Ohio State closed it's five-week pre-conference slate with a weekend series victory over Evansville. Sweeping a Sunday twinbill to claim the series against the Aces, the men of the Scarlet and Gray improved their March record to 6-1. Ohio State prepares to open Big Ten play after hosting Rider for a pair of midweek games, and at 10-5, the Buckeyes look to have the pieces in place to make a run at the conference crown and bring home the program's first trophy since 2009.
3 things we learned
1) Bucks can win in a variety of fashions. The two wins in the doubleheader sweep came in opposite fashion. A walk-off single earned Ohio State the 4-3 win in Sunday's first game, before the Buckeyes cruised in the nightcap, easily dispatching Evansville, 12-2. Whether it's a come-from-behind win, grabbing a victory after relinquishing a late-inning lead or putting the pedal to the floor for all nine innings, Ohio State has shown it can win a game in every possible way.
Through the first 15 games, Ohio State has won five games by one run and have won three by at least eight runs. On the other side the Buckeyes have lost three games by a single run with the other two losses by seven runs each, likewise they know what it's like to be on the other side of a clobbering or lose a tight game.
But an ability to find a way to win a game, however it may be, is something that will bode well for Greg Beals' club. Moving into conference play, Ohio State will face opponents familiar with the pitchers, players and coaching style, nothing will be provided to Ohio State. To know they can win a game by racking up extra-base hits (the Buckeyes had nine in the series finale against Evansville), or rely on starting pitching (all three starters have at least one outing of six innings with less than two runs allowed) Ohio State can enter each game knowing they have the ability to win the contest, no matter what the opposition brings to the table.
2) Seniors leading the way. Two wins and a 6-for-15 showing at the plate, Ohio State's seniors carried the torch in Sunday's wins. The Buckeyes roll out two underclassmen atop the rotation and find juniors around the horn, but it's been the Buckeyes in their final season which have provided consistency.
Beals says the Buckeyes have a Friday starter going on Sunday, and with a 1.19 ERA over 30.1 innings, it's clear Ryan Riga has been Ohio State's best pitcher. His three wins are tied for the team-lead with classmate closer Trace Dempsey. The former All-American stopper saw a pair of saves blown over the last week, but when needed he's responded to get the Buckeyes out of a jam, keep the game in a position where the Bucks can win, as they did in the 4-3 wins over Northern Kentucky and Evansville.
Settling in as the No. 2 and No. 3 hitters, catcher Connor Sabanosh and right fielder Pat Porter find their respective .319 and .321 averages third and second on the team. Showing the promise displayed as a sophomore, why he's considered one of the top positional prospects in the conference, Porter's three home runs over a calendar week have brought a thump to the heart of the lineup. In front of him, Sabnosh's .396 on-base percentage, barely behind Porter's .397 clip, is the type of on-base presence the Buckeyes need atop the lineup. When adding co-captain Aaron Gretz, Ohio State catchers have yet to commit and error on the year, and have called the games for a pitching staff which carries a 3.23 ERA.
The underclassman may be considered some of the conference's top prospects, but the elder statesmen of the team are spearheading the club's success.
3) Depth is championship-caliber. A major factor in Ohio State winning games in every possible way is every Buckeyes showing they can deliver a key hit, be a run-producer.
After beginning his career with seasons batting .125 and .231, junior shortstop Craig Nennig has a .380 average through 50 at-bats, not bad for a player who bats eighth or ninth. After debuting with an all-conference season, sophomore outfielder Ronnie Dawson has been slow out of the gates. His abilities known, it's only a matter of time before he shakes his .203/.288/.373 start. In the meanwhile, Porter's .982 OPS helps Ohio State weather the rough go for their incumbent cleanup batter. Making his first start as a Buckeye, all L. Grant Davis did was go 2-for-3 with a double and the game-winning hit in Ohio State's walk-off win against Evansville. The guy he replaced in the lineup, junior third baseman Troy Kuhn, responded with a 4-for-5 game, falling a triple shy of a cycle in his return back to the lineup. Add sophomore center fielder Troy Montgomery, junior first baseman Ryan Leffel, who's batting .318, out to show his breakout 2014 campaign wasn't a fluke, and where in Ohio State's lineup is a player that can't get the job done?
Dawson may have the loudest tools, Porter may be on pace for Big Ten Player of the Year season, but the lineup isn't one that depends on one or two players. From Nick Sergakis to Sabanosh, the two Troys, Ohio State showed the depth Beals raved about in the offseason, a team full of options ready to make a run towards a title.
A look at Rider
Coming off a weekend series at Kent State, Rider stays in the Buckeye State as Ohio State's midweek opponent. Against the Golden Flashes, the Broncs picked up a Saturday win, 3-1, but fell 13-5 in the series lid-lifter and 8-5 in the rubber match. Rider enters Columbus 3-9, but opened the season with a pair of wins against Virginia Tech in a 2-2 showing at the Campbell Invitational. Rider lost twice to host Campbell by scores of 11-4 and 2-1.
Perhaps the toughest competition Rider has faced this year is Mother Nature. Six games have been postponed with another three canceled for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference member. The fractured schedule may have a hand in Rider's .199 average and .958 fielding percentage.
Leading 11th-year head coach Barry Davis' club is senior first baseman Justin Thomas with a .265 average. Sophomore catcher Lee Lipinski has two of the team's three home runs, Thomas the lone other round-tripper.
Rider has yet to play a midweek contest, but five different pitchers have started a game. Paul Sparano, one start in four appearances, and Kurt Sowa, a pair of starts over three outings, represent the two pitchers with starts as well as relief outings, the possible midweek starters. Sparano has a 6.14 ERA over 7.1 innings, Sowa has pitched 13.1 innings next to a 6.75 ERA.
As a team Rider has a 5.33 ERA, struck out 74 batters and walked 44 in 106.1 innings, the opposition has a .313 average to date.
Ohio State will counter with freshman right-hander Jacob Niggemeyer (3.00 ERA, 6 IP) for Tuesady's 5:05 p.m. start, before giving the ball to junior left-hander John Havird (4.26, 6.1) for Wednesday's same time first pitch.