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Ohio State baseball: Buckeyes host Michigan State in B1G series

After a sweep of Purdue opened conference play, Ohio State (15-6, 30) welcomes Michigan State (13-7, 0-3) in a series that could potentially serve as the deciding factor in a Big Ten championship, as well as a resume-enhancer when bids to the NCAA Tournament are passed out.

Ohio State will be tested Saturday against top prospect David Garner
Ohio State will be tested Saturday against top prospect David Garner
Chris Webb

The last time Michigan State and Ohio State met, the Spartans eliminated Ohio State from the Big Ten Tournament with a 6-2 win. While the Ohio State campaign ended without a trip to an NCAA regional for the third consecutive season, the Spartans earned an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament, participants of the Palo Alto Regional, the program's first tournament appearance since 1979.

In the third season under the guidance of Greg Beals, the Ohio State rebuilding effort is seeing fruition. At 15-6, Ohio State received votes in this week's National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll following a weekend sweep at reigning Big Ten champion Purdue. To cement the return of Ohio State baseball, to get where the program wants, their path would ideally follow the efforts of Michigan State head coach Jake Boss.

In his third year, Boss guided the Spartans to a Big Ten Championship. Following that with an NCAA Tournament appearance, Boss has the Spartans once again fielding a quality team, one that will be in the hunt for another Big Ten title and NCAA Tournament berth.

As the two clubs take to Nick Swisher Field at Bill Davis Stadium this weekend, though the calendar has yet to turn the April, the three-game set figures to be one of the best the Big Ten sees this season.

Scouting Michigan State

In itself, Michigan State's win-loss record is not overly impressive. But the 13-7 ledger has been compiled while taking to the road against two RPI top-35 clubs, Austin Peay and Kentucky. With a strong strength of schedule, Michigan State begins Big Ten play with an RPI of 37, one that would assure an at-large selection to the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan State's recipe in the program resurgence has been pitching and defense

Michigan State's recipe in the program resurgence has been pitching and defense. The 2013 Spartan outfit is no different. Though their 3.19 ERA is sixth in the Big Ten, Michigan State lead the Big Ten in opponent's batting average, which saw them rank sixth in the nation at 6.79 in hits allowed per nine innings in the NCAA March 24 statistic release. Michigan State's ability to limit baserunners is captured by their 1.10 WHIP, the nation's 13th best clip.

Leading the Michigan State charge on the mound is a diverse trio of starting pitchers. Friday starter, senior right-handed pitcher Andrew Waszak is a seasoned vet with 254.2 career innings. Not an overpowering pitcher, Waszak is a strike-thrower. The Michigan State captain is 3-1 on the season with a 1.56 ERA, .194 BAA in 40.1 IP.

Taking the hill as MSU's No. 2 is junior right-handed pitcher David Garner (4-0, 3.03, 38.2). One of the Big Ten's most electric pitchers, Garner possess arguably the Big Ten's best single pitch in his slider. Garner is a top draft prospect, one that is creeping into the top-100 range thanks to his devastating slider and a fastball he can run up to 94 MPH.

Michigan State's rotation is anchored by sophomore right-handed pitcher Mick VanVossen. A physical pitcher, VanVossen is the most imposing of the three Green and White arms. The 6'3, 195 second-year pitcher is 2-1 on the season with a 3.34 ERA, holding opponents to a .210 average thanks to a good fastball-changeup combo.

The Spartan bats take a backseat to their pitching, but they are not walkovers. Entering the weekend with a collective .274 average, Michigan State has a mix up contact and speed atop their lineup and big bats and thump in the middle.

Jordan Keur leads the team with a .338 average, and not far behind is Cam Gibson, the son of Diamondbacks manager Kirk

Senior outfielder Jordan Keur leads the team with a .338 average and eight stolen bases, and not far behind is freshman outfield Cam Gibson, the son of former Spartan and Dodger now Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson, with a .324 average, .879 OPS and six stolen bases. Sophomore outfielder Anthony Cheky checks in with a .290 average and nine stolen bases.

Behind the table setters Michigan State's heart-or-the-order is led by senior catcher Joel Fisher (.300/.400/.517) sophomore catcher/first baseman/DH Blaise Salter (.325/.373/.429) and sophomore first baseman Ryan Krill (.284/.333/.378).

Michigan State possesses the Big Ten's second-best fielding club with a .975 fielding percentage. The Spartans are best in the conference in stifling the opposition's running game, holding a .500 stolen base allowed percentage, gunning out seven runners in 14 attempts.

How Ohio State will win

As good as Michigan State pitching has been, Ohio State's effort has been just as good, if not better. Topping the WHIP of the Spartans is that of the Buckeyes at 1.09, 11th in the nation. Ohio State nearly equals Michigan State's BAA with a .220 clip of their own and OSU's 2.35 ERA registered 10th in the country. Starters Jaron Long, Brad Goldberg and Brian King each have ERAs under 2.50 and come off a weekend in which they combined to pitch 21 innings, allow only ten hits and two runs.

Ohio State is aggressive on the bases, 51 attempts and 39 steals are both third best in the Big Ten. As mentioned Michigan State is good as shutting down that aspect of the opponent's game.

Where the series will be decided is at the plate.

Ohio State has a lineup that consists of four seniors, sometimes five, that are all having strong seasons. Senior shortstop Kirby Pellant and classmate center fielder Joe Ciamacco pace the club with respective averages of .372 and .356, speed-based players, combining for 14 steals, that know how to get on bases, exact .449 on-base percentages, and can stretch a double into a triple.

The middle of Ohio State's order, senior second baseman Ryan Cypret, sophomore outfielder Pat Porter and sophomore catcher Aaron Gretz have combined for 13 doubles, four triples, three home runs and 45 runs scored as Ohio State posts the Big Ten's second-best slugging percentage at .391.

Beals says the developing an identity on the offensive side of the ball as to how they’re going to hit and score runs. They will need to be patient against a team that does not beat

Michigan State has yet to find a groove offensively. Salter, Krill and classmate Jimmy Pickens (.266/.326/.392) are capable of more than they have shown for the Big Ten's sixth-best hitting club. Boss is without senior third baseman/second baseman John Martinez, an expected big bat in the lineup, after the fifth-year player suffered a torn ACL trying to execute a double play from a wipeout slide in a game against Kentucky.

What happens

It took seven weeks but finally it will feel like spring in Central Ohio. If headed to Bill Davis Stadium to take in the series under blue skies and mid-50-degree weather, get there at first pitch; Friday 7:05, Saturday 3:05, Sunday, 1:05.

Expect three fast games that are dominated by pitching, clean defense and good execution. The clubs are two of the best in the Midwest and none of the games will be a walk in the battle of RPI top-55 clubs. The home field advantage should see the Buckeyes take two of three and don't be surprised if each game comes to the final at-bat.