BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The Boilermakers’ unlikely season came to an end late Thursday night in an elimination game at the Big Ten Tournament.
But the loss — fourth-seeded Maryland beat eight-seed Purdue 5-2, going ahead on a three-run double in the eighth — does little to diminish the Boilermakers’ accomplishments. In Mark Wasikowski’s first season at Purdue, the Boilermakers finished 29-27, 19 victories better than last year.
“There was some goals that were clearly met and some goals that weren’t met with our group this year,” Wasikowski said shortly after the game, when Purdue’s attempt at a ninth-inning rally fell short. “Some people would say that’s a little bit of a reach, especially with where we were picked to finish. But we set our standards high. We’re a group that became warriors and got after it, and we saw that all the way to the end with the tying run coming to the dish even with our backs against the wall against a very good top-25 program.
“That’s where we’re striving to take this program and we’re making baby steps in that direction.”
Very few would have predicted Purdue to qualify for the eight-team Big Ten Tournament, but the Boilermakers did, going 12-12 in the league, a 10-win improvement from last season. Now, they feel a brighter future is ahead.
“We definitely made huge steps,” sophomore Jacson McGowen said. “You really can’t do much more. You can only do so much in the year’s time, just getting back in the offseason and doing what we’ve been doing the last eight to 10 months and keep going.”
Purdue nearly picked up Win No. 30, had it only been able to get a key base hit. The Boilermakers’ best chance to break a 2-all tie came in the seventh, when it had runners at second and third with no outs, then loaded with one away; But Maryland reliever John Murphy struck out Nick Dalesandro, Mike Madej and Alec Olund to end the threat.
Then, in the top of the eighth, the Terrapins (35-20) broke through. After Dalton Parker walked the first two — he had struck out four in his five batters, plus gotten out of a jam in the sixth inning after replacing starter Gareth Stroh — left Ross Learnard came on to try to keep the game tied.
He sandwiched two outs around an intentional walk to load the bases, but Terp shortstop Kevin Smith delivered, striking a pitch over the inner half into left field for a three-run double and 5-2 lead.
“I threw it, probably got too much of the plate,” Learnard said. “He hit it, stuff happens. It’s baseball, you win some and lose some.”
Maryland led early, scoring two runs in the second inning against Stroh — the lefty went 5 1/3, allowing two runs with five strikeouts — but Purdue tied the game in the fifth. Then, the Boilermakers got their first two runners on, scoring the first, after three Terrapin errors. Then, Hayden Grant followed with a sacrifice fly.
But Purdue left five runners on in the seventh and eighth innings combined.
“We probably had three or four chances where we could have scored one extra run or put a ball in play, just to make something happen,” McGowan said. “… We had a lot of opportunities, but just didn’t take advantage.”
Now, Purdue moves to its offseason, feeling like it has had plenty of positives in Year 1 of the Wasikowski Era.
“Extremely satisfied with the culture we established,” he said. “That was the goal for Year 1, the mission at the very beginning of this thing. Without a culture established, you’ve got nothing. … We’re going to continue to build off that. We’re going to recruit and be aggressive in the recruiting aspect. The goal for the program is to continue to get better first off, then as we go to win conference championships and advance and see what we can do further in postseason play with regionals and super regionals and intent to get to Omaha.
“We still have our work cut out for us. We’re not close yet with those of those things. But we are close with the culture we’ve established, that’s intact and we’re excited about that. It’s a big step forward.”
Notes: Murphy (1-0) picked up the victory, working three innings of scoreless relief while striking out six. … Maryland coach John Szefc was ejected in the eighth inning following an expletive-laced tirade. With the game tied, home plate umpire Michael Droll said batter Marty Costes, who had been hit by a fastball, didn’t give enough effort in trying to get out of the way. … McGowan finished the two-game tournament with four hits in eight at-bats. … Parker (2-3) took the loss, allowing two runs in 1 2/3 innings.