As Purdue pitcher Tanner Andrews' eyes affixed on coach Mark Wasikowski after Tuesday's practice, the Boilermakers' second-year leader posted a weighty question while addressing his squad before departing Alexander Field, possibly for the final time in 2018.
“Man, this would be a beautiful place to host a super, wouldn't it?”
Super, as in super regional, which isn't crazy talk for a Purdue squad playing in its first NCAA Tournament since 2012 and just the third time in school history. Not when considering the Boilermakers' impressive run over the latter half of the season.
Purdue (37-19), seeded No. 2 in the Chapel Hill Regional, enters the tournament as one of the nation's hottest teams. Playing just .500 ball over the first 30 games, the Boilermakers closed the year on a 22-4 run, something Andrews, a Tippecanoe Valley graduate, attributes to a rededication to enjoying everything about baseball.
“We just started coming to the yard trying to have as much fun as possible,” Andrews said. “Coach set us down in a meeting and asked us why we were playing. He said we weren't having as much fun as we can.
“These are my brothers. We share a special bond. It's taken a lot of energy and effort to right the ship, but we showed up every single day with the right mindset.”
This season has somewhat mirrored Andrews' career at Purdue, where he has been the team's Friday night starter for most of the past three seasons. Appointed to the rotation slot generally reserved for the team's top pitcher as a sophomore, Andrews struggled to the point of getting demoted to the bullpen to close out his second year on the Boilers' staff.
With his status slipping away as Purdue finished just 10-44, his time as a reliever helped him refocus his efforts.
“That really opened my eyes and made me realize how much harder I had to work,” Andrews said. “Last year, I started as the No. 1 guy, and I worked really hard. I gained some weight to pick up some velocity.
“It means a lot to me. I earned it; it was taken away from me, and I've worked harder.”
That time spent in workouts has translated to the mound in multiple ways. A fastball topping out at 91 mph as a freshman now hits 97 with some regularity. Of the Boilers' top three starters, Andrews' 2.71 ERA stands best by over 1.5 runs per game, and he's struck out nearly twice as many hitters as he's walked in his team-best 93 innings pitched.
Andrews will add to his innings total starting today, when Purdue faces No. 3 seed Houston (36-23), ranked 21st in the nation according to the D1Baseball.com poll released Tuesday.
Top-seeded and No. 8 North Carolina (38-18), which tied Clemson for the ACC regular season title, is the tournament's sixth overall seed. The Tar Heels face fourth-seeded North Carolina A&T (32-23), which won its conference for the first time in 13 years, in today's other opening game.
Keep winning, and that at least opens the door to hosting the super regional at Alexander Field, where the Boilers hold a 13-game win streak.
“We know we have a good home-field advantage,” Andrews said. “It'd be a great place for a super and it'd be huge for our program.”