By TRAVIS MILLER
WEST LAFAYETTE — The last time Purdue won a Big Ten baseball championship, William Howard Taft was in the White House, World War I was five years away and Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii had not yet been granted statehood.
It had been so long, in fact, that the Chicago Cubs were the defending World Series champions and their iconic current ballpark was the site of the Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary.
That all changed Saturday afternoon. With a 14-3 victory over Michigan in the second game of a three-game series, Purdue (39-9, 16-4) secured at least a share of its first Big Ten baseball title since 1909, and Kokomo High School product Andrew Quinnette became a part of history.
Quinnette, who was a member of Kokomo’s Class 4A state runner-up team in 2007, began his college career at Valparaiso. He made 43 starts as a freshman in 2008, batting .304 with 34 RBI. In 2009 he batted .236 and he made a total of five relief appearances for the Crusaders. His career took a turn when he decided to transfer to Purdue.
“Transferring was tough sitting out a year, then sitting another year for an injury. It’s been a long road back,” the Boiler senior said as he wore his Big Ten champs T-shirt and hat. “To be part of this team and doing something that hasn’t been done in 103 years is a great feeling, honestly.”
Before Saturday, Quinnette had made only two appearances on the mound for the Boilermakers. He pitched a scoreless inning at Victory Field against Anderson University and then gave up a run in two innings of work against IPFW on Tuesday in Fort Wayne.
Saturday was his home debut, as he took over in the eighth inning for starter Lance Breedlove. Breedlove retired 20 straight before Quinnette entered, leaving with a comfortable 12-0 lead. Unfortunately, Quinnette got knocked around a bit, giving up a single and a home run to Coley Crank before giving up a double against his final batter.
“I didn’t throw too well, honestly, but honestly I can’t thank everybody enough for the opportunity I have been given here,” Quinnette said. “This was a clinching game, but we have a lot left to accomplish this season.”
Purdue has a final game against Michigan today before hosting Indiana State on Tuesday in a matchup of two Indiana teams that may make the NCAA tournament. Tuesday’s game will be the final one at Lambert Field, the home of Boiler baseball for 47 seasons. The Boilers then play at Iowa for three games next weekend before going to Columbus, Ohio, for the Big Ten tournament.
Purdue is ranked in the top 15 of most college baseball polls and its critical RPI is a strong No. 9, which is virtually unheard of for a northern team in a sport dominated by southern teams. Purdue hasn’t fattened up on an easy schedule, either. The Boilers have just 16 home games this season, but impressive wins at East Carolina, Auburn, Wichita State (twice) and Missouri State have seen the Boilers gain respect nationally. Purdue also took one game of three at No. 3 UCLA last week, showing it can play with the best in the nation.
Purdue has fielded baseball teams since 1888, but there is little doubt that this is the best season in school history. Friday’s 4-0 win over Michigan established a new single-season record for victories with 38, and the Boilermakers are a lock to reach their first NCAA Tournament since 1987, and just second in program history.
Purdue’s record and RPI ranking put it in the mix to possibly host one of the 16 NCAA regionals. Sixteen of the 64 teams that make the NCAA Tournament are designated as hosts for four-team, double-elimination regionals. Purdue’s current facility, Lambert Field, lacks lights and other amenities needed to host and is replacement, the $17 million Alexander Field, saw unfortunate construction delays that prevented it from hosting a potential regional.
Purdue does have a plan in place to host an NCAA regional at the U.S. Steel yard in Gary, home of the independent Gary Southshore Railcats. Purdue also has been in contact with the Cubs to potentially host at Wrigley Field, since the Cubs are out of town during the first weekend of June when Purdue needs a place to play.
“These last five regular-season games are really important, especially for our national seed and our ranking,” Quinnette said. “For now we need to focus on these next five games, then we’ll concern ourselves with where we’re going in the NCAAs.”