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Ohio State baseball heads to east coast for series w/ Rutgers

After an impressive homestand, the Buckeyes hit the road looking to stay hot against the Scarlet Knights

Ohio State Athletics

A little home cooking has the Ohio State baseball team on a serious roll over the past three weeks. The Buckeyes just finished an 11-game homestand with a 9-2 record, find themselves ten games over .500, and rank 20th in the country in RPI.

Head coach Greg Beals watched his team pound out two midweek wins against in-state schools Toledo and Akron, outscoring the visitors 18-6 in the two games. Ohio State is in the midst of its fourth four-game winning streak of the season, but has yet to break through to five in a row. The team will have its opportunity to do just that this weekend on the road against Rutgers.

"We need to continue this momentum this weekend," Beals said after Wednesday's 9-4 win over the Zips.

The Buckeyes are 12-2 in the month of March, and have been winning in a variety of ways. The lineup is scoring runs and getting contributions from up and down the order.

Sophomore center fielder Troy Montgomery is in the midst of a 14-game hitting streak, and has reached base safely in 17 straight. The Ohio State leadoff man is hitting .316 and leads the team with 19 runs scored, a .402 on-base percentage, and 10 stolen bases.

Also red hot of late have been seniors Connor Sabanosh and Pat Porter. Sabanosh, a co-captain who has split his time between designated hitter and catcher, had a 15-game streak of reaching base safely snapped against Akron. The Arizona native boasts a .311 batting average and has solidified the second spot in the order behind Montgomery.

Porter, who was a summer collegiate All-American last summer according to Perfect Game, started the season slowly at the plate, but has been on an absolute tear. The right fielder has his average up to .291 and has a team-high four home runs, 18 RBIs, and a .920 OPS.

As impressive as the bats have been, though, it is the Ohio State pitching staff that has really stood out. As a team, the Buckeyes are limiting opponents to under 3.5 runs per game and a .263 batting average. The hurlers have a collective 2.64 ERA and a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Senior Ryan Riga has anchored the weekend rotation from his spot on Sundays. The southpaw is 4-1 with a 0.94 ERA, holding opponents to a .231 batting average and sporting a 1.07 WHIP.

If the Buckeyes hope to extend their winning streak in Piscataway, they will need to continue to play at a high level in all aspects of the game. With a 10-game homestand following the three-game set with Rutgers, Ohio State wants to keep momentum on its side.

Let's take a look at the Scarlet Knights.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (7-14, 2-1 in Big Ten play)

Rutgers has struggled in head coach Joe Litterio's second season at the helm. After winning 30 games a season ago, the Scarlet Knights have had issues both scoring and allowing runs through the early going, but come into the weekend having won four games in a row.

Offense has been a struggle for Rutgers, which is hitting just .254 as a team and scoring 4.8 runs per game. Only two regulars for the Scarlet Knights currently own batting averages better than .254.

Senior Vinny Zarrillo, who won a batting championship in the Big East as a sophomore and was a third-team All-AAC selection as a junior, is a mainstay for Litterio. The outfielder has played every game and is hitting .309 with four doubles, a home run, and 12 RBIs.

Leading Rutgers in hitting is sophomore Tom Marcinczak, who is raking at a .351 clip, and leads the club with seven doubles, three homers, 20 RBIs, and a 1.025 OPS. Those numbers represent a big jump for the Middlesex, New Jersey native, and has been a bright spot amid the Scarlet Knights' offensive woes.

As poor a start as Rutgers is off to at the plate, the pitching staff has been equally underachieving. Litterio's staff has a collective 6.95 ERA and 1.84 WHIP, and allows the opposition a .312 batting average. Not one of the weekend's probable starting pitchers has an ERA under 4.00.

Taking the ball on Friday will be junior Mark McCoy, a transfer from Wake Forest. The southpaw is 0-4 in five starts this season, with a 6.08 ERA and a .324 opposition average. McCoy's WHIP is 1.99, and he has walked more batters than he has struck out in his 26.2 innings.

Saturday's starter is junior Howie Brey, a third-team All-AAC selection last year after posting a 6-3 record and a 2.36 ERA. Brey has struggled thus far this season, though, going 1-3 with a 4.08 ERA in five starts spanning 28.2 innings. The lefty leads the team with 29 strikeouts, and holds opponents to a .222 batting average, but has suffered from a lack of run support.

In Sunday's final game of the series, sophomore Gaby Rosa is probable to be on the bump. Rosa was a Louisville Slugger Freshman Al-American and the AAC's Rookie of the Year last season after posting a 6-3 record with a 2.91 ERA. In his second year in Piscataway, the right-hander is 1-1, making two starts and three overall appearances, with an 8.25 ERA. Rosa has struggled with his command, having walked nine and struck out just two in 12 innings of work.

One bright spot for the Rutgers staff has been freshman John O'Reilly, who is 3-0 with a 2.75 ERA in 19.2 innings. The righty has made five appearances, including two starts, in his first season with the Scarlet Knights.

Game times and probable pitching matchups

Fri., Mar. 27, at 3 p.m. ET

Tanner Tully (1-1, 2.75 ERA) vs. McCoy (0-4, 6.08)

Sat., Mar. 28, at 1 p.m. ET

Travis Lakins (1-2, 4.37) vs. Brey (1-3, 4.08)

Sun., Mar. 29, at 1 p.m. ET

Riga (4-1, 0.95) vs. Rosa (1-1, 8.25)