Six Teams Set for Action in Big Ten Tournament
May 23, 2006
The field is set for the 2006 Big Ten Baseball Tournament after a wild regular season culminated in a final weekend where everything was up for grabs. It was Michigan who earned the top seed and the right to home-field advantage with their four-win weekend. The double-elimination tournament begins Wednesday, May 24, with No. 4 Minnesota taking on No. 5 Illinois in game one. The Wolverines, along with second-seeded Northwestern have each earned byes and will begin their respective championship quests on Friday.
Michigan Wolverines (23-9 Big Ten)
Michigan has allowed the fewest runs against conference teams during the regular season, with a team ERA of 3.26. That number is due in large part to the pitching of Paul Hammond, Chris Fetter and Zach Putnam, who have the three best ERAs in the conference. Hammond, a senior lefty, leads the Big Ten with an ERA of just 1.58, while red-shirt freshman Fetter, a 6-foot-8 right-hander, follows closely behind, allowing just 1.70 runs per conference game.
At the plate, the Wolverines put forth a team effort throughout the regular season, as five starters ended up with batting averages over .300. First-baseman/designated hitter Nate Recknagle leads the team with a .360 average. Shortstop Leif Mahler added a .337 effort and senior catcher Jeff Kunkel put up a .333 average. Eric Rose and Doug Pickens round out the group with .330 and .308 averages, respectively.
On the mound, senior ace Julio Siberio will lead the `Cats into the postseason with a 3.12 ERA. Dan Brauer, a junior southpaw should see plenty of action as well as he carries a 3.36 ERA into the tournament and is a perfect 6-0 against conference opponents.
As a team, Northwestern leads the Big Ten with 25 homers in conference play and are led on offense by sophomore outfielder Antonio Mule, who has posted a .346 batting average and nine home runs through the regular season. Mule is one of the Wildcats to rank in the top-three home run hitters in the Big Ten, joining Anthony Wycklendt and Caleb Fields. Catcher Pat McMahon also has a .346 average and has knocked five balls out of the park through the regular season while starting all 52 games behind the plate. As a team, the Wildcats are fourth in the conference with a .308 batting average.
A pair of Buckeye sluggers in junior Ronnie Bourquin and sophomore Matt Angle rank No. 1 and 2 in the Big Ten, respectively, in batting average. The two are also tied for the league lead with 40 hits, and it is Bourquin who is tops in RBIs with 29, while Angle has the edge in runs scored with 27. As a group, Ohio State leads the conference with a .338 batting average.
The Scarlet and Gray are fourth in the Big Ten with fielding percentage of .966, helping their pitchers hold an overall ERA of 4.00 in conference play. Led by freshman J.B. Shuck's 2.68 ERA in six appearances, the Buckeye pitchers have given up only 67 walks on the year, good enough for second in the league. Dan DeLucia is tied for the league lead with six wins and has struck out 35 batters through the regular season.
Despite holding a team batting average of just under .300, Minnesota has proven to be resourceful, holding the conference's second-best on base percentage and runs batted in with 148. Senior second-baseman Luke MacLean is among the Big Ten's best with 22 RBIs in conference play, while junior Mike Mee and senior Andy Hunter rank among the best run-scorers with 24 and 22, respectively.
Cole DeVries, a 6-foot-2 right-hander leads the Gophers with an ERA of 2.78 and has stoned 16 batters who struck out looking. Dustin Brabender, a 6-foot-6 sophomore righty has held his opponents to a measly batting average of .238 in conference play. As a unit, Minnesota pitchers have allowed opponents just a .273 average, tops in the Big Ten.
Illinois ranks third in team batting average this season, and with only 12 home runs, has relied on a persistent offense that batted in 137 runs and stolen 44 bases (tops in the conference) against Big Ten opponents. Junior outfielder Ryan Snowden leads the Illini with 25 runs scored, enough for second in the conference, while senior first-baseman Dave Schultz is sixth in the Big Ten with 22 runs scored. Speedy junior Shawn Roof has more stolen bases than anyone in the Big Ten, with 15 steals in the regular season.
Defensively, sophomore catcher Lars Davis has nabbed 11 batters trying to steal, which has helped his pitchers keep their overall ERA down. Senior RHP Matt Whitemore leads his team with a 2.39 ERA, and will be counted upon to carry the Illini in their post-season quest.
Purdue Boilermakers (15-17 Big Ten)
Purdue's strength is its pitching, which has gotten them through tight games all season long. The pitching staff as a whole has posted the second-best ERA on the season, a 3.64 average. Opposing hitters have averaged less than .300 against Boiler pitchers and struck out 144 times in conference play. Ricky Heines is tops on the team with a 2.68 earned run average. Behind the pitchers, Eric Wolfe and Mitch Hilligoss have turned a combined 37 double plays. In addition, Heines and his catcher, Eric Neilson, have each caught seven men trying to steal.
On offense, freshman Ryne White leads his team and is fifth in the conference in batting with a .381 average. The potent Boilermaker offense is second in the league with 19 home runs in 32 Big Ten contests, with Neal Gorka's four round-trippers leading the way.