The Buckeye nine continued a strong spring, picking up a third consecutive weekend victory with a triumph over the Spartans. Improving to 10-2 in March, the Bucks upped their season record to 14-6, winning at a pace to be in a potential NCAA tournament spot.
But before Selection Monday comes, the Buckeyes look to take aim at the program's first Big Ten Championship since 2009. In taking the series from Michigan State, the Buckeyes knocked off an expected top-half club, showed the grit to win a tight series and started conference action off on the right foot.
3 things we learned
1) Nothing else can be said about Ryan Riga.
Just kidding, there are a few more things that can be said of Riga, though adjectives are running short for a pitcher with a microscopic .94 ERA over 38.1 innings.
Riga twirled another gem for the Buckeyes on Sunday, the second consecutive weekend finale he pitched at least seven scoreless innings, propelling the Buckeyes to a weekend victory. After tossing eight shutout innings against the Spartans, Riga rides a 20-inning scoreless streak into the final weekend of March.
Head coach Greg Beals says Riga is a Friday pitcher throwing on Sunday, an ace the Buckeyes can rely on in a clutch situation. The steady senior allows the Buckeyes to use the bullpen heavily, if necessary, the first two games of the weekend, knowing Riga is almost a lock to give six innings. The southpaw also allows the bats to play at ease, knowing if they can eek out a run or two, the way Riga is pitching, that will give the team a good chance to win. Both Beals and Riga have spoken to the advantages of the left-handed pitcher on Sunday. If the Buckeyes need to win a rubber match, as they have the last two weekends, Riga relishes that opportunity. Riga can close the door on a sweep or prevent the Buckeyes from being swept. It all adds up to Riga becoming the Buckeyes most valuable player through the first one-third of the season, performing in a Big Ten Pitcher of the Year way.
2) Dawson finding his way. Sophomore left fielder Ronnie Dawson is starting to pick up on his success shown in a brilliant freshman season. En route to an second-team All-Big Ten season, Dawson debuted as Ohio State's most potent batter and shows tools to make him a top draft prospect in 2016. The native of Grove City, Ohio saw his second season get off to a rough start, at one point witnessing his average dip below .200. But Beals saw little to worry about in Dawson, the left-handed hitting slugger was striking the ball well, just at players. By telling Dawson to stay the course, examine the process and not the end result, it would be only a matter of time before Dawson was back to his game-changing ways and the Spartans were the victim.
Dawson opened Big Ten play with a 3-for-10 weekend, scoring three runs while swatting his third home run of the season; beyond his play at the plate, Dawson showed how he can impact the game on the bases, stealing four bags. As Dawson gets going, combined with the strong season fellow outfielders Troy Montgomery and Pat Porter are enjoying, the Buckeyes have the top outfield in the Big Ten and one of the most talented in the nation with three impact bats atop the order.
3) Dempsey settling into former form. Ohio State feels Dempsey is on his way back to being the closer Ohio State had in 2013 when the team fell just shy of the conference title. Earning All-American accolades, Dempsey picked up 17 saves next to a 1.05 over 35.1 innings as a sophomore. Unfortunately, Dempsey fell one save shy of tying Jake Hale's single-season record of 18 set in 2009; a blown save against Indiana in the next to last game of the season prohibited Ohio State from clinching a share of the Big Ten title.
The nightmare continued into 2014 when Dempsey saw his ERA balloon to 5.94, going 1-4 with eight saves.
The past weekend saw a return to form for Dempsey, allowing just one hit in two innings of work, picking up two saves which tied then broke Hale's school record of 29 career saves. For his senior season, Dempsey has four saves with an 2.13 ERA in 12.2 innings, an unblemished 3-0 record. Getting the stopped back on track is another bullet in the Buckeyes chamber as the team shows signs of being a complete outfit.
A look at Toledo
For a second consecutive Tuesday the Buckeyes face an opponent fresh off of playing the Kent State Golden Flashes. Where Rider dropped two of three games against the Mid-American Conference foe, Toledo opened conference play with two home wins in three tries against Kent State. The Rockets held Kent State to five runs on the weekend, winning the first two games of the series, 4-1 and 4-3, before falling in Sunday's finale, 1-0. Off to a 2-1 start in MAC play, Toledo stands at 8-15 for the 2015 season.
Head coach Cory Mee is in his 11th season leading the Rockets, and thus far his team is 0-1 against the Big Ten, dropping a 19-5 contest against Michigan on March 7. Through 23 games Toledo is batting .229, but showing decent pop with 26 doubles and 10 home runs for a .312 slugging percentage and reaching base at a .285 clip. Leading the Rockets at the plate is freshman outfielder A.J. Montoya. The lone Rocket with an above north of .300, Montoya is pacing the club with a .337 average, and also leading the team with six doubles, four home runs, 13 runs and 14 RBI.
Freshman left-hander Alex Wagner will make his third start of the year when facing the Buckeyes. In six total appearances, Wagner has a 7.50 ERA over 12 innings, striking out only one batter while walking nine. Wagner is a part of a UT pitching staff which carries a 5.14 ERA, sports a .270 batting average against and has walked almost as many batters struck out, 121 to 145.
For the 5:05 p.m. first pitch, Ohio State will send rookie Jacob Niggemeyer to the bump. The Central Ohio native is 1-0 on the year in two appearances, both midweek starts, with a 1.64 ERA over 12 innings. The right-hander has struck out two and walked two for an Ohio State staff with a 2.61 ERA.