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Updated: Thursday, 07 Mar 2013, 9:17 PM EST
Published : Thursday, 07 Mar 2013, 6:50 PM EST
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - Purdue baseball opens its annual spring break trip by traveling north this year, heading to the Windy City for a three-game series at Illinois-Chicago that should be playable thanks to the artificial field turf surface on the Flames’ home field.
First pitch is slated for 5 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (all ET). Fifteenth-year head coach Doug Schreiber will coach his 800th game as the leader of the program this weekend (most likely Saturday). The Boilermakers return home Sunday evening and begin the second half of their spring break trip Tuesday at Cincinnati.
While Chicago may have received even more snow than the Lafayette area earlier this week, the field turf at Les Miller Field makes the surface playable even if significant piles of snow remain outside the walls of the stadium. Purdue also played two games at UIC on the 2009 spring break trip.
Nine Boilers on the weekend travel roster are natives of the Chicagoland area. Returning to their native state this weekend includes: Jack Amaro (Naperville), Eddie De LaRiva (Blue Island), Joe Eichmann (Libertyville), Pat Gannon (Evergreen Park), Patrick Kenney (Gurnee), Mike Lutz (North Barrington), Tim McElroy (Roselle), Jack Picchiotti (Oak Park) and Kyle Wood (Orland Park). Meanwhile, associate head coach Jeff Duncan is a native of Joliet.
Purdue (3-8) has won five straight games against the Flames (3-6) dating back to 2009, outscoring UIC 52-10 while sweeping both ends of a home-and-home series the last two years. However, all four of those games were part of the midweek schedule; both teams have not seen the other’s weekend rotation.
The Boilermakers will be looking to snap a six-game losing streak, their longest since beginning the 2008 season 0-9. The 2008 team regrouped and went on finish second in the Big Ten, going 30-15 after finally getting an opportunity to play at home. While the defense has been solid during the current skid – committing only three errors in the six games – a lack of clutch hitting and a high number of free passes issued by the pitching staff have been an issue. Purdue is batting only .211 as a team during the six-game losing streak, including a .159 clip (7-for-44) with runners in scoring position. And with the pitchers issuing 41 free passes (34 walks, 7 HBP) while recording only 25 strikeouts in 49 innings pitched, it’s pretty evident why the Boilers have been outscored 41-18.
As of March 6, Purdue ranks second in the Big Ten with a .974 fielding percentage thanks in large part to the consistency of Jake Hansen and Sean McHugh on the left side of the field. While being full-time starters at shortstop and third base, respectively, for the first time as Boilers, they have committed a combined one error in 85 defensive chances. Hansen, McHugh and their teammates also endured cold weather last weekend in Birmingham, faring better defensively than Samford did on its home field.
Entering the weekend Illinois-Chicago may have the same number of wins as Purdue, but the Flames’ résumé looks better thanks to a season-opening victory at 24th-ranked Texas A&M and a series victory at Santa Clara. Last weekend in Nashville, UIC played No. 2 Vanderbilt tough twice, forcing extra innings in the series finale.
Friday starter Tomas Michelson, who was a high school teammate of Amaro’s at Neuqua Valley in Naperville, worked 7 1/3 shutout innings of four-hit ball in the season-opening win at Texas A&M. He also earned the victory in the series opener at Santa Clara. He pitched two innings of one-hit relief against the Boilers last season at Lambert Field, keeping Purdue off the scoreboard despite issuing three walks. Stephen Talbott and McHugh faced the right-hander that day.
Sunday starter Joey Begel’s performance highlighted the Flames’ extra-inning loss at Vanderbilt. He struck out six and surrendered only three hits over 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball. Ian Lewandowski has been the key man out of the bullpen, giving up just two runs on six hits in 12 2/3 innings over five appearances.
Tyler Detmer (.400, 7 RBI) and Alex Grunewald (3 HR, 7 RBI) have led the way at the plate for UIC early this season. The Flames have been strikeout prone, averaging nine Ks per game. Purdue has also had issues with strikeouts, fanning just under seven times per game.
Robert Ramer has earned three wins against UIC as a midweek starter, giving up five runs over 13 innings while issuing only one walk. Talbott has gone 6-for-11 with four walks and 10 runs scored against the Flames’ midweek pitching the last two years.
The Boilermakers are scheduled to play Illinois-Chicago five times this year. The Flames visit Alexander Field for midweek dates on March 19 and April 24. The March 19 date will be the first regular-season game in the history of Alexander Field.
The second half of Purdue’s spring break trip features games at Cincinnati and No. 5 Louisville as well as a three-game series at Evansville.
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