Adversity is as much a part of baseball as the dirt of the infield and the chalk of the foul lines. The best hitters fail seven out of ten times, ace pitchers give up long balls, and slick fielders let ground balls slip through their legs. The surest sign of excellence on the diamond, though, is in how players and teams respond to that adversity. For the Ohio State baseball team, we're about to find out.
The Buckeyes dropped three this past weekend in Lincoln to the Huskers, the second straight time the team has been swept in Big Ten play. It took some late-inning heroics by Nebraska, but Ohio State now sits at 2-7 in conference play, and 18-13 for the season. A combination of struggles at the plate, on the mound, and in the field have contributed to the slide, and how the team responds will determine if its postseason hopes can still be attained.
The news is not all bad for Greg Beals' squad, even after seeing late leads slip away in all three games. Ohio State's starters combined to throw 22 innings, allowing just two earned runs, and had the team in position to win. The Huskers weekend rotation just happened to be a little hotter on the mound, throwing three complete games, allowing two earned runs, and holding the Buckeyes to a .211 batting average for the series.
Ohio State will be back on the field for conference play this weekend in Columbus, welcoming Penn State to Bill Davis Stadium. Before the team has a chance to get back on track in the Big Ten, though, they have two midweek home games to start working out the kinks, with Eastern Michigan and Dayton visiting.
Here's a preview of the Eagles and Flyers.
Tuesday, April 8th, 6:35 p.m.
Eastern Michigan University
Eastern Michigan fell victim to a sweep in late-inning fashion last weekend themselves. After dropping a doubleheader to Ball State on Saturday, the Eagles rallied from five runs down only to take a loss on a run-scoring double in the bottom of the ninth in Muncie, Indiana. The weekend dropped EMU to 1-8 in the MAC, and 10-18 overall, and the team will arrive in Columbus losers of five straight.
Sixth-year Head Coach Jay Alexander is trying to turn things around in Ypsilanti after missing out on the MAC tournament a season ago and being picked to finish fifth in the conference's West Division. Last year's collapse came after a 37-22 campaign in 2011, the school's most victories since 1982.
Ohio State's pitching staff will notice a familiar name on the Eagles' roster, as first baseman Lee Longo drives the offensive attack. The senior from Mayfield, Ohio is the older brother of Ohio University's Mitch Longo, who went 1-5 with an RBI against the Buckeyes a week ago. The elder Longo, an All-MAC First -Team selection a season ago, is having a monster season at the dish, leading the team in batting average (.371), doubles (12), and RBIs (26), while also scoring 22 runs, hitting a home run, and slugging at a .514 clip.
EMU's bats have not been the team's problem this season. The Eagles are scoring nearly six runs a game and have amassed 71 extra-base hits. In addition to Longo, four other regulars are hitting above .300. Second baseman Nick Rotola is second on the team in hitting at .329, adding three doubles and two triples. The heart of the order surrounding Longo is also raking this spring, as Sam Ott, John Rubino, and Mitchell McGeein are all having impressive seasons at the plate.
Ott, a redshirt senior, led the team in batting average (.327), slugging percentage (.469), runs (47), hits (69), and RBIs (44) a season ago. The right fielder is hitting .308, with seven doubles, two triples, and 22 driven in. Junior shortstop Rubino has similar numbers, batting .304, with six doubles, a triple, and 22 RBIs. McGeein, a sophomore who was second on the team in home runs as a freshman, has seen a big spike in production in year two. The third baseman has a .308 average, five doubles, and 19 RBIs to go along with a team-high four home runs and .526 slugging percentage.
While the Eagles' bats have been strong this season, the team's achilles heel has been the pitching staff. EMU's hurlers have a collective 5.43 ERA, a 1.72 WHIP, and allow opposing hitters a .305 average. Seven of the team's 18 losses have been by two runs or less, and the staff's inability to keep opponents in check has been a big reason.
On the bump for Alexander in Columbus will be freshman Sam Delaplane. The righty will be making his second career start, and has no decisions in eight appearances this season, with a 9.26 ERA. The opposition is hitting a robust .392 off Delaplane, and he allows 2.66 walks and hits per inning.
The bullpen has been a real point of inconsistency in Ypsilanti. The team's top three returning relievers are having seasons that could not be more disparate, and a junior college transfer has struggled to make the transition as well. Kristian Calibuso was expected to be the stopper in the Eagles' pen after a strong season a year ago, but in nine appearances spanning 8.1 innings, the redshirt senior has been ripped, sporting a team-high 14.55 ERA, allowing opponents to hit at a .303 rate, passing out more walks than strikeouts, and sporting a WHIP of nearly 3.0. Similarly, big things were hoped for from Devon Bronson after a solid freshman season in 2013. The southpaw is 1-2 with a 7.05 ERA in 11 appearances out of the pen, yielding six earned runs in 7.2 innings of work.
Junior college transfer Charlie Land, whose former Mesa Community College teammate Jake Andrews is a member of the Eagles' weekend rotation, set school records in saves before arriving at EMU, but has had a tough go of things. The righty is 0-5 in 11 appearances, registering three saves, while allowing the opposition a gaudy .362 average and seeing his ERA balloon to 7.41.
The one bright spot for Eastern Michigan in the bullpen has been the work of Ben Dartnell. The junior lefty has appeared in seven games, eating up 14.1 innings, posting a 1-0 record and a 1.88 ERA.
Wednesday, April 9th, 6:35 p.m.
University of Dayton
Ohio State fans of a certain other sport have already had their fill of Dayton this season, and the prospect of revenge on the diamond is as close as most will get to catharsis. Head Coach Tony Vittorio is in his 15th season at the helm for the Flyers, who currently sit at 12-17 on the year, though they are 5-4 in Atlantic-10 play after being picked to finish 10th in the preseason.
Dayton has experienced much the same story this season as Eastern Michigan, with offensive production being squandered by the pitching staff. The Flyers, hitting .264 as a team, average over 5.5 runs a game and have mashed 75 extra-base hits, including 14 home runs. For comparison's sake, the Buckeyes have 64 extra-base hits, nine of them homers, and have already played two more games.
First baseman A.J. Ryan is one of four UD regulars hitting over .300, and is having a strong season after an off-year as a sophomore. A former A-10 All-Rookie Team member, the junior is hitting .417, though he has only had 60 at-bats, with seven doubles, two home runs, and team-leading marks with 21 RBIs and a .633 slugging percentage. Ryan was named the A-10's Player of the Week on Monday, after batting .563 with nine hits, three doubles, and seven RBI in four games last week.
Senior third baseman Robby Sunderman is putting together a breakout campaign in his final season with the Flyers. The leadoff man is batting .377, leading the team with 43 hits, 28 runs scored, 10 doubles, and 11 stolen bases, while also driving in 15.
Redshirt junior Alex Harris and sophomore Aaron Huesman are also providing pop in the lineup. Harris, the center fielder, is batting .326, and is second on the team in hits, runs scored, and doubles, while Huesman, who has mostly seen time at designated hitter, has a .309 average with two home runs and 18 driven in. The Flyers' corner outfielders, Ryan Berry and Mark Podlas, have struggled at the plate, hitting .225 and .197 respectively, but are the team's top two home run hitters, hammering nine between them.
Offensive firepower has not been enough for Dayton to overcome struggles on the bump, though. The team allows the opposition to hit .308, and has a 6.76 ERA and 1.73 WHIP. Not one hurler with more than one inning pitched has an ERA better than 3.97, and the staff has yielded 99 extra-base hits in 29 games, nearly 3.5 per game, including 23 home runs.
Taking the ball for Vittorio on Wednesday will be Nick Gobert. The freshman has appeared five times, including two starts, and sports a 1-1 record with an 11.57 ERA and 2.21 WHIP. Opponents are hitting .365 against Gobert in his 14 innings of work, including eight extra-base hits.
Ohio State, in dire need of getting their bats going, couldn't ask for better matchups in the midweek than Eastern Michigan and Dayton. While both teams struggle to contain opposing hitters, though, their lineups are filled with hot bats. After a rough weekend in Lincoln, the Buckeyes' bullpen will need to rebound and back up what has been a very solid starting staff. Staring up from 10th place in the conference, the team needs to decide how it will handle adversity as the second half of the season kicks into high gear. With just 15 Big Ten games remaining, and 25 overall, Ohio State must dig in and fight if it wants to avoid an off-season of disappointment.