Ohio State baseball: Buckeyes play two midweek before opening Big Ten schedule

Ohio State Athletics

The baseball Bucks have two midweek tests against in-state opponents before opening Big Ten play this weekend

After falling short in their biggest matchups of the young season against nationally-ranked Oregon and Oregon State, the Ohio State baseball team returned to Columbus looking to get back on track in their first homestand. Luckily for the Buckeyes, it's been pretty easy for teams to look good against Siena College, as the Saints came into their three-game set at Bill Davis Stadium winless on the year. Ohio State took care of business, sweeping the series, and improving their mark to 11-6 on the season.

Of note from last week, right-hander Travis Lakins was honored by the Big Ten as Freshman of the Week on Monday. Lakins pitched 5.1 innings of scoreless relief in games against Siena and Oregon State, allowing just two hits and striking out six. This is the first time Ohio State has had a Freshman of the Week honoree in over a year, when Jacob Bosiokovic took the award.

Lakins also becomes the third weekly award winner for the Buckeyes this spring, joining junior Ryan Riga, who has twice been named Pitcher of the Week. This is a good sign for Greg Beals' squad, as the beginning of Big Ten play is right around the corner. Ohio State will take on Michigan State in a three-game series this weekend to get the conference schedule under way.

The series was scheduled to be played in East Lansing, but was moved to Columbus due to unplayable field conditions. Before the Buckeyes welcome the Spartans, though, they host a pair of midweek games against in-state schools, looking to add two more to the victory column against visiting Akron and Xavier. Ohio State will send sophomore Jake Post and freshman Adam Niemeyer  to the mound against the Zips and the Musketeers.

Post has pitched well this season, sporting a 2-1 record in four appearances, including two starts. The righty from Chesteron, Indiana has allowed just three earned runs in 15 innings, good for a 1.80 ERA, and has limited the opposition to a .228 batting average. Niemeyer will be on the bump to start for the first time in his young collegiate career. The 6'3" right-hander has made three appearances out of the bullpen, allowing three earned runs (3.24 ERA) in 8.1 innings, striking out nine while not issuing a walk.

Here's what to look for as the Buckeyes attempt to improve their record to 13-6:

Tuesday, May 18th 5:05 p.m.

University of Akron

The Zips come to Columbus with a 7-8 record, having lost two of three to Cincinnati over the weekend. Head Coach Rick Rembielak, in his third season at the helm, has a team that has scored exactly as many runs, 80, as it has given up in its first fifteen games. Akron is hitting .279 as a team, and has three players with multiple home runs to their credit in the early going. Rembielak's squad was picked to finish fifth out of six in the Mid-American Conference's East Division in the preseason, and tenth of twelve total.

Leading the Zips offense is centerfielder Devan Ahart. The redshirt junior is hitting .407, and leads the team with three home runs and fifteen runs scored. He is aso tied for second with nine RBIs. Also providing pop are freshman catcher Brian Lees (.341, four RBIs), senior first baseman Brady Stewart (.294, and a team-leading 10 RBIs), and junior rightfielder Joey Havrilak (.279, two home runs, nine RBIs).

Akron's weekend rotation is comprised of a trio of sophomores, none of which are slated to appear against the Buckeyes. On the bump on Tuesday will be junior Pat Dyer. The southpaw is 1-1 on the year, with a 6.75 ERA in three starts. Dyer has let up fourteen runs, ten earned, in 13.1 innings, striking out ten and walking six.

Wednesday, March 19th 5:05 p.m.

Xavier University

At 10-6, Xavier is off to its best start in 29 years, and is in the midst of playing five straight against MAC teams before their date with the Buckeyes. In their first season in the new Big East Conference, the Musketeers took three out of four from Miami (OH) and Toledo, and will be taking on Ohio University on Tuesday before traveling to Columbus. Head Coach Scott Googins, in his ninth year with Xavier, has gotten excellent starting pitching in the early going, as the Musketeers have a 3.13 team ERA, and has gotten pop from his lineup to the tune of over six runs per game.

Xavier is led by preseason All-Big East first team selection Joe Forney. The junior first baseman comes out of the weekend's series with Toledo hitting .293, with eight doubles and nine RBIs, after he hit .313 with 22 RBIs and 31 runs scored a season ago. Junior designated hitter Derek Hasenbeck (.303, two home runs, 10 RBIs), redshirt senior leftfielder Vinny Nittoli (.268, two home runs, eight RBIs), and redshirt freshman shortstop Andre Jernigan (.268, one home run, a team-leading 13 RBIs) have also swung the bats well.

Nittoli is also having a sterling season as part of the weekend rotation for the Musketeers, posting a 3-0 record, with a 0.38 ERA in four starts. The righty has struck out 18 versus just two walks in 24 innings pitched, but will not see the mound in Columbus. Taking the ball will be Trent Astle. The freshman southpaw is 1-0 with a 1.76 ERA in five appearances this season, including two starts, limiting the opposition to a .167 batting average.

Ohio State would like nothing more than to enter conference play on a five-game winning streak. With the opening Big Ten series against Michigan State looming this weekend, a couple of midweek contests against in-state opponents will provide a chance for the Buckeyes to get on a roll and build momentum towards their goal of an NCAA postseason berth.

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