Ohio State baseball emerged from its opening weekend without a notch in the loss column. Going 3-0-1 at the Historic Dodgertown Classic in Vero Beach, FL, the Buckeyes made a good showing and got the 2016 season off to a solid start.
Wins against Toledo, Niagara, and Pittsburgh, along with a tie against Toledo, showed that this Ohio State team has grittiness and the ability to come from behind, as they did in the final three games of the weekend.
"What that does more than anything is that just solidifies that idea of belief that we can win games," head coach Greg Beals said.
The first four games provided plenty of early season storylines, most notably the red-hot start of redshirt junior Jacob Bosiokovic. The former two-time Ohio High School Division I Player of the Year simply mashed the ball in Vero Beach, to the tune of a .412 batting average (7-for-17). Bosiokovic homered in his first at-bat of the season on Friday, then hit two on Saturday against Niagara, including the game-winner. His efforts earned him both Big Ten Player of the Week and Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week honors.
Playing right field, Bosiokovic led the team with eight runs batted in, a .941 slugging percentage, and a 1.441 OPS, while also equipping himself well with the glove. He also drew three walks, reaching base safely in half of his 20 plate appearances.
Senior infielders Nick Sergakis and L. Grant Davis also swung the lumber well, combining to hit .406 (13-for-32) with three doubles and four RBIs, and junior center fielder Troy Montgomery gave a preview of his offensive array, hitting .313 (5-for-16). The Buckeye leadoff man's 1.188 OPS was second only to Bosiokovic, as he also walked four times and was hit by a pitch twice.
On the mound, Friday starter Tanner Tully took the ball in the opener and had a fine outing, throwing six innings of shutout ball, scattering six hits, striking out three, and walking one. The other three starters in the first weekend - redshirt sophomore Adam Niemeyer, senior John Havird, and true freshman Ryan Feltner - all had their good moments, but combined to allow 12 runs, 11 earned, in 14 innings of work.
Ohio State also got excellent efforts from the bullpen, notably senior Daulton Mosbarger, redshirt sophomores Yianni Pavlopulos and Kyle Michalik, and freshman Connor Curlis, who combined to allow just one unearned run in 10 innings out of the bullpen.
This weekend the Buckeyes will be in Myrtle Beach for the 17th-annual Caravelle Resort Baseball at the Beach tournament hosted by Coastal Carolina. Facing Duke, Liberty, and the host, nationally-ranked Coastal Carolina, is going to provide a solid early-season test for Ohio State.
"We're going to see frontline national-caliber pitching this weekend," Beals said. "It'll be a great test. I'm billing it as a preseason regional."
Let's take a look at what the Buckeyes will face on the beach.
Duke Blue Devils (3-1)
Duke, which went 3-1 in its opening weekend, including two wins against nationally-ranked California, is considered a middle of the pack team in the Atlantic Coast Conference. But a middle of the pack club in the ACC is still of a higher caliber than the competition Ohio State faced in the first four games.
The Blue Devils are led offensively by a couple of underclassmen in sophomore Peter Zyla and freshman Jimmy Herron. Zyla led the team with a .331 batting average as a freshman a season ago, and Herron had a fine debut, hitting .429 (6-for-14) with two doubles during the opening weekend.
What will make Duke especially tough is its pitching, and the Buckeyes will see the ace of the staff in junior Bailey Clark. The 6'5 righty who went 4-5 with a 2.95 ERA in 2015 is listed among the top 50 prospects for June's Major League Baseball draft by just about every national publication. Clark has a 93-95 mph fastball that reaches 96, to go along with a mid-80s slider, and will be the best arm Ohio State has faced to this point in the season.
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (2-1)
Coastal Carolina, which currently sits at No. 22 in the NCBWA national rankings, is an experienced team and the cream of the crop in the Big South Conference. The Chanticleers showed just how formidable they can be last weekend, with a 5-4 comeback win over No. 4 and defending national champion Virginia.
The team's everyday lineup is led by shortstop Michael Paez, a preseason All-American. Paez hit .326 with 17 doubles, eight home runs, and 43 RBIs a year ago. Joining him are left fielder Anthony Marks, who led the team with a .343 average in 2015, and designated hitter G.K. Young, who hit .301 with nine homers and a team-high 49 RBIs.
On the mound for the Chants for Saturday's matchup will be right-hander Alex Cunningham, who went 6-0 with a 2.56 ERA last season, but got roughed up in his first start this year against 19th-ranked N.C. State. The junior gave up six runs, all earned, in four innings of work, though he did manage to strike out seven batters. Cunningham is ranked among the top five pro prospects in the Big South.
In Monday's finale, junior Cole Schaefer will be on the bump for Coastal. A righty, Schaefer got a no-decision in starting the Virginia game, going 4.1. innings and allowing four runs, three earned.
Liberty Flames (2-2)
Liberty split its first four games on opening weekend, notching victories against South Florida and William & Mary. The Flames were picked to finish third in the Big South standings in the preseason and have a blend of experience and youth. 18 newcomers join 17 returning players on the 2016 roster.
Senior shortstop Dalton Britt was an All-Big South player a season ago, hitting .294 with 10 doubles, five homers, and 30 RBIs. Joining Britt in leading the offense are junior right fielder Will Sheperd, a 2015 Summer Collegiate All-American after hitting .325 with eight home runs, 26 driven in, and a .554 slugging percentage in the Coastal Plain League, and freshman D.J. Artis, who debuted to the tune of .438 (7-for-16) with two triples, a home run, and five RBIs.
Getting the ball for Liberty will be junior Michael Stafford, who went three innings in his first start of the season. The lefty allowed a run on two hits, striking out five and walking four in a no-decision against South Florida.
Game times & probable pitching matchups
Friday, Feb. 26, 1 p.m. ET vs. Duke
Niemeyer (0-0, 6.23 ERA) vs. Clark (0-0, 3.38)
Saturday, Feb. 27, 2 p.m. ET vs. Coastal Carolina
Tully (1-0, 0.00) vs. Cunningham (0-0, 13.50)
Sunday, Feb. 28, 1 p.m. ET vs. Liberty
Havird (0-0, 7.94) vs. Stafford (0-0, 3.00)
Monday, Feb. 29, 4 p.m. ET vs. Coastal Carolina
Feltner (0-0, 6,75) vs. Schaefer (0-0, 6.23)