid closer.
Fourth-seeded Iowa will face No. 5 Illinois on Wednesday, May 23 at 12:05 p.m. in the first game of the tournament. The Hawkeyes won 3-of-4 games against Illinois at Banks Field this season. After dropping game one, 6-2, Iowa rattled off three-straight wins, kicking off its 12-game winning streak.
Illinois Fighting Illini (16-14)
Sparking the incredible comeback was senior catcher Lars Davis who leads the team with a .360 average and 27 runs scored. Davis hit his fourth and fifth homeruns of the season that game to join teammate Mike Rhode with the team high. Rhode follows close behind Davis with a .350 average. The utility man blasted a conference third-best 29 RBI this conference season while compiling a team-high .650 slugging percentage. Wreaking havoc on the bases once again this year is Shawn Roof, who has the best stolen-bases-to attempts ratio in the Big Ten at 19-24.
Tanner Roark leads his team with a 4.61 ERA and six conference wins. Roark is ranked third in the conference with 35 strikeouts in just 54.2 innings pitched. The Illini will be helped by Jake Toohey, who nabbed the final Pitcher of the Week accolades after shutting down the Spartans over the last 4 1/3 innings as the Illini plated eight unanswered runs on their way to victory. Toohey has compiled a 3.43 ERA in 13 appearances and has recorded seven saves on the season, all in relief.
Ohio State Buckeyes (15-15 Big Ten)
Cory Luebke leads a Buckeye pitching staff that ranks fourth in the Big Ten (5.16 ERA). Luebke holds the conference's best ERA at 2.24 with 56.1 innings pitched and an astounding 50 strikeouts. Right-handed reliever Jake Hale is right behind the Buckeye ace with a 3.77 ERA and only 13 earn runs allowed to lead the Big Ten. J.B. Shuck (4.93) is another ace the Buckeyes have relied on for three conference wins this season.