Ohio State baseball has appeared to be hitting its stride the past few weeks. The Buckeyes have won nine of their last ten, several in gritty, come-from-behind fashion, and by winning percentage are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten.
This weekend, Ohio State gets a bye from conference play, as Bethune-Cookman comes to Columbus for a three-game series. After that, things heat up in a big way, as head coach Greg Beals' squad will play three of the next four weekends on the road at Maryland, Illinois, and Purdue. Consider the series with the Wildcats the final tuneup before the stretch run.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for the Buckeyes this spring has been the offensive productivity the team has displayed. Ohio State ranks atop the Big Ten in doubles, home runs, runs scored, and runs batted in, and third in slugging percentage. This from a team that had more questions than answers at the plate entering the season.
Senior third baseman Nick Sergakis is having an All-American-caliber season thus far, leading the conference with 40 hits in his 24 games and placing second with a .417 batting average, third with a .667 slugging percentage, and fourth with a .495 on-base percentage. His 1.162 OPS is second on the team.
Also filling up the stat sheet is redshirt junior right fielder Jacob Bosiokovic, whose 1.251 OPS bests that of Sergakis. After missing nine games with a hamstring injury, Bosiokovic returned last weekend against Northwestern and looked to have not skipped a beat. Hitting .339, the Delaware, Ohio native is second in the Big Ten with eight home runs, and his .814 slugging percentage would be tops if he qualified after the missed time.
While the offensive attack has been a pleasant surprise, the pitching staff has also been effective, if inconsistent. Buckeye hurlers currently lead the conference in strikeouts and have yielded the third-fewest number of walks. The weekend rotation of Tanner Tully, Adam Niemeyer, and John Havird have combined to strike out 95 batters and walk just 17 in 106.1 innings of work, good for a 5.6-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and eight strikeouts per nine innings.
Niemeyer in particular has looked great as of late, allowing two earned runs or fewer in each of his last three outings, and walking a grand total of just one batter in his last four. In 37 innings covering six starts, the right-hander has struck out 35 compared to just three free passes, a ridiculous 11.67-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Ohio State will have nearly half the season in rearview by the conclusion of the weekend, but the competition is about to increase dramatically. Before hitting the dog days of the Big Ten schedule and the march towards postseason play, it is important for the Buckeyes to defend their home turf.
Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (11-15, 4-5 in the MEAC)
Fifth-year manager Jason Beverlin has built Bethune-Cookman into a competitive program during his tenure, and despite the team's record in 2016, the Wildcats are very capable of stealing a game or two in Columbus.
B-CU is hitting just .260 as a team, but averages over five runs a game and has a one through five in the lineup that is very dangerous. Where Beverlin's club has struggled is at the bottom of the order, but the top has some pop.
Left fielder Rakeem Quinn and second baseman Jameel Edney set the table in the top two spots, with each sporting an on-base percentage over .400. Quinn is hitting .303 and leads the team with eight stolen bases in eight attempts, while Edney is hitting .296, leads the team with seven doubles, and places third with 18 RBIs.
The power in the Wildcats' attack comes from the 3-4-5 hitters, who have a combined 15 homers and 56 runs driven in. Michael Cruz and Clay Middleton share the catching and DH duties, and both are having solid seasons. Cruz, hitting .333, leads the team with nine home runs, 21 RBIs, and a 1.157 OPS, while Middleton is hitting a club-best .375 with 14 driven in and a 1.106 OPS.
Rounding out the firepower is first baseman Danny Rodriguez, who is hitting just .250, but has contributed four longballs and 21 RBIs of his own.
Where Bethune-Cookman has had the most difficulty is on the mound. The Wildcat staff has a collective 5.62 earned run average and allows opposing hitters a .317 batting average. No one who has started a game for the team has an ERA below 4.50.
The weekend rotation consists of a trio of righties in German Hernandez, Tyler Norris, and Alex Seibold. Hernandez, a senior, is 3-1 with a 4.50 ERA in 34 innings pitched on the year, but has allowed a .326 opposition batting average and a team-high 12 extra-base hits.
The sophomore Norris has fared slightly better, going 3-1 and being hit at a .264 clip, He has a 5.54 ERA, but has a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, tallying 30 punchouts to just six free passes in his 27.2 innings of work.
Rounding out the weekend is Seibold, another senior. His 1-3 record and 5.58 ERA may have something to do with opposing batters hitting him to the tune of .358 in his 29.1 innings.
Given the way Ohio State has been swinging the bats, every player one through nine should be licking his chops to get a piece of the B-CU staff. The Wildcats can score runs, so the Buckeyes will need to be aggressive from pitch one.
Game times and probable pitching matchups
Friday, April 1, 6:35 p.m. ET
Tully (3-1, 2.60 ERA) vs. Hernandez (3-1, 4.50)
Saturday, April 2, 3:05 p.m. ET (streaming live on BTN Plus)
Niemeyer (2-1, 3.41) vs. Norris (3-1, 5.54)
Sunday, April 3, 1:05 p.m. ET (streaming live on BTN Plus)
Havird (1-1, 3.89) vs. Seibold (1-3, 5.58)