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Ohio State baseball: Buckeyes set for Central Florida Tournament

The Buckeyes return to Florida, participants in the Central Florida Tournament held by the host Knights in Orlando. The field provides Ohio State with a measuring sitck, three opponents regularly in the NCAA Tournament field, and potential resume boosters.

Central Florida junior left-hander Eric Skoglund (1-0, 1.50) will pitch against Ohio State
Central Florida junior left-hander Eric Skoglund (1-0, 1.50) will pitch against Ohio State

Ohio State opened the 2014 season with two impressive wins followed by a pair of deflating losses. Collecting wins against Connecticut, 8-2, and Auburn, 1-0, victories expected to fare favorably as Ohio State makes its case for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, though losses against Indiana State, 7-3 and 8-6, a Sycamore club not expected to contend in the Ohio Valley Conference make have the club kicking itself.

Uneven results aside, there was plenty of good that occurred in the opening weekend, with the bad being misfortunes that are not expected to linger long. The Buckeyes will need to have all aspects of their game in mid-season form, facing stiff competition in opponents from warmer locales that have a leg up in reps on a diamond as the Scarlet and Gray were held indoors during the bitter cold of late January and February.

The Buckeye roation will be the same as last weekend's first three contests. Senior right-hander Greg Greve, (1-0, 3.00) and junior left-hander Ryan Riga (1-0, 0.00) will take the ball for the weekend's first two games after each debuted with strong six-inning starts last weekend. Freshman Zach Farmer (0-1, 9.00) will toe the rubber in the weekend finale, the rookie southpaw looking to rebound from a shaky start against Indiana State where he surrended four runs off seven hits in four-plus innings.

Ohio State will look to improve upon their .235 team average last week, even though they held a higher slugging percentage than their opponents, .348 to .326, thanks to nine doubles against four for the opposition. The Buckeyes did a good job of controlling the opposition's running game in the Snowbird Classic, only surrending two stolen bases in four attempts. While their opponents sacrificed six at-bats with bunts, Greg Beals stayed true to his desire to let his club swing the bat, the Buckeyes only recording one sacrifice hit. The Scarlet and Gray 3.50 ERA in week one bests their collective 3.97.

Outfielders freshman Ronnie Dawson and senior Tim Wetzel lead Ohio State at the plate after opening their season strong out of the left-handed hitter's batting box. Dawson collected five hits in eight at-bats, with a double and home run, for a .625 average. Three of Wetzel's four hits were doubles as he batted .364 over 11 at-bats.

Out of the bullpen freshmen Travis Lakins and Tanner Tully showed strong stuff. The righty Lakings collected a save with a three-inning, no-run outing to close the win against Connecticut. A lefty, Tully surrendered just one run off three hits in four innings against Indiane State in the weekend finale. The Buckeyes hope junior closer Trace Dempsey gets back on track after allowing four ninth-inning runs in an inability to close the finale against ISU.

Friday at Central Florida (3-1, 0-0 American Athletic Conference), 7:05 p.m.

Ohio State's first opponent, the tournament host Knights, will look to get back on track after dropping a mid-week contest to Florida 5-1. The Knights opened the season with a three-game sweep of Siena, outscoring the Saints 28-11 in the three home games. After missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010 with a 29-30 2013 campaign, a 13-11 Conference USA record which tied for fifth, UCF finished with an RPI of 143.

Taking the mound for Central Florida against Ohio State will be junior lefty Eric Skoglund. The junior held Siena to one run off two hits in six innings, striking out four, but walking four.

Three Knights enter with batting clips above .400 through four games. Freshman infielder Kam Gellinger paces the club with four hits in eight at-bats, including a triple and a home run. Junior shortstop Tommy Williams has swatted two doubles and a home run, collecting seven hits in 17 at-bats for a .412 average. Joining Williams in the middle of the diamond is classmate second baseman Dylan Moore, who too has seven hits, his coming in 16 at-bats. The three lead UCF, as the club enters the weekend with a team average of .314, slugging .429 with an on-base percentage of .373.

Saturday vs. The Citadel (2-2, 0-0 Southern Conference), 12:05 p.m.

Ohio State's second opponent, The Citadel has the longest NCAA Tournament drought of Ohio State's three weekend opponents, but they possess the most impressive win of the 2014 season to date.

During a 2-1 weekend in the Homewood Suites Tournament in Charleston, SC, The Citadel knocked off 2013 College World Series participant Louisville, 5-3. The win over the Cardinals followed a season-opening win against Virginia Tech, 6-2. But like the Bucks, The Citadel rides a two-game losing streak into Orlando, falling to West Virginia 10-2 in the weekend finale, dropping a 6-2 contest at South Carolina-Upstate on Tuesday. Last appearing in the NCAA Tournament in 2010, The Citadel finished 2013 with a 35-25 record and 71 RPI, going 18-12 in the Southern Conference, good for fourth place.

The Bulldogs are batting .270 through four games, led by Hughston Armstrong's seven hit 13 at-bats for a .583 average. First basemen Calvin Orth has got his senior season off on the right foot, grabbing six hits in 13 at-bats. The Citadel only has five extra-base hits on the season, slugging .328.

Junior James Reeves is set to pitch against Ohio State. Against the Hokies the left-hander pitched six shutout innings, scattering two hits, but issued three walks with only one strikeout.

Sunday vs. Oklahoma (4-1, 0-0 Big XII Conference), 10:05 a.m.

Oklahoma represents the second club Ohio State will face with a first-year head coach. In fact, after squaring off against Sonny Golloway's Auburn Tigers, the Buckeyes end their weekend in Orlando against Golloway's former Sooners, led by Pete Hughes.

Golloway's final season in Norman ended with the Sooners in the NCAA Tourmanet for a sixth consecutive season. Going 43-21, finishing third in the Big XII with a 13-11 confernce clip, Oklahoma boasted a strong RPI of 28. Boomer Sooner was led in 2013 by right-hander Jonathan Gray, the eventual third overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft.

Ohio State may not have to worry about squaring off against an elite pitcher of Gray's stature, but the probable against the Bucks, right-hander Jake Elliott, will complete a freshman-against-freshman showing on the mound. As Oklahoma completed a 2-1 home weekend against Seton Hall, Elliott pitched five innings to record the win, allowing three runs, two earned, off two hits and four walks, striking out three. As a team the Sooners carry a 2.66 ERA over 44 innings.

The OU offense has been just as strong as their pitching, carrying a .335 team average, impressive .385 on-base percentage and gaudy .527 slugging percentage. Junior catcher Mac James leads Oklahoma with a .533 average, picking up three doubles in his eight hits. Sophomore outfielder Hunter Haley has three of OU's seven home runs, carrying a .313 average, which is only eighth-best of players with at least ten at-bats. Junior outfield Taylor Alspaugh isn't too far off James' pace, using nine hits in 17 at-bats to enter the UCF Tournament with a .529, another member of a potent attack Farmer will face in the weekend finale.