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Ohio State baseball: Tournament success hinges on mindset

The regular season in the rear-view mirror, Ohio State's focus turns to the Big Ten Tournament, a five-day, eight-team tournament with a trip to the NCAA Tournament bestowed upon the winner. For the Buckeyes to leave Omaha victorious, a berth to the NCAA Tournament in hand, coach Greg Beals stresses a change in mentality.

Greg Beals hopes his club can find the right mentality to be successful in the Big Ten Tournament
Greg Beals hopes his club can find the right mentality to be successful in the Big Ten Tournament
Chris Webb

A question was posed to Ohio State head coach Greg Beals that the fourth-year head coach had no hesitation in answering.

Six different Buckeyes recorded a multi-hit game in the weekend series against Northwestern. The six-multi hit efforts combined for 15-for-23 showing. The remaining at-bats for the group of six, netted a .193 average, a 6-for-31 output. Ending the regular season with consecutive weekend defeats, Ohio State produced 10 runs against Northwestern. With players showing flashes of promise, ability to have a standout game, but show nothing the next, what is needed is to find consistency, have multiple 3-for-4, 2-for-3 games from the Buckeyes and find and aid their morbid offense.

"It's mindset," Beals said. "We've got to let go. We've got some guys whose numbers aren't where they want them to be, their season hasn't gone the way they want it to be."

Ohio State enters this week's Big Ten Tournament in Omaha, Neb. with middle-of-the-pack offensive numbers on the season. The team batted .269 in the regular season, seventh in the Big Ten, fifth in slugging at .366 and on-base percentage at .350. Second in home runs with 23, the Buckeyes finished fifth in doubles with 84, and third in triples, reaching third 14 times.

Respective to other teams in the conference, both fourth-place Minnesota and fifth-place Michigan finished behind Ohio State in the batting, on-base and slugging percentage, one may feel Ohio State should have been better than 10-14 in conference play.

But Ohio State's offense is as comfortable in being Jekyll and Hyde as wearing scarlet and gray.

Of the seven times Ohio State scored at least five runs in a Big Ten series, only twice did the Buckeyes score at least three runs in the preceding or next conference game.

Ohio State opened the Big Ten season with a pair of six-run games against Michigan State only to be held to one run in the series finale. An 11-run game against Purdue concluded a series with outputs of three and two runs in the respective Friday and Saturday games. After opening the Iowa series with nine runs, the Buckeyes eeked out two and three runs in the final two games.

When Ohio State shows regularity in a weekend, it's when runs are hard to come by.

In the three weekends when the run differential between Ohio State's highest and lowest output is two or fewer runs, the Buckeyes average 1.77 runs a game, 16 plate crossings in nine games. Particularly troubling was a weekend when Ohio State was held to a single run in three consecutive games against rival Michigan. A putrid effort against the Wolverines left many searching for answers. Including those closest to Beals.

"My wife is pretty darn competitive herself and we talk about things," Beals said. "She says they look sluggish, we look tired at times. We're 19, 21 years old, I don't think we're physically tired, I'm not buying that. I'm 44 and I think I can still get up to play a game today."

"We're 19, 21 years old, I don't think we're physically tired, I'm not buying that. I'm 44 and I think I can still get up to play a game today"- Greg Beals

Physically and athletically the components are there. Ten Buckeyes a three-hit game on the year under their belt, six players with double-digit multi-hit games. Eight Buckeyes with at least a seven-game hitting streak, there is depth in numbers of players with the capability to litter a box score. But physical prowess is only one component of what makes a successful baseball player.

"It's mental," Beals said. "I think that's going to be the critical part of us going to Omaha and having a chance to do something. If we can freshen up our minds. The sluggishness, the no energy, whatever, it's mental fatigue, nothing else."

Searching for an elixir to mental fatigue, there is yet another aspect of a mental state Ohio State needs sharp before taking on Nebraska, a team that won three last at-bat games against the Buckeyes April 11-13, to open tournament play Wednesday.

"We have to shift into the mindset when you go to a tournament there is only going to be one team that wins, seven are going home," the coach with a 4-6 record in three Big Ten Tournament appearances said. "We can't spend a single second between now and there worrying about being one of the teams that goes home. We have to spend every minute going out trying to win it."

Ohio State heads to Omaha as the tournament's seventh-seed, with the Big Ten postseason an eight-team affair for the first time. The lowest seed to win a Big Ten Tournament was Ohio State in 2007, the Buckeyes the lone lowest seed to win the tournament. On their way to appearing in the College Station Regional, the sixth-seed club sweeping through the tournament held in Ann Arbor to secure the conference's automatic bid. In a side of the tournament with a pair of NCAA Tournament at-large hopefuls, the two-seed Huskers have an RPI of 27 with three-seed Illinois on the bubble with an RPI of 52, the 30-26 Buckeyes will be underdogs to advance through the tournament and make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.

"This team is going to be challenged to do that," Beals said of winning the tournament. "We're not going to be the most talented team in Omaha. We're going to have to do it with out mindset, and offensively we have to get rid of some things and not carry over at-bats, we just have to go out and let it all hang out and go for it."