Northern teams flock to Arizona, California and Florida during the opening weeks of the college baseball season, seeking refuge from winter's frost and chill to play games. As the Ohio State men's baseball team opened the 2013 season with three games in sunny Sarasota, Fla., the Buckeyes were ice cold at the plate, batting .232 for the weekend, returning to Columbus with a 1-2 start to the season.
The season kicked off with a game against Mercer. The Bears were 38-21 in 2012, finishing fourth in the Atlantic Sun.
Contrary to game notes and the weekend probable, Mercer sent out left-handed pitcher David Randall, not right-handed pitcher Brandon Baker. With a southpaw on the mound, Greg Beals turned to right-handed hitting freshman Jacob Bosiokovic, the 2011 and 2012 Ohio Division I Player of the Year, in left field over senior left-handed batter Joe Ciamacco. Along with Bosiokovic, Craig Nennig made his debut for the Scarlet and Gray, manning the hot corner.
Though trying to capitalize on matchups, Beals also tabbed senior right-handed hitting catcher Greg Solomon over sophomore backstop Aaron Gretz, a left-handed swinger, the Buckeyes generated little firepower at the plate.
The game's first run was scored by senior shortstop Kirby Pellant. After drawing a leadoff walk, Pellant successfully stole second and third, prior to scoring on a grounder to second. A walk produced another run in the second inning as sophomore Pat Porter came around after drawing a base-on-balls, moving to second with a fielder's choice, scoring on a passed ball after a strikeout.
With only one hit through five innings, Ohio State didn't need to panic with junior right-handed pitcher Jaron Long on the mound. The Big Ten's lone returning 2012 All-Big Ten First-team pitcher, Long held Mercer at bay over the first five innings, scattering three hits. But with a runner on, the Bears strung together a bit of two-out magic in the sixth, striking Long for a single, walk, single, chasing him from the game.
Tied 2-2, Ohio State responded in the bottom half. Brad Hallberg and Mike Carroll drew back-to-back one-out walks before Porter stroked a two-out single to center to score Hallberg. Solomon turned the one-run lead into three with a down the left field line scoring Carroll and Porter.
Mercer added a run in the seventh, with neither team doing plating a run in the eighth as Ohio State led 5-3 going into the ninth.
Without junior right-handed pitcher Greg Greve, (the Buckeyes withheld him this weekend as a precautionary measure with a stiff shoulder), or Josh Dezse (who will be out at least two months with a back injury), Beals turned to senior right-handed pitcher Brett McKinney to close the game. McKinney's 51st appearance would not yield his first Ohio State save.
A wild pitch in-between two walks followed by a double tied the game for Mercer. Porter led off the ninth for Ohio State with a single but the Bucks were unable to move him over and in. In the top of the 10th Mercer struck McKinney for two singles, with a passed ball and sacrifice bunt aiding their effort to plate their sixth run of the game.
Ohio State had a chance in the bottom of the tenth, second baseman Ryan Cypret drew a one-out walk and was at second base when Carroll singled up the middle. Cypret was thrown out at home to end the contest 6-5 in Mercer's favor.
The Buckeyes were only able to claw out six hits against the Bears, with Porter going 3-for-3, scoring two runs.
There would be no dramatics against Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish bullied the Buckeyes from the start.
Senior left-handed pitcher Brian King allowed a leadoff double to Notre Dame second baseman Frank DiSico, a Cleveland St. Ignatius product, in a four-hit two-run opening inning for the Irish. DiSico would add a two-run home run in the second as Notre Dame's lead doubled.
Ohio State would halve the deficit in the third, Hallberg and Carroll each produced RBI-doubles, but that would be as close as the Buckeyes would get.
Notre Dame added a run in the fifth, ending King's day after the frame. Over five King allowed five runs off 10 hits, striking out two. The Irish had their way with the Buckeye bullpen, scoring seven runs over the next two innings, finishing the game with 13 as Ohio State's 10 hits only mustered three runs.
Ohio State needed a win heading into the weekend's finale with St. John's, and the Buckeyes got it behind senior Brad Goldberg.
After transferring in from Coastal Carolina following the 2010 season, Goldberg was forced to sit out the 2011 season due to the NCAA rule of transfers. Unfortunately Goldberg missed the 2012 season ineligible due to a credit hour shortage in his transfer from Coastal. After not pitching in a game in almost three years, the Beachwood, Ohio product showed no rust, turning in a brilliant performance.
Ohio State's offense was again held in check by the Johnnies as freshman Ryan McCormick held the Buckeyes to two hits over six innings. But Goldberg would one-up him, holding St. John's to two hits over seven innings, striking out seven against two walks, keeping the Johnnies off the board.
The seventh inning allowed Goldberg to receive a win in his Buckeye debut as Ohio State teed off on St. John's freshman Matt Clancy.
Relieving McCormick in the seventh, Clancy allowed back-to-back one-out singles up the middle to Bosiokovic and sophomore catcher Aaron Gretz doing the same. A Cypret walk loaded the bases before Solomon put the Bucks in front as he too drew a walk.
Sophomores Ryan Riga and Trace Dempsey combined to pitch a scoreless eighth. Ohio State received insurance when Gretz produce a two-run single to center in Ohio State's last at-bat. St. John's threatened in the ninth, loading the bases off Dempsey, but the second-year reliever buckled down, allowing just one run while striking-out-looking two batters to seal the win.
In a nutshell
Game 1 Box: Mercer 6, Ohio State 5 (10)
Game 2 Box: Notre Dame 13, Ohio State 3
Game 3 Box: Ohio State 3, St. John's 1
Pitching: Sr. RHP Brad Goldberg 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K
Offensively: So. OF Pat Porter, 4-for-10, .400; HR, 4 R, 2 RBI
Though the Buckeyes went 1-2 on the weekend, there were good things displayed on the field.
A pair of sophomores that are going to be vital to Ohio State's success, Gretz and Porter had strong weekends, batting .375 and .400 respectively. Porter had a home run against Notre Dame, scored four runs over the weekend while Gretz was big in the win against St. Johns.
Goldberg's long-awaited debut was everything Ohio State could have dreamed of. Over two and one-half year of practice, Goldberg has shown stuff that would make him a top Big Ten pitcher. That stuff carried over into Sunday's game.
Dempsey, David Fathalikhani, Tyler Giannonatti and Riga performed well, showing Ohio State has a good bullpen, even in the absence of Dezse and Greve.
8.03 K/9 is a good start for a club that finished ninth in Big Ten play in strikeouts.
Though the bat isn't there, which was expected, Nennig defense was superb throughout. He and Pellant will give Ohio State one of the best SS-3B defensive duos in the Big Ten.
But there was more bad to take away than good in the losing weekend.
Notre Dame's .400 average off Ohio State's No. 2.
As too was Ohio State's .232 over the weekend's 112 at-bats.
But Ohio State's .105 clip between seniors Cypret, Hallberg, Pellant and freshman Nennig, the expected infielders for 2012 is especially tough.
While the freshman class has potential, Nennig, Bosiokovic and a pair of at-bats between Jacob Brobst and Troy Kuhn produced a .111 average, Bosiokovic's two singles were the only knocks in 18 at-bats. Right-handed pitcher Jake Post too got off to an inauspicious start, allowing seven runs, four earned, off four hits and three walks in 1.1 innings.
Notre Dame had a field day on the bases stealing five bags in six attempts, going 4-for-4 off King.
4.17 BB/9 won't get it done.