MINNEAPOLIS — There haven’t been any upsets in two days of the Big Ten tournament, just a bunch of pitching duels. But those tightly contested games have revealed some of the underrated strength of the conference, according to Indiana’s coach.
Two contests have ended in the last at-bat. Two others were decided by two runs or fewer. Nebraska’s 11-2 takedown of Michigan on Wednesday was the only time a team has scored more than four runs.
That’s a good thing for a league not necessarily known for elite arm talent, though the hitters will likely have more success as the weekend unfolds, Indiana coach Tracy Smith said.
“I still don’t think we get the respect nationally that we should,” Smith said. “It’s good baseball in the Big Ten. I think that proved out the last couple days.”
Illinois coach Dan Hartleb, in his eighth season, said Wednesday that the Big Ten’s never been better.
Most analysts believe the Illini and Hoosiers have already earned at-large berths to the NCAA tournament.
Plenty of good seats
The sunshine didn’t attract too many more local baseball fans to Target Field on Thursday.
After an opening day attendance total of 773, the event drew 1,761 more fans for three games Thursday, under-utilizing a stadium that seats 39,000.
The upper deck levels and all of the outfield seats at Target Field have been blocked off through two days. The Minnesota Twins team stores haven’t opened. Only two concession stands were operational Thursday.
During Nebraska’s game Thursday against Ohio State, most of the couple hundred fans congregated down the third-base line, where the sun provided a little extra warmth on a breezy, mid-60s afternoon.
Pritchard shines on D
Junior Michael Pritchard isn’t gaining confidence as a left fielder. He’s always had it.
In his 10th start of the season in the outfield with Rich Sanguinetti sidelined with an injury, Pritchard made two sliding grabs and threw out a runner at the plate during Nebraska’s 3-2 loss against Ohio State.
“Rich goes down, and it’s kind of my turn to go,” Pritchard said. “We all work hard in the outfield.”
Pritchard’s one-hop throw to home plate ended the sixth inning. He gunned down shortstop Kirby Pellant, who’s the Buckeyes’ second-best base stealer.
Pritchard said the coaches moved him in a few steps just before Ohio State junior Mike Carroll lofted one right to him.
“Luckily I just got a ball that I could kind of get some momentum going,” Pritchard said. “I just kind of let it go. I’ve never made a throw like that before so it was kind of a weird deal for me. But at the end of the day, we lost the game.”
Iowa makes change
Iowa baseball coach Jack Dahm’s contract will not be renewed, Director of Athletics Gary Barta announced Thursday.
Dahm, a Creighton graduate who coached the Bluejays, spent 10 seasons at Iowa.
“Jack has been a first-class ambassador for the University of Iowa the past 10 years,” Barta said. “I’m grateful for the mentorship and leadership he showed his student-athletes every day.”
The search for a new coach will begin immediately.
“Hawkeye baseball has a rich history and tradition,” Barta said. “We will look for someone who has demonstrated success competitively and academically, and someone who fits the culture at the University of Iowa.”
It appeared that Nebraska’s Christian DeLeon (elbow soreness) was healthy enough to pitch Friday, but NU announced Thursday night that its starter may not be determined until after the Minnesota-Illinois matchup. DeLeon threw a side session in the bullpen Wednesday. … Coach Darin Erstad indicated that Sanguinetti (bruised ankle) likely won’t be in the starting lineup again Friday. The senior center fielder pinch hit Thursday. … Junior reliever Brandon Pierce (back), who’s pitched once in the last four weeks, could be available this weekend, according to Erstad. Pierce is on the active roster.