After winning seven of its first nine games and entering Big Ten play at 13-6, the Ohio State baseball team was riding a wave of momentum. The team was receiving votes in national polls and dreams of an NCAA tournament berth seemed within reach.
"We thought with our strength of schedule, the way our season started out, that we might have a chance at an at-large [bid to the NCAA tournament]," Head Coach Greg Beals said.
Those dreams quickly became a nightmare, though. After taking two out of three from Michigan State in the opening Big Ten series, the team endured back-to-back three-game sweeps at the hands of Indiana and Nebraska. Those series started an inconsistent ride throughout the rest of the regular season schedule, as the Buckeyes did not win more than two games in a row again.
The struggles Ohio State endured on the diamond have not been lost on its skipper, who sees the Big Ten tournament as a second chance for the team.
"The tournament acts as a second chance, another opportunity for us," Beals said. "Basically, it's a new season."
Particularly gut-wrenching was the series in Lincoln against the Huskers. Ohio State lost all three games in walk-off fashion, watching its hopes of challenging for the regular season conference title evaporate. At 2-7 in Big Ten play, missing the postseason entirely was a very real possibility.
But the Buckeyes fought their way back into the conference tournament conversation, winning two out of three games in consecutive series against Penn State, Purdue, and Iowa. Dropping two of three in each of the final two weekends to Michigan and Northwestern ended any chance of making a jump in the standings, though, and left Beals' squad with their worst Big Ten record since 1987 at 10-14.
"There's going to be more ups and downs [with a young team]," said senior outfielder and co-captain Tim Wetzel. "It's more of a mindset than a talent level."
The Buckeyes will have an opportunity to exact revenge on Nebraska in Omaha, after the Huskers locked up the second seed in the conference tournament, appropriately, on a walk-off three-run homer in extra innings against Illinois. It is a chance Ohio State is looking forward to, as the two sides have a budding rivarlry developing after having ended each other's seasons in tournament play the past two years.
"We've been preaching it for a couple of weeks, cleaning the slate," said senior pitcher and fellow co-captain Greg Greve. "Mentally getting focused to getting there, and once we get there, winning the tournament. We've got the talent to do it."
Despite the disappointments and inconsistencies Ohio State endured throughout the conference schedule, the team fought its way into the postseason. The Big Ten tournament represents a second chance for the Buckeyes to prove they are better than their record suggests and that the program is trending in the right direction. Whether the trip to Omaha results in an NCAA tournament berth or not, a strong showing could help to quiet some of the Buckeyes' critics and serve as a stepping stone for bigger things to come.
"We can go there and get crazy and play our tails off," Beals said. "And then who knows what will happen."