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Ohio State baseball: There's no place like home

The Buckeyes return from a disappointing trip out west for the first homestand of the season

Ohio State Athletics

After a disappoitning road trip to the Pacific Northwest where the Ohio State baseball team went 1-3 against nationally-ranked Oregon and Oregon State, the Buckeyes return to Columbus to open their home schedule this weekend against Siena College. Ohio State sits at 8-6 for the season, and losers of four of its last five, as the team embarks on a five-game homestand over the next week.

The return to Bill Davis Stadium will be a welcome one for the Buckeyes after opening the season with fourteen road games. Greg Beals' squad is hoping some home cooking can awaken the bats, as the team has struggled to get going offensively, hitting just .242 as a team. The pitching staff, which opened the season strong, will also be looking to get back on track after getting hit hard out west.

Greg Greve and Zach Farmer were both knocked out of their starts against the Ducks early, and will be looking to rebound. Beals has decided to shake up the rotation slightly, with junior Ryan Riga, who shut out Oregon and was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week, being bumped up to the Friday starter position. Greve is slated to take the hill on Saturday now, with Farmer taking his turn in the second game of the day's doubleheader.

The lone bright spots at the plate for the Buckeyes have been freshman Ronnie Dawson and senior Tim Wetzel. Dawson is still off to a scorching start to his collegiate career, hitting .400, with three doubles, a home run, and seven RBIs. Wetzel, who is having a breakout campaign, is batting .390, and is second on the team with nine runs driven in. Dawson and Wetzel stand in stark contrast to juniors Pat Porter and Josh Dezse, who were expected to anchor the lineup and provide pop. Porter is hitting .218, and has yet to leave the yard, while Desze, coming back from injury and a redshirt season a year ago, has just seven hits and two RBIs, posting a dismal .156 average.

The beginning of Big Ten play is just around the corner for Ohio State, and the team needs to start clicking in all three phases of the game if it hopes to achieve its goal of an NCAA postseason berth. Siena may be just the opponent to get healthy against, as the Saints have struggled mightily so far this season.

Friday, March 14th 5:05 p.m., Saturday, March 15th 1:05 p.m. (doubleheader)

Siena College

In his forty-five years at the helm for Siena, Head Coach Tony Rossi has pretty much seen everything one could imagine on a baseball field, but that doesn't make his team's slow start any easier to stomach. The Saints come to Columbus winless at 0-14, and it's tough to say whether the bats or the arms have been more disappointing. The team is hitting just .235 and has scored a meager 58 runs in their fourteen games. Compounding their woes at the plate, the pitching staff has a 9.43 ERA, and is walking nearly one batter for every one it strikes out.

Amid the early struggles, the Saints do have three players swinging the bats pretty well. Junior third baseman Justin Esquerra leads the team with a .357 average, and has amassed two doubles, a triple, a home run, and eight driven in. Manning the other corner of the infield, senior first baseman and co-captain Vincent Citro is raking at a .345 clip, with three doubles and five RBIs. The only other regular hitting his hat size for Siena is centerfielder Dan Swain. The freshman is hitting .308, and leads the team with two home runs and ten RBIs. The Saints are striking out in 20 percent of their plate appearances and have been outscored by an average of more than five and a half runs per game. Highlighting their struggles at the plate is senior co-captain John Rooney, a preseason All-MAAC selection, who is mired in an abysmal 8-51 slump to start the year, hitting .157 with two doubles and four RBIs.

The boys on the mound have not fared much better for Rossi in the early going. In addition to the team ERA over nine, opposing batters are hitting .374 against Siena. The Saints' hurlers have a WHIP of 2.17 and have allowed 58 extra base hits. Junior Matt Gage, another preseason All-MAAC selection and the Friday starter, has been the most effective on the hill, though that really isn't saying much. The southpaw is 0-2 in his four starts, with a 5.06 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 21.1 innings of work. The opposition is .297 against Gage, who has a WHIP of 1.64. The Saturday starter, junior righty Ed Lewicki, has been roughed up the worst for the Saints' rotation, posting an 0-3 record, a 12.33 ERA, and a 2.19 WHIP, while yielding a .386 batting average against. Sophomore Bryan Goosens rounds things out for Siena on the hill on Sunday. The right hander is 0-2, with a 9.15 ERA, having walked more hitters than he has struck out. The opposition is batting a gaudy .433 against Goosens, who is letting up 2.4 walks and hits per inning. The bullpen has not fared much better, as no member who has thrown four innings or more has a batting average against lower than .326.

After failing to get a split out west, Ohio State has its work cut out for them to keep their NCAA postseason dreams alive. A healthy homestand against winless Siena would be just what the team needs to get things moving in the right direction again. Midweek home dates loom next week against Akron and Xavier, and the first foray into Big Ten play, on the road in East Lansing against Michigan State, is quickly approaching. The Buckeyes need to get the bats jumpstarted before conference play starts if they have any hope of making a run to the top of the Big Ten.