After fifteen games away from home, the Ohio State baseball team will finally be taking the field in the friendly confines of Bill Davis Stadium in Columbus this weekend. At 8-6-1 through roughly a quarter of the season, the Buckeyes could use some home cooking as they tune-up to begin conference play.
Ohio State spent the past four games in the desert taking on UNLV. The series split between the two clubs was a microcosm of what has gone right for the Buckeyes thus far in 2016, as well as the areas that are still in need of improvement.
"We're not happy with a split, but that's all that we could do coming into tonight's ball game," head coach Greg Beals said Tuesday night. "We need to clean up our defense and support our pitching staff, and I know we are capable of playing quality defense."
Beals' squad had no trouble scoring runs against the Rebels, particularly in Saturday's 20-run explosion. Troy Montgomery, Ronnie Dawson, Tre' Gantt, and Brady Cherry all had solid weekends.
Montgomery and Dawson combined to go 12-for-34 at the plate in the series (.353 average) and drive in 10 runs. Dawson hit three home runs, while Montgomery went deep once. Cherry, who is showing strong in his freshman season, was 6-for-18 (.333) with five RBIs of his own.
Gantt, who is coming off offseason labrum surgery got his first extended playing time of the season, making a start at DH and two in right field in place of Jacob Bosiokovic, who is nursing a hamstring injury. Gantt responded by going 5-for-12 (.417) at the plate, with three doubles and three RBIs.
On the mound, Saturday, starter Adam Niemeyer put together his best start of the 2016 campaign to date, tossing six innings of two-run, four-hit balls, striking out seven and issuing just one walk. Niemeyer's command has been spot on in 23 innings, as the redshirt sophomore righty has fanned 24 and given up just three walks en route to a 1.09 WHIP.
Friday starter Tanner Tully suffered his first loss of the season, giving up five runs, four earned, while striking out seven and walking two in seven innings. Freshman Ryan Feltner also had a rough day on the bump Tuesday, walking six in his four innings, surrendering five runs in a no-decision.
Ohio State is about to embark on a stretch of 13 straight games either at home or within the state of Ohio, and Big Ten play is just a week away. The Buckeyes begin the home slate this weekend hosting Hofstra for a three-game series.
"It's going to be nice to go back home and play in front of our home crowd after spending a month on the road," Beals said. "It's going to be nice to go back to Bill Davis Stadium."
Let's take a look at the Pride.
Hofstra Pride (5-11, Colonial Athletic Conference)
Hofstra did not mess around when starting the season, playing three games apiece against national power Texas A&M and a solid Missouri team. The Pride lose all six of those games, and have played .500 baseball ever since.
A .500 mark seems about right for John Russo's club, as they have outscored opponents by just four runs thus far in the season.
Three players to watch in Hofstra's lineup are senior first baseman Ryan Karl, sophomore center fielder Steven Foster, and freshman catcher Vito Friscia. Karl leads the team with a .311 batting average and .492 slugging percentage, with six doubles, a homer, and six RBIs.
Foster, who was a preseason All-CAA selection, is currently hitting .295 and leads the team with six stolen bases. A season ago, Foster led the Pride with a .351 average.
Friscia is experiencing similar success early in his first season, batting .306 and sporting a team-best .534 on-base percentage.
On the bump, a trio of righties will take the ball over the weekend. Senior Alec Eisenberg is improving over his junior season, holding opponents to a .234 batting average and sporting a 3.32 ERA. After pitching in the Cape Cod League over the summer, the Scarsdale, New York native is 1-3 and has 16 strikeouts against 11 walks in his 21.2 innings.
Sophomore Chris Weiss, who appeared in the field more than on the mound as a freshman, has had his struggles on the hill in 2016. The right-hander is 1-1 with a 5.09 ERA despite yielding just a .229 opponent batting average and a 1.30 WHIP.
Bookending the weekend will be senior Bowie Matteson, who spent his first two years of college at a school (Boston University) that did not even field a baseball team. The righty is 1-1 with a 2.49 ERA in his first season as a full-time member of the rotation. Matteson has been very effective with his command, limiting opponents to a .247 batting average and just three walks.
With Northwestern traveling to Columbus to kick off Big Ten play next weekend, establishing some momentum at Bill Davis Stadium against Hofstra is key to Ohio State kicking its struggles to the curb.
Game times and probable pitching matchups
Friday, March 18th, 5:05 p.m. ET
Tully (2-1, 3.42 ERA) vs. Eisenberg (1-3, 3.32)
Saturday, March 19th, 3:05 p.m. ET
Niemeyer (1-1, 4.30) vs. Weiss (1-1, 5.09)
Sunday, March 20th, 1:05 p.m. ET
John Havird (0-1, 4.98) vs. Matteson (1-1, 2.49)