WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Ross Learnard and Dalton Parker had a connection long before they ended up on the same pitching staff.
“We grew up like 20 minutes away so I knew of him but I didn’t know him necessarily personally,” Purdue junior pitcher Ross Learnard said.
Learnard, a left-hander from Catlin, grew up just a short drive from Parker in St. Joseph. Both have spent their first season with Purdue’s baseball team adjusting to the Division I level, with Learnard transferring from Parkland last year. Parker comes to West Lafayette directly from high school.
“The game’s a little bit faster and just a different role taken on than previously, like high school and stuff, but it’s been good and the team’s played well,” Parker said.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Learnard added. “It’s just come out and compete and do the best you can at everything every single day.”
The Central Illinois duo has proved important to Purdue’s success on the mound. During their series against St. Louis, Parker recorded his sixth save of the season, breaking a 14-year old freshman school record. One of those came in the series opener against Illinois. The Illini didn’t offer Learnard or Parker.
“Of course there’s a chip on your shoulder, being the hometown that you’re from,” Parker said. “But it’s just fun to compete with the guys that our on our team and it doesn’t matter who the opponent is. I just want to win.”
Meanwhile, Learnard has a 0.29 ERA and hasn’t allowed a run in 28 consecutive innings.
“Just like I’ve been saying the entire time, just let the chips fall where they may, and just know that I’m prepared to pitch every single day and go to work,” the former Salt Fork standout said.
The work has benefited the entire team. After finishing the 2016 season last in the conference, the Boilermakers are currently fourth in the Big Ten standings. Thanks, in part, to some Central Illinois’ arms.