Indiana Baseball heads to the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 3 seed

For the first time since the 2012 London Olympics, Indiana baseball will face Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska. The Hoosiers finished 30-22-1, 15-9 in the Big Ten and the Boilermakers finished 33-22, 13-11 in the Big Ten.

The Hoosiers last faced the Boilermakers in the 2012 conference tournament, where the top-seeded Boilers defeated second-seeded Indiana on consecutive days to capture the conference title. Indiana won the tournament in 2013 and 2014, but neither team has been able to lift the trophy since then.

No. 3 Indiana and No. 6 Purdue will play the first game of the tournament on Tuesday at 11 a.m. EST, with the winner off until 2 p.m. Thursday and the loser sent to an elimination game on Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST. Indiana is in the upper 60s in RPI with a record of 19-10-1 in Quad 3-4 games and is most likely on the wrong side of the overall bubble as it must win the conference tournament to secure an automatic bid the NCAA tournament.

Indiana shares the top half of the rankings with No. 2 Nebraska and No. 7 Ohio State. At season's end, Illinois, the regular-season champion and No. 1 seed, will face No. 8 Penn State on Tuesday at 6 p.m., and No. 4 Michigan will face No. 5 Iowa on Wednesday at 2 p.m.

After challenging for the title in the regular season, Purdue struggled through the first half of May, losing seven of nine conference games and finishing the season on a five-game losing streak. While starters Jordan Morales (7-5, 4.26 ERA) and Luke Wagner (7-1, 4.94 ERA) did their best, the pitching staff as a whole has been the Boilermakers' Achilles heel. The rest of Purdue's pitching staff posted a 5.79 ERA in 330.2 innings and blew several late leads in games against Indiana, Michigan and Illinois in the final three weeks of the regular season.

The Boilers have a two-headed monster at the helm of their offense – catcher Connor Caskenette and infielder Luke Gaffney lead the Big Ten in RBIs with 69 and 63, respectively. Caskenette (13), Gaffney (12) and outfielder Keenan Spence (11) lead Purdue in home runs, while Gaffney's .368 batting average leads the team by 30 points over infielder Camden Gasser, whose .512 on-base percentage leads the Big Ten and ranks 18th nationally.

If Indiana beats Purdue, it will face the winner of No. 2 Nebraska (34-19, 16-8 Big Ten) and No. 7 Ohio State (28-24, 12-12 Big Ten), who face off in the following game Tuesday . The Huskers won two of three games against the Buckeyes on April 5 and 7, with righty Brett Sears (8-0, 2.05 ERA) striking out ten Ohio State batters in a two-hit complete game shutout in the series opener defeated to receive the National Pitcher of the Week award.

Righty Mason McConnaughey (7-3, 3.10 ERA) delivered 6.1 innings of two-run ball to close out the weekend victory 5th-7th April for the Huskers. Sears and McConnaughey rank 1st and 3rd among Big Ten pitchers in ERA, and Sears holds the Big Ten's best with a 0.83 WHIP.

Nebraska pitchers were dominant in the series win over Indiana on May 10 and 12 – Sears allowed one earned run on three hits over seven innings in the series opener, while McConnaughey allowed two earned runs on five hits and 10 Hoosiers in 7.1 innings hit.

The Huskers allowed just four runs in the final two games of the series as Indiana failed to follow up with a big inning, as it did against the Nebraska bullpen on May 10. Nebraska is second in the conference with 17 saves (Maryland: 18, Indiana: 9), meaning the Hoosiers will have a hard time putting together another late rally against the best pitchers in Omaha.

All eight teams in the conference tournament won between 26 and 34 regular-season games, and top-seeded Illinois won the regular-season title, its first since 2015, after failing to even finish in the top six in the preseason poll.

With so much parity and Illinois and Nebraska being the only Big Ten teams projected Get general bids, the tournament is wide open and the excitement will be palpable at Charles Schwab Field all week long. Indiana begins its search for its first Big Ten Tournament title since 2014 on Tuesday at 11 a.m. EST. All tournament games will air on Big Ten Network, the IU Sports Radio Network and WIUX Sports with Ben Haller and Nick Rodecap.

Follow reporters Matt Press (@MattPress23) and Nick Rodecap (@nickrodecap) for updates throughout the Indiana baseball season.

Anna Harden

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