Ohio State baseball: Bullpen bullies way to 4-1 spring break

Senior captain Brett McKinney allowed one run over seven inning in two weekend outings - Chris Webb

Ohio State relievers collected three wins, combined to pitch 13.1 innings without allowing an earned run during spring break in South Carolina.

The Buckeyes cruised through South Carolina with a 4-1 record during their spring break trip. Now 10-5, Ohio State's strong showing in Myrtle Beach and Charleston was propelled by outstanding pitching and timely hitting.

"Our guys learned how to win and developed a belief that they will win on this trip," Ohio State head coach Greg Beals said. "We came back to win some games and won some games that were tied late. Our bullpen is beginning to establish themselves, especially after 5.2 scoreless today and we’re playing well as a team. We’re excited to get back home to Bill Davis Stadium Friday."

Beginning to establish themselves may be an understatement. The Ohio State bullpen tossed 13.1 innings in the five games allowing just one unearned run, receiving three decisions, all wins.

In their five days in five games, the Buckeyes showed good pitching, good defense, timely hitting and strong baserunning, looking to peak at the right time as Big Ten play is a week away.

Game 11 vs. Harvard 11-0, W

Junior right-handed pitcher Jaron Long pitched an efficient 87-pitch complete game. Allowing three hits, striking out three against one walk, the 2012 All-Big Ten First-team selection had no trouble with the Crimson.

As good as Long was, it wasn't the day's top performance by a Buckeye.

Outshining Long was freshman third baseman Jacob Bosiokovic. On his way to receiving Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, Bosiokovic went 4-for-5, collecting his first two career home runs during a 6-RBI day.

Game 12 vs. Ball State 5-3, W

Again Bosiokovic's performance would be the headliner as the Buckeyes took on Ball State Saturday, but instead of en route to an easy victory, Ohio State had to comeback to add a tally to the win column.

Senior right-handed pitcher Brad Goldberg was less than his usual self, allowing three runs, two earned, off eight hits in 5.2 innings, with two walks and four strikeouts, but the Ohio State bullpen rose to the occasion. Seniors David Fathalikhani and Brett McKinney joined sophomore Trace Dempsey in holding the Cardinals to two hits over the final 3.1 innings.

Against their former coach, the Cardinals carried a 3-1 lead into the eighth, but a two-out three-run home run from Bosiokovic gave Ohio State to a 5-3 lead, the games final score.

Game 13 at Coastal Carolina, 3-1, L

After taking on the two northern opponents in the neutral setting, Ohio State tangled with host Coastal Carolina.

As was the case the week before against host Stetson in the BrightHouse Invitational, Ohio State could get little offensive traction, squandering a strong pitching performance in a road contest.

Senior left-handed pitcher Brian King pitched into the eighth, allowing three runs while scattering eight hits, walking one with two strikeouts in 7.2 innings of work. Ohio State manged just six hits in the contest. Junior outfielder Pat Porter the lone Buckeye with a multi-hit day, collecting a pair of doubles in three at-bats.

Game 14 at Coastal Carolina, 3-2, W

In a rematch against the Chanticleers, Ohio State's offense wasn't considerably better, mustering an 8 hit performance with a Bosiokovic double serving as the lone extra-base hit, but when the hits came were timely. Senior Ryan Cypret and Porter each collected a two-out RBI-single.

The two runs would be enough in support of the Buckeye pitching staff. McKinney received the start as Ohio State needed a fourth arm, and the senior shined. Coastal Carolina could only muster one run off four hits as McKinney struck out five against one walk in five innings. Sophomore southpaw Ryan Riga pitched three innings of one-hit baseball, yielding just one unearned run before classmate Dempsey pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to secure the win.

Game 15 at Charleston Southern, 6-3, W

The Buckeyes would even their road record at 2-2, ending their spring break with a win over Charleston Southern. Charleston Southern struck Ohio State freshman Jacob Post for three runs in 3.1 innings. The right-handed allowed six hits while striking out four batters. Entering with the game tied 3-3, the Buckeye bullpen again showed their mite, keeping Charleston Southern off the scoreboard the rest of the game.

With an RBI-singles from Bosiokovic and senior catcher Greg Solomon, Ohio State broke through for a pair of runs in the eighth. Bosiokovic was able to deliver the game-winning hit as junior Tyler Giannonatti, 2.2 innings, and Greg Greve, 2, kept the hosts off the board. After junior Tim Wetzel's solo home run in the ninth, Dempsey recorded his third save of the weekend by striking out the side in the bottom of the inning.

Heading into their final pre-conference weekend, the Buckeyes have passed the quarter-point of the season. With four weeks of results, a clearer picture is forming of what to expect from Ohio State in Big Ten play.

What's working

Pitching. There isn't any other way to put it, the Ohio State success has been due to outstanding pitching. Ohio State boasts the Big Ten's second-best ERA, 2.62, and WHIP, 1.18, Ohio State leads conference teams in strikeouts, 117, fewest walks-per-inning innings, 2.88, the most K/9, 7.66, and strikeout-to-walk ratio, 2.65. The bullpen is riding a 21.1-inning streak without allowing an earned run. Pitching coach Mike Stafford has a depth, experienced pitching staff, one that can be mix-and-match against any opponent.

Aggressiveness. Ohio State is second in the Big Ten in both stolen bases, 35, and attempts, 44. In the NCAA's last statistic release, the Buckeyes were 10th in the nation in stolen bases per game through Sunday with 2.54.

The small-ball theme continues as Ohio State's defense looks to be in its best form. Currently carrying a .966 fielding percentage, fifth in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes have committed four errors over their last six games after committing 16 through its first nine.

What's wrong

After leading the club in two-baggers last season, senior Brad Hallberg is tied for the team lead with five doubles. What is not the same, after leading the team with a .311 average, Hallberg carries an .180 average, the five doubles are more than half of his nine through 50 at-bats. A first baseman provides little defensive value, to make up for that, good clubs see their first baseman joins the designated hitter as big bats in the lineup. Hallberg's .280 slugging percentage is far from what is needed from a player that has batted third 11 times, below fifth just once.

Lack of production from the the three-hole hitter is only magnified as Ohio State is struggling to receive the needed performance from their leadoff hitter. A leadoff batter has the most opportunities to get on base, and for Ohio State their leadoff batter has been among the worst in doing so. Senior shortstop Kirby Pellant, Ohio State's leadoff batter in seven games, has a .313 on-base percentage, Wetzel, deployed as Ohio State's leadoff batter in the remaining eight contests, has a .308 on-base percentage. Those respectively rank seventh and eighth on the team.

Between the top of the order guys making the most outs on the team and the power bats not bring much punch, it should not be a surprise Ohio State struggles to score runs against quality pitching.

What's next

The Buckeyes open the home season with three games this weekend against Bryant. Friday's first pitch is set for 5:05 PM. Matinee game times for Saturday and Sunday's action from Nick Swisher Field at Bill Davis Stadium are scheduled 3:05 and 1:05.

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