Feb. 26, 2010
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - It isn't that the first seven innings of the game don't matter. It is just that the eighth inning has been the time when Villanova (4-0) did everything right offensively to put away its first four games. The Wildcats made their debut in the BIG EAST-Big Ten Challenge today with a 13-5 victory over Purdue (0-1) at the Naimoli Complex to improve to 4-0 for the first time in over a decade.
Matt Szczur (Erma, N.J.) had five hits and scored four runs, Brian Streilein (Staten Island, N.Y.) won his second straight start to open the year and Villanova pulled away from a back-and-forth affair with five runs in the top of the eighth inning. This is the way it has gone thus far for the Wildcats, who now have their best start to a season since 1995.
Villanova led 7-5 after seven innings but the offensive barrage that was to come may have already been foreshadowed by that point. The teams were tied 3-3 after five innings before the Wildcats outscored the Boilermakers two runs to one in both the sixth and seventh frames. Then came the eighth, in which Villanova batted around with three hits and three walks to put the game out of reach. Two runs had already scored when Adam Nelson (St. Joseph, Mo.) delivered a bases-clearing double with two outs to bring home three more runs.
Balance was everywhere in the Wildcat lineup, as the first three hitters in the batting order combined for nine hits and seven runs scored. The bottom third, meanwhile, of the lineup drove in seven runs to help Villanova stay in front and turn the order over time after time. Nelson had two hits and four RBI and Tyler Sciacca (Staten Island, N.Y.) homered, scored twice and drove in three runs.
All the Wildcats had to do, it seemed, was stay in the game through the early innings. Villanova scored in the first and third innings to take one-run leads, but each time Purdue answered in their half of the inning to tie the game. When the Boilermakers scored in the bottom of the fourth inning to take their only lead of the game at 3-2, the Wildcat response was just as swift. Villanova tied the game in the top of the fifth inning and then went on to outscore their opponents by a 10-2 margin in the final four frames.
Streilein (2-0, 2.92 ERA) was sharp once again, going 5 2/3 innings for the win while using his strongest pitches to keep hitters off balance. He allowed seven hits and four earned runs, but held Purdue to 0-for-8 hitting with runners in scoring position to stay out of major trouble. Streilein walked four and struck out four, including three more swinging strikeouts. Kevin Crimmel (Harrisburg, Pa.) worked the final 3 1/3 innings and struck out three to earn his first career save.
By the time the game ended, the Wildcats had the only win in four tries for the BIG EAST Conference today in head-to-head matchups against the Big Ten teams at this week's tournament in the Tampa area. Last season, the Big Ten owned a 15-9 edge in the tournament and was off to a 3-0 start on Friday before Villanova turned the tables.
A northern team like the Wildcats isn't used to having an advantage over its opposition in terms of games played, but such was the case on Friday afternoon. Villanova played its fourth game of the young 2010 season while the contest was the season opener for the Boilermakers. The difference showed in the adjustments both squads made to playing on the typically hard and fast surfaces common to Florida infields. Purdue committed five errors that led to five unearned runs, while the Wildcats played flawless defense for the third time in four games this season.
Starting pitcher Matt Bischoff (0-1, 1.50) went six innings and allowed nine hits and five runs, of which just one was earned. He walked three and struck out two before turning the game over to the bullpen.
The tone for the game was set early. Szczur dropped a shallow single into center field to lead off the game, advanced to second on a sacrifice by Justin Bencsko (Pompton Plains, N.J.) and scored from there on the first of four fielding errors from the Boilermaker infield.
Villanova has manufactured runs at a clip rarely seen from the team this early in the season. Szczur led off the third inning with another single that led to another such run. He took second on a passed ball, moved to third on Bencsko's single and scored on an infield double play.
Sciacca hit the first Wildcat home run of the season to left field in the sixth inning, grounded out to bring home a run in the seventh and walked with the bases loaded to force home a run in the eighth inning. Matt Fleishman (Commack, N.Y.) went 2-for-5 with a run scored and had one of four doubles for Villanova. The others came from Szczur, Bencsko and Nelson.
Jon Moore and Kevin Plawecki each had three hits and an RBI for Purdue.
Next up for the Wildcats is a 10 a.m. game on Saturday against Indiana at Al Lang Stadium. The Hoosiers are the reigning Big Ten champions and defeated West Virginia by a 10-8 score on Friday. Indiana won two of its three games in this tournament last season. Left-hander Kyle Helisek (Cranberry Township, Pa.) draws the start for Villanova in Saturday morning's game, which can be seen live on the Internet at no charge on collegebaseball360.com.
NOTES: With his second win of the season, Streilein now has 16 victories for his Wildcat career ... That moves him into sole possession of 10th place all-time at Villanova ... He is one win behind Bill Bliss (1989-91) for ninth place ... Benscko stole his fourth base of the season and Dain Hall (Barrington, Ill.) also had a steal for the Wildcats ... The team is 16-for-16 on stolen base attempts through the first four games ... Crimmel's first two relief outings of the season have resulted in a win and a save over a combined six innings of work ... Szczur, Fleishman and Sciacca all have hit safely in each of the first four games of the season ... Villanova began the 1995 season with a 6-0 record before their first loss.