Well, so much for momentum. The Ohio State baseball team, winners of eight of nine entering the weekend, found themselves on the losing end of a three-game sweep at the hands of Indiana in a critical series this past weekend in Columbus. The disappointing performance, which saw the team outscored 21-7, dropped the Buckeyes to 2-4 in Big Ten play, and 16-10 for the season.
Head Coach Greg Beals' squad will have little time to lick their wounds, though, as midweek games against Ohio and Toledo come up before another big conference series on the road at Nebraska.
"When you face adversity, your character becomes defined, and we'll find out what we're all about in the next week," Beals said after the second game of Sunday's doubleheader with the Hoosiers.
Stellar starting pitching from Indiana's Joey DeNato and Christan Morris, and a bullpen that allowed just one earned run in 8.1 innings over the three games, silenced the Buckeyes' bats to the tune of nineteen hits all series. The Hoosiers also got big contributions from the bats of All-American catcher Kyle Schwarber, first baseman Sam Travis, and designated hitter Scott Donley, more than doubling up Ohio State's hit total with 42, as all three of the Buckeyes' weekend starters gave up at least five earned runs.
With a trip to Lincoln on the horizon to face a tough Huskers team, Ohio State needs to bounce back in a big way as they conclude a fourteen-game homestand against the Bobcats and Rockets. The team needs to put the Indiana series in the rearview and turn the calendar page to April by getting back to the brand of baseball they had been playing the previous two weeks.
Here's a preview of Ohio and Toledo.
Tuesday, April 1st, 6:35 p.m.
The Bobcats are a program in transition, and it shows in their record. The team will be happy to see April arrive, as a 5-19 season thus far included just two wins in the month of March. Second year Head Coach Rob Smith is coming off a 14-39 record in his first campaign in Athens, and entered the season picked to finish last in the Mid-American Conference's east division. Ohio's rough start has not been helped by Mother Nature, either, as the team has already had nine games cancelled or postponed.
The Bobcats struggles have been equal parts bats and arms. The team is scoring just over four runs per game, hitting .262, slugging a paltry .320, and tallying a meager 34 extra-base hits. There is a big bright spot at the plate for Smith, though, as prized recruit Mitch Longo has been as good as advertised. Longo, the fourth-ranked position player and 13th overall in the state of Ohio a year ago according to PrepBaseballReport.com, has been tearing the cover off the ball in his first collegiate season. The center fielder from Mayfield, Ohio is leading the team in virtually every offensive category, including batting average (.438), hits (39), runs scored (11), doubles (7), home runs (2), RBIs (13), on base percentage (.495), slugging percentage (.607), and even stolen bases (5). Several of those totals put the freshman at or near the top of the entire MAC conference.
Beyond Longo, there are four other regulars who have been providing punch for the Bobcats. First baseman Jake Madsen is second on the team in a number of categories, including batting average (.299), hits (29), and runs scored (10). The junior led the team with a .326 average and 37 RBIs a season ago while starting all 53 games. Ohio's corner outfielders are also contributing, with Tyler Wells and Scott White having very similar starts to their seasons. Wells, a 6'7" junior, is hitting .297 with a pair of doubles and four runs driven in, while the senior White has posted a .291 average with five doubles and seven driven plateward. Third baseman John Adryan is also showing improvement over his freshman campaign, hitting .271 with a home run and eight RBIs.
The tough times that Ohio has experienced on the mound can largely be explained as growing pains, as three freshman and two sophomores have handled the brunt of the workload in the starting rotation. The young quintet is a combined 4-15 on the season. Starting Tuesday's game in Columbus will be Jake Miller, who is 0-3 with an 11.57 ERA in four starts. Opposing hitters are getting after the sophomore from Westerville, Ohio at a .333 clip, and the righty's WHIP is 2.36.
As a result of the starters' struggles, the Bobcats' bullpen has gotten plenty of work. Four relievers have made at least eleven appearances through the team's first 24 games, and only two have an ERA under 8.10. As a staff, Ohio has a 6.28 ERA with a 1.76 WHIP, allowing opposing hitters a .296 batting average. Bottom line, the staff gives up runs, and with the bats not producing, the Bobcats have gotten roughed up through the first third of the season.
Wednesday, April 2nd, 6:35 p.m.
University of Toledo
Toledo is similar to the Bobcats in that they are receiving contributions from a number of players in the early stages of their college careers. Though 11th-year Head Coach Corey Mee hasn't had to rely as heavily on inexperienced players as Ohio, the top two hitters and two-thirds of the weekend rotation for the Rockets are made up of freshmen and sophomores. At 9-14, Toledo has been a bit of a disappointment through the first month and a half of the season after having been picked to finish third in the MAC's west division in the preseason.
If Ohio is roaming the desert in regards to scoring runs, Toledo is dying of thirst. The Rockets are hitting a woeful .234 as a team, scoring just over three and a half runs per game, and slugging a meager .287, with 28 extra-base hits through the first third of the season. A pair of sophomores are the only players on the team hitting above .250, and the team is striking out nearly twice as much as it is walking.
Shortstop Deion Tansel is having a banner season. The 5'8" sophomore is raking at a .393 clip, with a team-leading 35 hits and .438 slugging percentage, while also being second on the team with 10 RBIs and 13 runs scored. Fellow second year man Tyler Barr is also showing growth at the plate. The first baseman is hitting .275 with a home run and nine driven in. Also providing some pop for the Rockets is redshirt sophomore Dan Zuchowski. The third baseman is only batting .222, but leads the team with two home runs, four doubles, and 13 RBIs, after missing all of 2013 with an arm injury.
Toledo's pitching has been middle-of-the-road for much of the season, though the offense's lack of run support has intensified the pressure the rotation is facing. As a team, the Rockets have a 4.11 ERA and a respectable WHIP of 1.49. Senior Ryan Wilkinson, a preseason All-MAC selection, has been solid leading the weekend rotation. Despite a 1-3 record, the southpaw is sporting a 2.62 ERA and two complete games, limiting the opposition to a .267 batting average.
On the bump for the Rockets against the Buckeyes will be likely be Cameron Palmer. The senior righty has had his struggles this season, posting a 1-2 record with a 5.93 ERA. Opponents are hitting .291 against him, averaging 1.90 walks and hits per inning.
Toledo's bullpen has gotten plenty of work as well, with four relievers having at least eight appearances. Andrew Marra and Steven Calhoun, in particular, have both been getting the job done. Marra, a junior righty, has allowed only one earned run in 12.1 innings of work covering nine appearances, good for a 0.73 ERA and a 1-0 record out of the pen. Equally impressive thus far, Calhoun has allowed three earned runs in 22 innings. The 6'7" freshman southpaw is 1-0 with a 1.23 ERA, holding opponents to a .160 average and punching out 27.
As April gets underway, the midweek contests and conference schedule intensify for Ohio State. There is a lot of season left, and if the Buckeyes want to make a postseason push, the team will need to show more than they did last weekend against Indiana. Wins against the reeling in-state Bobcats and Rockets could help rebuild the momentum stolen by the Hoosiers, and put the Buckeye nine back on track as they venture to Lincoln for another big weekend.