A Tale of Two Tournaments: Boilers Underwhelm

The Schreiber-led Boilers had high hopes coming into the NCAA tourney- First 40-win season, First B1G title in over 100 years, First NCAA tourney since '87, First B1G POY ever...lots of firsts, lots unfamiliarity.  And when the chips were down, honestly, this team looked like they weren't quite ready for primetime...But a team out of the MAC, the hottest team in college baseball, answered the bell...fought through adversity and ran through the Purdue-hosted Gary regional without having to play the extra game.

But, didn't this plot feel eerily similar to something much closer to our hearts at BS? It did to me.

Before I go any further, let me give some background.

I know many of you reading have a hard time believing that my words have any credence. Afterall, I'm a self-admitted baseball loather.  In the summer, DVDs of old Purdue football victories, the occasional golf major and IndyCar races scratch my itch for sports excitement.  I typically wait until September to care about baseball.  But, I don't dislike baseball because I know nothing about it.

I played the game from the time I was 7 through 17.  I played Babe Ruth, where I was actually pretty good, played high school ball and coached Little League for 5 seasons.  I loved playing the game...and coaching as well...just the watching makes me sleepy.

That said, I went all fairweather for the Boilers and watched as much late-season action as BTN would bring to me...And here's what I saw- a team that didn't pitch great, made quite a few errors in the field and, in the clutch, simply couldn't get the job done.  Hell, how many stranded runners did we see in the final two games of the season alone?

Back to my original point- we've been through this before.

Back in '11, Smooge and JJ were two of the best players in the conference, if not the nation.  Much like these Baseball Boilers, accolades were handed out on a weekly basis as those Boilers came up with big wins, on big stages against big competition.  Same goes for Schreiber's bunch this year.  When they needed hits, they found them. The dramatic comeback v. UCLA and the big wins v. MSU when they needed them come to mind right away.

Purdue's 2012 baseball team, like the 2011 basketball team was one of the best in the nation...and the post-season flame-outs don't change that fact. Both teams were highly-ranked and both played on extremely-high levels.  BUT, both teams also backed their way out of the regular seasons v. Iowa...lowly, hated rival, Iowa.  The baseball and basketball Hawkeyes aren't coached by an icon like Ferentz...and their records show it.  So losing to either of these teams, at home or in Iowa is kind of inexcusable for the cream of the conference.

Now, one big difference between these two teams is that the baseball Boilers won the B1G tournament...and did it while going through IU. But, IU's baseball team isn't like the hardwood Hoosiers.  That said, winning the B1G tournament for this year's Boilers was a great accomplishment...but I don't think the players thought of that as their end goal.

So when they got the #1 seed in their regional, I'm pretty sure they thought there was more meat on the bone for this season...and it looked like there might be after the first game v. Valpo.  Granted, Valpo played a pretty horrible game, errors mounted, helped Purdue move runners and stay alive in innings that were dead...and the Boilers advanced easily.

Similarly, Matty's squad played a low seed, St. Peter's in their opening round of the tournament in 2011...and St. Peter's looked shocked and overwhelmed by Purdue's ability...and they were swamped...So Purdue would move on.  It looked like Purdue would play college basketball blueblood, Georgetown in the next round.  G'Town, had been ranked as high as top-10 earlier that season...but finished their BE schedule with a whisper and received the 6 seed in Purdue's bracket.

Similarly, Kentucky was a highly-ranked team for most of the season in 2012...but wasn't given the privilege of hosting the regional this year.  But the Wildcats seemed to be Purdue's main hurdle to making the Super Regional.  But Kent State had other ideas...and they moved Kentucky to the loser's bracket just as VCU had cleared the Hoyas out of Matty's squad's way a year earlier.

So it was set.  Purdue v. Kent State...Purdue v. VCU...and our Boilers would be playing with the nation's best and in a conversation that everyone thought they belonged in to begin with.

But, VCU overwhelmed a sluggish Purdue defense and played with more energy than a team that had been defined by hustle and effort.  Similarly, Kent State, peppered the struggling Boilers with hit after hit...Purdue's pitching that had been strong and well-coached all season, was overwhelmed as their ace was kept in the game a few pitches too long.  The strength that had defined both teams during the regular season was no where to be found...and Boiler fans in the United Center and Gary's Steelyard alike were both left cursing as they watched the games slip away.

VCU went on to make an improbably trip to the final four...and the fuel to their confidence might have been beating the mighty Boilers.  Kent State earned its way out of the regional by knocking off two of the nation's best...who knows when their run will end. But the point is, Purdue's is over.

I won't go as far as to say the regular seasons don't matter.  Both teams provided a very enjoyable run for the fans as they won, won and won some more.  But, when the chips were down, neither team could step up.

A few years ago, my brother who is a fellow Purdue alum pointed something out to me- You really can't blame the media for giving Purdue no respect.  Time and again, very good Purdue teams in football, basketball and now baseball have taken great regular season success only to crap the bed in the post-season.

We can talk about key injuries...whether it's Glenn Robinson's back in '94 or Rob Hummel's knee in '11...and those factors were important. We can site valiant efforts in a loss like Hummel's herculean game v. Kansas or Shawn Phillips super-human defensive effort v. Georgia in 2004...but both ended in heartbreak.  Facts are facts...so until Purdue can break through and win a January 1 bowl (or better), get into the Final Four or get to Omaha, it's tough to argue that our Boilers are anything other than a regular season monster and a post-season pansy.

I don't like this any more than anyone reading this...in fact it makes me a little sick in my stomach when I think about how some of these truly great teams never got to hoist the trophy at the very end of the season...but right now, things are what they are...and there's only one way to change the future.

Just win.

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