The 131st season of Ohio State baseball kicked off in Port Charlotte, Florida, as the Buckeyes played four games as participants in the annual Snowbird Classic. Ohio State made it through last year's tournament unscathed, but tougher competition this time around has given the Buckeyes room for improvement.
In the season opener, Ohio State faced defending-Big East Champion Connecticut, which seemed like the tallest task coming in. The Buckeyes lucked out, however, as they did not have to face American Athletic Conference Preseason Pitcher of the Year, right-hander Carson Cross, as the redshirt junior is out for the season after having shoulder surgery.
Filling in the void left by Cross was redshirt junior Jordan Tabakman, who stepped out of the bullpen after leading the team in saves a season ago. Tabakman was given a solid lead before he even stepped on the mound, as the Huskies tacked on a pair of runs off of Ohio State's Greg Greve in the top of the first inning. UConn's cleanup hitter, Bobby Melley, hit his first career homerun to cap the Huskies' scoring for the night.
Greve settled down, however, allowing only two baserunners over the course of the next five innings. While the senior from Cleveland was on his way to recording six strikeouts, the Buckeyes finally got on the board in the bottom of the third, taking a lead they would not relinquish.
After loading the bases, with only one out, third baseman Jacob Bosiokovic cleared them with a grand slam over the center field wall. The homerun, which flew over the 414-foot mark on the outfield wall, gave the Buckeyes a 4-2 lead.
In the bottom of the fifth, Ohio State threatened to blow the game open when they loaded the bases on Tabakman, again. However, the Huskies escaped the jam as Tabakman forced first baseman Zach Radcliff to ground out to third, ending the inning.
While Greve was on his way to sitting down 11-consecutive batters, the Buckeyes tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the sixth. Centerfielder Troy Montgomery led off the inning with a double off the left-center wall, eventually moving to third on catcher Aaron Gretz's groundout. Shortstop Craig Nenning followed that with a base hit to left, pushing the lead to 5-2. After 5 1/3 innings, Tabakman was relieved by Andrew Zapata, who gave up a quick RBI single to left by second baseman Troy Kuhn.
Freshman reliever Travis Lakins came on in relief of Greve in the top of the seventh inning with the Buckeyes in control, 6-2. As previously noted, Greve was excellent after the first inning, allowing only two runs on five hits, while also striking out six batters. The Walsh Jesuit product seemed to place a firm grip on the weekend-opening starting position with this fine outing.
The Buckeyes added two more insurance runs, extending the lead to 8-2 in the bottom of the eight inning. Left fielder Tim Wetzel chipped-in an RBI double, before scoring from third on a passed ball.
With the game well in hand, Lakins came back out for the ninth inning. Tossing his third-consecutive scoreless frame, the freshman from Franklin earned his first career save.
The second day of the tournament brought on Ohio State's first doubleheader of the season, and in the first of the two games, the Buckeyes faced the Auburn Tigers. With new head coach Sunny Galloway at the helm, the Tigers are looking to improve upon last season's subpar record and end their three-year NCAA drought. Galloway is seemingly the right man to turn the program around, as he led Oklahoma to seven NCAA berths in his eight years on the job.
Having to replace all three weekend starters, like Galloway, Ohio State head coach Greg Beals has been dealt a tough hand. Ryan Riga, who often appeared in a relief role in 2013, was named the starter for this game and hardly disappointed. Through three innings, Riga did not allow a hit to the Tigers, but faced a jam in the top of the third. With a runner 90 feet away from home, Riga induced a soft liner to escape the inning.
Likewise, Auburn senior Michael O'Neal was having a stellar game through three. However in the fourth, the Buckeyes plated the only run of the game when designated hitter Josh Dezse's single brought home Bosiokovic from second.
Things continued to stay quiet through the sixth, when Riga faced another tough situation. With runners on first and second, Riga induced a pop fly to preserve the 1-0 lead. When the Tigers threatened, again, in the seventh inning, Beals pulled Riga in favor of Tyler Giannonatti, who masterfully escaped a bases loaded jam.
Unanimous All-Big Ten closer Trace Dempsey tossed a scoreless final two innings to earn his first save of the season, as the Buckeyes improved to 2-0 on the young season.
In the final game of the day, the Buckeyes squared off with Indiana State. Led by Mitch Hannahs, a former All-American second baseman for the Sycamores in the late-1990s, Indiana State had serious questions surrounding their entire team. Despite returning only four starting position players from a .500 team, the Sycamores gave the Buckeyes all they could handle and more.
Right off the bat, the Sycamores took advantage of freshman left-hander Zach Farmer. Making his first start in college, Farmer gave up a pair of singles, a double, and hit a batter to plate a pair of runs.
Trailing 2-0, the Buckeyes were unable to muster anything off of Indiana State starter Brad Lombard through three innings. A three-run bottom of fourth gave the Buckeyes the lead, as freshman right fielder Ronnie Dawson blasted a three-run shot over the right field fence.
The Sycamores bounced right back in the top of the next frame, chasing Farmer from the game after he walked and hit a batter. Adam Niemeyer relieved Farmer, but a sacrifice fly and a double down the right field line gave the Sycamores a 4-3 lead. Both runs were charged to Farmer.
Indiana State tacked on two more runs in the top of the sixth when Niemeyer hit a batter to lead off the inning, with back-to-back singles and a sacrifice bunt pushing the lead to three.
Ohio State put runners on the corners and threatened to close the gap in the bottom of the frame, but a Gretz flyout and strikeout by Nennig ended the threat. In the following inning, Indiana State tacked on an insurance run with an RBI single. The Buckeyes were unable to string together any hits against the Sycamores' relievers, falling 7-3 on Saturday night.
The Buckeyes had to rebound from their first loss, quickly, as the same two teams met for a rematch on Sunday. However, a back-and-forth game ended with the same result as the night before. Ohio State put itself in position to leave Charlotte Sports Park with a 3-1 record, but a late-inning meltdown proved to be too much.
For the second-consecutive day, the Sycamores took the lead in the top of the first when a two-out single plated a runner from second. Indiana State doubled that advantage in the top of the third when a single, an error, and a walk loaded the bases. An RBI groundout plated the man from third, extending the Sycamores' lead to 2-0.
The Sycamores tacked on another in the fourth, as another error by the Buckeyes allowed a running to reach scoring position before another two-out RBI single brought him across the plate.
Ohio State was able to get to Indiana State starter Trent Lunsford in the bottom of the fifth inning, when the Buckeyes put two runners on base. However, Lunsford was able to induce two ground balls to get out of the inning unscathed.
Indiana State continued to add on, extending the lead to 4-0 against Ohio State reliever Tanner Tully when a two-out RBI double plated a runner from second.
The Buckeyes finally got on the board when right fielder Pat Porter drew a leadoff walk, coming around to score on a bases loaded balk. With the bases loaded, an error brought home Dezse from third, and a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt brought home another. A perfectly executed double steal with runners on the corners tied the game, 4-4, as the teams headed to the seventh inning.
After a scoreless seventh inning, the Buckeyes took the lead when Nennig knocked a two-out double down the line, scoring Dawson from second, to give the Buckeyes a 5-4 lead. Wetzel followed that with a double of his own, scoring Nenning.
The Sycamore fought right back in the top of the ninth against Trace Dempsey, as a single and pair of hit batters loaded the bases. A sacrifice fly cut the lead down to one, before two singles gave Indiana State a 7-6 advantage. Another RBI single pushed the lead to 8-6 heading to the bottom of the ninth.
The Buckeyes were unable to recover from the blown save as they would succumb to the Sycamores for the second day in a row. The loss dropped Ohio State's season record to 2-2, with wins over UConn and Auburn.
Next weekend, the Buckeyes return to Florida for a round-robin tournament with host Central Florida, Oklahoma, and The Citadel. Last season, the Knights slumped below .500 after earning three-consecutive NCAA Tournament bids, while the Bulldogs fell just short of a SoCon Championship, and the Sooners won the Big XII Championship.