Purdue Closes Spring Break with Series at SIU's New Stadium
March 21, 2014HOOSIER SPORTS 365
PURDUE BASEBALL RELEASE
Probable Pitching Matchups
Weekend Weather Forecast for Carbondale, Ill.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue baseball closes out its spring break schedule with its first of back-to-back weekends in the Land of Lincoln, taking on Southern Illinois for a three-game series at the Salukis' brand-new Richard "Itchy" Jones Stadium.
First pitch in Carbondale is set for 2 p.m. ET on Friday and Sunday and 3 p.m. ET on Saturday. The Boilermakers (2-14) will be making their first appearance in the college town on the edge of the Shawnee National Forest since 2010. Purdue swept a three-game series at Alexander Field last year in SIU's first-ever visit to West Lafayette.
Big Ten Conference play opens this weekend with four series around the league. Purdue, Illinois and Penn State have their open weekends in league play to begin the conference season. Two series this weekend had to be relocated due to lingering effects of the harsh winter. Northwestern will host Minnesota at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., instead of Evanston. And the Michigan State-Ohio State series was moved from East Lansing to Columbus. Elsewhere, Iowa hosts Nebraska and Michigan travels to Indiana.
Itchy Jones Stadium debuted last weekend as the Salukis (11-8) won two-of-three against Illinois. The Boilermakers take on the Illini in Champaign-Urbana next weekend.
SIU alumnus Richard "Itch" Jones was the longtime head coach at both SIU (1970-90) and Illinois (1991-2005). He led the Salukis to the College World Series in 1971, 1974 and 1977 and the Fighting Illini to a pair of Big Ten titles (1998 and 2005). His brother bestowed him with the unique nickname as a child.
Purdue's next two weekend series will both be played on fields with an artificial turf surface. The Boilermakers have played each of their first 16 games on natural grass fields. Itchy Jones Stadium is the first stadium in the United States to feature AstroTurf's new 3Di turf on the base paths. Like Illinois Field, only the pitching mound is not covered by turf. Itchy Jones Stadium was constructed in the same location in which Abe Martin Field was located on the SIU campus. Purdue will also get its first look at a new stadium early next month when it plays at UIC's Curtis Granderson Stadium in Chicago.
Tim McElroywill get an opportunity to start on the mound for the first time as Boilermaker Sunday. The lefty is tied for second on the team with nine appearances and has already appeared in 30 games in his Purdue career, primarily as a situational lefty. But he pitched well over a career-high four innings against San Diego State Monday. McElroy earned a victory in relief in the middle game of the SIU series last season, striking out the first base he faced to leave the bases loaded in the seventh inning of a tie game.
The Boilermakers have recorded a double-figure hit total in four of the last five games, scoring 23 runs over that stretch. Kyle Johnson (8-for-19) and Sean McHugh (8-for-21) have each hit safely in the first five games of spring break. Conner Hudnall, Cody Strong, Johnson and McHugh each have four RBI during that stretch.
Purdue continues to excel defensively, leading the Big Ten with 21 double plays turned despite having played the fewest games in the league. The Boilermakers' streak of 11 consecutive games with at least one double played ended Wednesday in the win at Butler. Purdue's.974 fielding percentage ranks second in the conference.
The Boilermakers jumped out to an early lead in all three games against Southern Illinois last year, trailing only once (entering the bottom of the fifth of game two) the entire series. Early leads have been essentially non-existent this year against the nation's second-toughest schedule. Purdue has been outscored 43-5 over the first two innings.
The Salukis' projected game one starter Sam Coonrod is a likely junior draftee in June after a successful summer in the Cape Cod League. Walks have been an issue for him early this season, issuing 14 bases on balls in 22 2/3 innings. He struck out eight and walked four over seven innings against Purdue last season. Jordan Minchfanned seven over 6 2/3 innings in the same game.
Projected game three starter, lefty Aaron Hague, has been SIU's top performer on the mound, compiling a 1.52 ERA and 1.86 batting average against over his first four starts.
The bullpen remains a strength for Southern Illinois. Relievers Kyle Pauly (15 2/3 IP), Chad Whitmer (14 1/3 IP), Matt Murphy (11 IP), Kyle Pruemer (6 IP, 2 saves), Lee Weld (5 1/3 IP), Tyler Dray (4 saves, 5 IP) and Austin McPheron (5 IP) have combined for 62 1/3 innings of 12-run ball (seven earned runs) and a 1.01 ERA. Purdue faced Dray, Murphy and Weld as well as projected starters Todd Eaton and Coonrod last season.
Southern Illinois is already 4-1 in midweek action. The Salukis have won three straight since dropping five in a row, four of the losses coming on a spring break road trip that included a weekend series at South Alabama and a midweek date at No. 19 Mississippi State.
Purdue will also play SIU's Missouri Valley Conference rivals Indiana State and Illinois State later this season for midweek action. Missouri State was also on the Boilers' schedule but that series was canceled three weekends ago due to winter weather.