After sweeping through the first weekend of the season, Ohio State's baseball program knew it had a tough road ahead. The Buckeyes were opening the season with four straight weekends on the road, including three true road series against tough competition.
In Boca Raton, head coach Greg Beals' squad was matching up with a Florida Atlantic team that had swept its opening weekend against UConn and taken out nationally-ranked Miami during the midweek.
While the Buckeyes took the series opener in impressive fashion, the rest of the weekend was a frustrating ride. Offensive struggles, defensive miscues, and a pitching staff having trouble finding the strike zone ultimately led to the team's first two losses of the season.
Still, Ohio State showed glimpses of what kind of team this could be in 2015 against the Owls. Between Friday's drubbing and Sunday's rally that fell just short against a team receiving votes in the NCBWA poll, the Buckeyes showed they can play with anyone, but still have their flaws. Awakening the bats and cleaning up the defense are top priorities before the scarlet and gray takes the field again next weekend.
A clean game
In the opening game of the series, Ohio State appeared to have learned from some of its mishaps during the opening weekend. The errors and baserunning blunders that had made the Buckeyes work harder than needed at the Snowbird Classic were absent on Friday night at FAU Stadium.
"The story of the ball game tonight was how cleaned we played," Beals said. "We committed no errors, walked nobody, and turned four double plays. We ran the bases really well, too. We did the little things right against a talented team. If we can continue to do that, we are going to be a tough team to beat like we were tonight."
The lack of mental errors allowed Ohio State to play from ahead the entire night. Designated hitter Connor Sabanosh got the offense going in the third inning, with a single to left, and scoring on a double from left fielder Ronnie Dawson three batters later. Third baseman Troy Kuhn, who had been hit by a pitch and advanced to third on Dawson's double, crossed the plate after a sacrifice fly by right fielder Pat Porter, pushing the Buckeye lead to 2-0.
Ohio State tacked on another run in the top of the fourth, courtesy of some sloppy play by the Owls. First baseman Zach Ratcliff led the inning off with a single and advanced to second on a throwing error by shortstop C.J. Chatham. A throwing error by FAU's starting pitcher, Kyle Miller, one batter later on a comebacker by shortstop Craig Nennig allowed Ratcliff to come all the way around and extend the lead to 3-0.
Sophomore lefty Tanner Tully, making his second start of the season for the Buckeyes, breezed through the first three innings, allowing just two hits and inducing the game's first double play. Tully lost his shutout in the bottom of the fourth, when three singles by the Owls plated a run before another twin killing ended the threat.
Second baseman Nick Sergakis got the run back in the sixth when he scored on a Nennig sacrifice fly after Miller had been replaced by sophomore left-hander Sean Labsan.
With a three run lead and its ace on the mound, Ohio State seemed to be firmly in control of the game, but Tully ran into trouble in the bottom of the sixth. The Elkhart, Indiana native gave up just a leadoff single to second baseman Stephen Kerr before the next two FAU batters flew out, but a single by third baseman Ricky Santiago and a double by center fielder Roman Collins cut the lead in half. After hitting catcher Kevin Abraham with a pitch and loading the bases, Tully's day was done.
Junior righty Jake Post, who last week pitched four scoreless innings in relief of Tully, entered the game and silenced the Owls' bats. Post got out of the bases loaded jam in the sixth, then proceeded to surrender only two hits over the final three innings, striking out two.
The Buckeyes then erupted for four runs in the top of the eighth inning, sending eight batters to the plate. Porter led things off against Labsan with an opposite field double before Sergakis crushed the first pitch he saw to left for his first home run of the year. A walk to Ratcliff and a single by Sabanosh set the table for center fielder Troy Montgomery, who doubled to right and plated the pair. The Buckeyes 8-2 advantage was preserved by a 1-2-3 ninth from Post.
Tully picked up his first win of the season, allowing the two runs on nine hits, while fanning one. Post got the save, tossing 3.1 scoreless innings, and has now not allowed a run in 7.1 innings of work in his two appearances.
Tough day on the mound
The season opening magic Ohio State had been experiencing came to a crashing halt on Saturday afternoon in Boca Raton. FAU shut out the Buckeyes, handing the team its first loss of the season, 7-0. All seven of the Owls' runs came with two outs.
Where the series opener was about as clean a game as the scarlet and gray could have hoped for, game two was downright messy, with errors committed by Nennig and Sergakis and a combined seven walks issued by Ohio State pitching.
Sophomore right-hander Travis Lakins had his second tough start of the season, yielding four runs on six hits in six innings of work, walking three and not recording a strikeout. Lakins saw his line for the season expand to nine runs, eight of them earned, on 16 hits in 10.2 innings, with four walks and just one punchout. The Franklin, Ohio native is sporting an ERA just under 7.00.
The Owls touched up Lakins when Santiago singled to bring Kerr around to score. FAU then put up three more runs in the fifth, all with two outs. Kerr singled to left, stole second, and after a walk to right fielder Brendon Sanger, came plateward on a two-run double by Santiago.
After junior lefty John Havird relieved Lakins, the Owls continued the onslaught. In 1.3 innings of work, the southpaw walked four, gave up two hits, and was charged with three runs allowed. This came on the heels of picking up his first win as a Buckeye last Saturday after throwing 3.1 scoreless innings against Saint Louis.
Freshman righty Seth Kinker made his Ohio State debut in relief of Havird, allowing two inherited runners to score on a single by Santiago, who finished the game with five RBIs.
Ohio State's bats did little against FAU's senior righty Drew Jackson, who allowed five hits, walking one and striking out four, in seven scoreless innings. Sabanosh went 2-for-3 with a double, and Dawson collected two singles in four at-bats, but the Buckeyes never really threatened in the game.
Junior lefty Devon Carr closed out the final two innings, allowing just a bunt single to Dawson, and striking out catcher Aaron Gretz to end the ballgame.
Sunday's game served as a bit of replay for Ohio State offensively, as the team could not get the big hit when it was needed. After getting shut out on Saturday, the Buckeyes mustered just one run in the rubber match, and it didn't come until a desperation rally in the ninth inning.
Senior Ryan Riga breezed through the Owls' lineup for five innings. A leadoff single by ninth-place hitter Ryan Miller in the sixth got FAU started in the sixth. After Miller stole second, first baseman Brett Lashley sent a single through the middle to give his squad a 1-0 lead. An inning later, redshirt freshman righty Kyle Michalik hit the first two batters he faced, then committed an error on a Kerr grounder up the first base line to give the Owls a 2-0 lead.
Those two runs were all FAU needed.
Right-handed starter Robbie Coursel tossed 4.2 scoreless innings, giving up one hit while striking out five and walking three. Three Owl relievers then combined for three scoreless innings before the Buckeyes tried to mount a rally in their final at-bat.
Ohio State led off the final frame with singles from Sergakis and Porter. A two-out single to center by Nennig trimmed the lead in half, but Ratcliff struck out to end the game, leaving the tying run ninety feet away.
Riga took the tough loss, falling to 1-1 in his first two starts. The southpaw has been sharp for the Buckeyes, though, with a 0.75 ERA and 10 strikeouts in his 12 innings of work thus far.
After scoring eight runs on 10 hits in the series opener, the Buckeyes were limited to just one run on 13 hits over the final two days in Boca Raton. Beals' squad returns to Columbus with a 4-2 mark through the first two weekends and an offense that needs to wake up, as the team is hitting less than .260 collectively through six games.
The Buckeyes are back on the road and headed south for the third straight weekend, playing a three-game series with UAB. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m. ET on Friday at Regions Field in the heart of downtown Birmingham.