After six weeks of practice, the Ohio State baseball team wrapped up its fall ball schedule on Saturday with the conclusion of the annual Scarlet and Gray Series. With 23 letterwinners returning from last season's ballclub, the Buckeyes are are expecting to compete at a higher level in 2015.
"Being in the middle of the pack is not Ohio State baseball," head coach Greg Beals said. "We want to do better than that and we will do better than that."
This season's team will be the first that is really all Beals' recruits, as he enters his fifth year at the helm of the program. Last year, a number of freshmen and sophomores showed flashes and gained significant experience, and will be counted on to carry a lot of the load, both at the plate and on the mound. A handful of incoming freshmen also turned heads this fall.
The Scarlet and Gray Series got underway last Saturday in a matchup of two of the best young arms to come through Columbus in a while, as sophomores Tanner Tully (Gray) and Travis Lakins (Scarlet) toed the rubber. Tully was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year a season ago, and Lakins has the kind of live arm that already has pro scouts' attention.
Gray took to the opener 3-2 thanks to a walk-off RBI double by freshman Jordan McDonough. The Cincinnati St. Xavier product pulled a pitch by senior closer Trace Dempsey off the left field wall to bring around junior Nick Sergakis, capping a 2-for-4 day at the plate. Redshirt freshman Kyle Michalik got the win in relief of Tully, who allowed two runs on two hits while striking out four in six innings of work.
The elation for the Gray squad would be short-lived, however, as Scarlet reeled off three victories in a row, beginning with a 1-0 victory behind a complete game on Sunday from freshman right-hander Jacob Niggemeyer. A two-out RBI single in the top of the second by junior Troy Kuhn was all the support the 6'4" Niggemeyer would need, as he allowed just two hits in his seven innings on the hill, striking out three and walking one.
Scarlet exploded offensively in Game 3 on Friday, jumping out to a 6-0 lead in the first inning on Tully, en route to an 11-1 victory. Freshman Nate Romans was 2-for-4 with a homer, three runs driven in, and two runs scored to lead a Scarlet charge that saw six players have multi-hit games. Lakins fanned nine while allowing just one run in four innings of work, and redshirt sophomore Shea Murray tossed three innings of shutout ball in relief.
The series was clinched on Saturday, as Scarlet rolled to a 5-1 win behind six more scoreless innings from Niggemeyer. The former Olentangy Liberty standout allowed just five hits while fanning five in 13 shutout innings, posting a 2-0 record. Romans had another strong performance, going 2-for-3, driving in two, and scoring a run. The Walsh Jesuit product finished the series leading both squads with five RBIs.
Kuhn continued the success he experienced at the plate during his breakout sophomore season, going 7-for-13 (.538), with an RBI and five runs scored in the four games.
Ohio State now awaits the kickoff of its season at the Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte, Florida on February 13th. The Buckeyes will take on George Mason in the opener, followed by Saint Louis University and Pittsburgh at the annual tournament.
After a 30-28 record and 7th place finish in the Big Ten a season ago, expectations for a big turnaround are high for the Baseball Bucks in 2015.
"The guys have got a little chip on their shoulder," Beals said. "We're really getting ready to go this year and prove where we belong. I think we have all of the pieces necessary to play for a championship."