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Ohio State baseball: Pat Porter's return to form powering Buckeyes

After a down junior campaign, the Buckeye outfielder is back as a significant force in the heart of the lineup.

At the start of the season he was oblivious to a record he was on the verge of tying. One triple shy of joining a trio of former Buckeyes atop the list, senior right fielder Pat Porter had no idea his 12 triples through three seasons put him in rarefied air.

After tying the school record in Ohio State's final tune-up before entering conference play, he couldn't tell you which eight Big Ten teams the Buckeyes are set to face over the next two months.

Being lost on both accounts may be exactly what Ohio State needs, what's driven Porter's re-emergence as one of the Big Ten's top players.

The first week of June 2014 came to pass without a significant change in Porter's life. That in itself is significant as four months prior the native of Chagrin Falls, Ohio was viewed as one of the Big Ten's top draft-eligible players. For June's First-Year Player Major League Baseball Draft to come and pass without Porter's name called in one of the 40 rounds, it was a result few could have anticipated as the product of Kenston High entered his junior season. The draft snub was the emphatic period on the end of a tumultuous season where Porter batted .229 and found himself on the bench in Ohio State's season-ending loss to Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament.

After batting .296 as a sophomore, picking up 13 doubles, five triples, four home runs and stealing 11 bases, Porter was seen as one of the Big Ten's best all-around players, one who could hit for average, hit for power, run the bases well, field and throw. The tools Porter displays, and a physical big league-ready 6-foot, 205-pound frame, prospecting him as a candidate to be ready for professional baseball after three collegiate seasons was certainly reasonable.

But the power went away, and as Porter struggled to get on base and his ability to run the base effectively as regressed.

So what happened to the player who seemed destined to find himself on an All-America team, be in the services of a professional club at this time?

"It was me trying to do too much," Porter said after a 2-for-3 two-run, two-RBI game where he picked up his third double and home run of the season.  "Definitely was pressing too much."

That's the gift and the curse of being a good college player entering your third season. If you show well as a freshman and a sophomore, scouts follow you through your junior year taking in games, evaluating your swing, your body, your makeup, trying to determine your worth and whether or not you you're ready for the next level. Porter was on the radar of scouts and the more they tracked the Buckeye, the tougher it was to find the player he's capable of being.

"Last year was his draft year, he was getting recognition, and got off to a slow start and it snowballed in the wrong direction," Ohio State coach Greg Beals said.

Players will never admit to looking forward to the draft, wanting to impress scouts. Whether a stock reply or in earnest, players who are expected to be drafted with feign interest, discuss all that matters is the team and its success. That's fine and well, but for one who has dedicated the amount of time and energy to refine their skill the way a collegiate baseball player has, if an opportunity is presented to be compensated for the skill, to reach a lifelong dream of playing professional baseball, one would be naive to think it doesn't way on their mind.

With the draft coming and going without a professional club selecting him, Porter spent his summer in the Northwoods League, continuing to perfect his craft. It's there were Porter found himself.

"I tried to change my swing in the offseason heading into my junior year and it turned out it didn't work well. I went back to the old stuff in the summer and did really well," Porter said,

Really well may be an understatement.

Selected as a Northwood's League all-star, and Perfect Game Summer League All-America, Porter flourished with the wood bat for the Kenosha Kingfish. In 69 games Porter batted .329 with 16 doubles, five triples and 10 home runs and drove in 63 runs.

"Going back to the swing I had my sophomore season, I went to the Northwoods and got my confidence back."

It isn't just renewed confidence that has Porter appears back on track, a player scout's are making sure to see. Porter speaks as a seasoned vet, one who has been through the rigors and know baseball can be a humbling game.

"I see the game more and more now," he said. "I don't overreact as I would have as a freshman in getting an out. I realize there are a ton of at-bats throughout the year, I'm always going to get another bat. I now learn from it."

His coach echoed the sentiment.

"I think the maturity is a big part," Beals said of Porter's return to standout form. "We've tried to get the team in the next pitch mentality, of how to evaluate, and Pat's a reflection of that."

After tying the school's all-time triple mark with a three-bagger in Wednesday's 7-2 win over Rider, Porter has a .321 average next to a .982 OPS through 17 games. The numbers are robust, but it took a while them the marks to tally up.

Through nine games we was batting .212, collected only seven hits in 33 at-bats. Was a repeat performance of his junior season in the cards, was the summer outburst merely reminder of what could be? With a clear mind Porter knew how to take a slow start this time around.

"I was hitting the ball hard, and that's what I look at, if I'm hitting it hard each game and taking each at-bat like that," he said. "There's no reason to freak out, no reason to overthink things, just think next pitch ready and next at-bat."

Forgive Porter if he's unaware of what record may be to come, who Ohio State may face, he's locked into the moment, looking next at-bat and being ready, which should lead to the expected promise this time around in June.