With the MLB playoffs in full swing, baseball fans across the country have seen how big an impact young players can make. Rookie stars like Carlos Correa, Kyle Seager, and former Big Ten Player of the Year Kyle Schwarber have all gone from the draft to household names in an extremely short period of time. The importance of amateur baseball to the professional game has been on full display.
The Ohio State baseball team has contributed to this with several players being drafted in the past few years, including six being selected this past June. A program trying to ascend to national respectability once again, the Buckeyes took a major step in 2015, finding themselves ranked for the first time during head coach Greg Beals' tenure, and being very much in the mix for an NCAA tournament bid until a disastrous final month dropped the team from contention. They finished with a 35-20 record overall, and earned their coach a two-year contract extension.
The first step in building upon the 2015 campaign came shortly after school began in mid-September with the beginning of Ohio State's fall ball schedule.
"Our guys are excited to begin their journey of the 2016 season," Beals said at the outset of fall practice. "Like always in the fall, we are going to emphasize discipline and details."
As has been tradition for years, the fall season came to an end with the annual Scarlet and Gray Series. The Gray squad emerged victorious, 3 games to 2 in the best of five set.
"After five weeks of fall practice, it's nice to finish with some good competition," Beals said.
Game 1: Gray 13, Scarlet 0
Game one of the series was a blowout, as the Gray side exploded for a 13-0 win. Former Big Ten Freshman of the Year Tanner Tully, who had a rough sophomore season, threw 4.1 scoreless innings for the win, allowing just two hits while striking out one and walking one.
Juniors Ronnie Dawson and L. Grant Davis, sophomore Jordan McDonough, and freshman Casey Demko each had two hits in the game, as nine hitters racked up at least one run batted in. Demko, an infielder from Xenia, Ohio, and fellow freshman Jacob Barnwell each drove in two in their first appearances in a Buckeye uniform.
Game 2: Scarlet 4, Gray 3
The Scarlet side was able to tie the series in dramatic fashion in game two, as a walk-off home run by junior catcher Jalen Washington with two outs in the bottom of the final frame broke a 3-3 tie. Washington, who will be attempting to replace co-captains Aaron Gretz and Connor Sabanosh behind the plate in 2016, went 2-for-3 with two runs scored in the win.
Sophomore right-hander Austin Woodby, a transfer from the University of Cincinnati, tossed five scoreless innings in a no-decision for the Gray side, while classmate Yianni Pavlopoulos, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, threw two shutout innings in relief for Scarlet.
Game 3: Gray 2, Scarlet 1
Pitching took center stage in game three of the series, as Gray eked out two runs off freshman left-hander Connor Curlis for 2-1 win. Sophomore Seth Kinker, who worked out of the bullpen last season, tossed five scoreless innings for Scarlet, yielding just two hits while striking out three. Also of note was redshirt junior Jacob Bosiokovic, who has played exclusively in the field for Beals to this point in his career, taking to the mound for two innings of shutout relief. Bosiokovic, from Delaware, Ohio, was a top pitching prospect in Ohio when he was in high school.
Run-scoring singles from Dawson and Demko provided all Gray needed in a defensive affair.
Game 4: Scarlet 5, Gray 2
After a solid first outing, Tully was roughed up for five runs by the Scarlet team in game four, knotting the series and forcing a winner-take-all game five on Saturday. Washington once again paced the Scarlet offense, going 2-for-3 with a double, a home run, two runs scored, and two driven in.
Sophomore right-hander Adam Niemeyer, an All-Big Ten Freshman selection a season ago and the likely Saturday starter in 2016, got the win, tossing five innings while allowing two runs, one earned, on three hits, striking out four.
Dawson, who was an all-star in the Cape Cod League over the summer, finished the day 3-for-3, with two runs batted in.
Game 5: Gray 12, Scarlet 6
Saturday's finale provided plenty of offense, as the Gray squad clinched the series 12-6. Dawson again led the way, going 2-for-4 with a homer and five runs batted in. The Grove City, Ohio product finished the series batting .563 (9-for-16) with nine RBIs.
McDonough (3-for-5, two RBIs) and Demko (3-for-5, two RBIs) also contributed to the winning side's offensive assault, while Washington continued to impress, reaching base three times and driving in a run.
- The performance by Dawson was encouraging, as Ohio State will be relying on him to anchor the middle of the order after the departure of first-team All-Big Ten standout Pat Porter, who concluded his career last season. McDonough's showing in the series (.412 average with five RBIs) also points towards the former Cincinnati St. Xavier star's firmly taking ownership of the designated hitter role.
- Tully (five runs allowed in 9.2 innings) and Niemeyer (eight runs, six earned, in 8 innings) both had one solid outing and one rough one. For a team who's pitching was its calling card in 2015, the projected Friday and Saturday starters for Beals will be counted on immensely in the spring.
- Woodby, who allowed four runs in 10.2 innings, equipped himself well in two starts, and provides depth to the rotation.
- Replacing the signal calling, offensive production, and leadership of Gretz and Sabanosh will be a tall order for Washington, but the Twinsburg, Ohio product showed promise, hitting .455 in the series, with five runs scored and four driven in.
- Newcomers Demko (.412, six RBIs), Brady Cherry (.235, two RBIs), and Jacob VanderWal (.333, two runs scored) will all be vying to be the 2016 version of Tre Gantt as the freshman who breaks into the lineup and makes a significant contribution.
- A season isn't made in September and October, but a solid fall performance can be catalyst to success when the springtime rolls around. "Overall, the Scarlet & Gray World Series was everything we wanted it to be from a competitive standpoint," Beals said after Saturday's game. "We got to see a lot of guys playing in critical situations. It was good to see some of our top players have really strong performances. You need your big time players to make big time plays and we were able to do that. We are pleased with what we saw out of the guys the last two weeks."