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Kentucky Wildcat Baseball: Q & A with Hammer and Rails

Today, the Kentucky Wildcat baseball team opens NCAA Tournament play in the Gary, Ind. regional of the NCAA tournament as they take on the Kent State Golden Flashes. In preparation for the tourney, Glenn did a Q & A with BoilerTMill of the outstanding Purdue Boilermaker blog, Hammer and Rails.

For Glenn's responses to TMill's questions go here to Hammer and Rails. Below find TMill's thoughts on the tournament.

ASOB: As you probably know, Kentucky is mostly known as a basketball school. So just to help set the table, can you provide a brief overview of Purdue's recent NCAA baseball history and where this team fits into the picture?

TMill: Well, recent is pretty subjective. Purdue has been to the NCAA Tournament once: in 1987. We went 0-2 that time against Texas A&M and Western Carolina, but we beat Western Carolina in a tournament this year, so I guess we have a measure of revenge.

Basically you’re seeing the best season in Purdue history by far. Our 44 wins are a program record, shattering the old one of 37 set in 1986 and last year. We never won the Big Ten Tournament before this year and our regular season title is our first since 1909 (not a typo). Everything came together this season (except our new stadium, which was delayed). We even had solid true road wins over East Carolina, Missouri State, UCLA, Wichita State (twice) and Auburn. We beat Louisville and Indiana State at home and took two of three against Michigan State, so we played a tough schedule for a northern team.

With what we had coming back we knew the potential was there for a good season, but the smoking hot start before we even played a home game set things up that we could host this weekend. A 5-2 mark against NCAA teams as a Big Ten team was also major.

ASOB: Would you describe Purdue as more of an offense-dominant or pitching-dominant team? Why?

TMill: I want to say offense dominant, but our starting pitching has been excellent. Our projected No. 1 starter, Brad Schreiber, hasn’t even thrown a pitch this year, but Joe Haase and Lance Breedlove have been lights out at the top. Purdue has won every game that Haase started except at UCLA, and that was mostly because their starter allowed one runner through eight innings. Breedlove has taken a few hard luck losses, but when he’s been on he can be dominant. Blake Mascarello has been an excellent ace reliever and is second on the team in wins without even starting a game. Nick Wittgren has been one of the best closers in the nation.

If I had a pitching concern it would be the No. 3 slot. Connor Podkul and Calvin Gunter have split duties there this year and have been somewhat ineffective. Robert Ramer is 6-0 as our midweek starter and pitched very well in the Big Ten Tournament championship game, however.

Ultimately, the pitching staff just needs to do a good enough job to give the offense a chance. It can explode at any time. Our win at UCLA came about because we trailed 10-5 going into the ninth in game three and the offense exploded for 10 runs. Cameron Perkins and Kevin Plawecki (Big Ten Player of the Year) are both junior eligible guys that will likely be drafted in the first five rounds. Everyone else in the lineup can hit the ball extremely well, and we bat .318 as a team.

ASOB: Were there any consequences from the unfortunate conflagration at the Big Ten championship between Purdue and Indiana that will affect the Boilermakers in the tournament? How is the team mentally after defeating such an intense rival to take the Big Ten crown and send the Hoosiers back to Bloomington for the year?

TMill: Eric Charles will be suspended for Friday night’s game against Valparaiso, but that’s it. As far as beating Indiana, I think there was some extra fuel there because the Hoosiers are a very young team and a lot like we were two years ago. They had a surprising runner-up finish in the Big Ten regular season and are building a solid foundation for a year or two from now. Combine that with the fact that we did not play during the regular season and you had a lot of emotion going into that game.

ASOB: What were your expectations for Purdue baseball going into the season. How do the results so far compare, and at what point could the team exceed expectations, if they haven't already.

TMill: I knew we had a very good team. I was hoping we would break our century long Big Ten title drought and that we would reach the NCAA tournament. I started to think about hosting when we started the season so hot. After the first two games of a four game series at Wichita State we were 14-1 and had already beaten East Carolina, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Auburn, Southern Miss, and Wichita State. We had done exactly what we needed to do to be in the discussion for an at-large berth from the Big Ten by building a strong RPI before we even made it home. We made it 16-4 through the 20-game road trip to start the year, and it was off from there.

ASOB: How do you like your chances in the regional, and who do you think will be the last two teams standing?

TMill: I think we’re playing with the house's money at this point. Even if we win a game we’ve done better than any Purdue team ever. That said, I think we caught a break being the No. 1 seed. Your game with Kent State should be excellent, while we should have an easier time with Valparaiso. Unfortunately, the Crusaders have some rare advantages as a No. 4 seed. They are technically the closest team to the site, can stay in their own beds, and they’ve played recently at this ballpark (2010 Horizon League Tourney). I am not looking past them at all.

Not to take anything away from you guys, but I like Kent State in your first game because they have so much experience. These guys have been here four years in a row and they damn near won a regional last year. They also hit the ball well and their top three starters are excellent. I will say Purdue and Kent State will make it to Sunday night, but honestly, Purdue, Kentucky, and Kent State are all three very, very close and you can’t go wrong picking any of them. Valparaiso is also good enough (they have a win at Arkansas) to get a surprise win and really ruin someone’s day. I don’t think they’ll make it, but they are capable of springing an upset today or tomorrow to make it to Sunday.

I want to thank TMill from Hammer and Rails for participating, and wish the Boilermakers good luck in this weekend's NCAA regional play. For A Sea of Blue's official Open Thread for UK's battle with the Kent State Flashes, go here.