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Ohio State baseball set to open new season in Sunshine State Classic

The 2017 season has arrived for the baseball Bucks. Here’s what to expect from the opening weekend.

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We are still a month away from winter being over, but when the Ohio State baseball team takes the field on Friday to open the 2017 season, spring will have officially arrived. After players toiled through summer leagues, fall ball, and preseason workouts and practices, Opening Day comes not a moment too soon.

Despite myriad questions about the team’s inexperience after losing many of the key pieces that last season helped win 44 games, run the gauntlet to the Big Ten tournament title, and secure the program’s first berth in the NCAA tournament since 2009, head coach Greg Beals just wants to get on the field.

“They are quickly going to get that experience,” Beals said of the team, which features 17 new faces this year. “The talent level is there and I feel really good about it, and we are very excited to get 2017 underway.”

The Buckeyes are scheduled to play four games in three days at the Sunshine State Classic in Osceola, Florida this weekend, where they will be tested immediately, facing opponents from the high quality Big 12 and ACC conferences.

As we’ve pointed out the past couple of days, though, the cupboard isn’t entirely bare for Ohio State. Beals has at his disposal strong veteran leadership and a deep pitching staff to carry the team through the early going while the younger players get acclimated to the level of competition the college game provides.

The season of conjecture, projections, and prognosticating is finally over. It’s time to play ball. Let’s take a look at what the Buckeyes will face in the Sunshine State this weekend.

Sunshine State Classic

Kansas State Wildcats

Head coach Brad Hill knows a thing or two about what Beals is going through with newcomers, as Kansas State has 21 of them on its roster. The Wildcats return 15 letterwinners, including nine seniors, from last year’s 26-31 campaign, and have been picked to finish eighth of nine teams in a Big 12 conference that could be among the country’s elite in 2017. Among KState’s competition in the conference is TCU, the unanimous No. 1 team in the country according to all five major polls, as well as teams ranked or receiving votes in Texas Tech, Texas, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma.

The Wildcats are led offensively by first baseman Jake Scudder, who was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in 2016 after transferring from junior college. Scudder led Kansas State in a host of offensive categories, slashing .333/.392/.507 with 15 doubles, seven home runs, and 45 runs batted in. He is complemented by Freshman All-American catcher Josh Rolette, who had a .290/.365/.435 slash line, to go along with 13 doubles, six homers, and 34 RBIs.

Hill has nine freshmen and three JUCO transfers on his pitching staff. Redshirt sophomore Bryce Ward will be on the bump for the opener against Ohio State, making his second career start. The right-hander sat out last season, but was a Big 12 All-Freshman selection two seasons ago. Who the Wildcats send out on Sunday against the Buckeyes is likely to be determined by how the club’s first three games of the weekend turn out.

Pittsburgh Panthers

Now entering his 20th season at the helm for Pittsburgh, head coach Joe Jordano is also tasked with replacing a sizable amount of production from last year’s club, including six everyday starters. The Panthers, who went 25-26 in 2016, and whom Ohio State beat 11-8 in a wild 13-inning game last February, have been projected seventh in the ACC’s Coastal Division by the conference’s coaches. The ACC, which sent 10 schools to the NCAA tournament a season ago, once again figures to be among the most competitive in the country, with powerhouses like Florida State, Louisville, North Carolina, Clemson, Miami, Virginia, NC State, and Georgia Tech all nationally ranked.

Pitt’s key returnee in the lineup is outfielder Frank Maldonado, who slashed .330/.415/.449 as a redshirt sophomore in 2016, leading the ACC with seven triples, and driving in 25 runs. No other returning player hit above .277, and Jordano does have questions of where offense will come from.

On the mound, senior righties Sam Mersing and Josh Falk return after combining to make 21 starts a season ago, but the headliners are in the bullpen. Junior Isaac Mattson was a standout in the Cape Cod League this past summer, and sophomore Yaya Chentouf was an ACC All-Freshman performer in 2016.

Delaware Blue Hens

Ohio State’s final opponent in Florida is also the most experienced, as Delaware returns its top eight hitter and 10 of its top 11 pitchers from a season ago. The Blue Hens, coached by Jim Sherman, went 33-22 in 2016, but missed the Colonial Athletic Conference’s tourney by two games as a result of a 10-14 mark in conference play.

Delaware’s leading offensive threat is outfielder Jordan Glover, a third-team preseason All-American selection by Collegiate Baseball Magazine. Glover led the Blue Hens in nearly statistical category in 2016, posting a gaudy .360/.443/.555 slash line, 20 doubles, five home runs, 52 RBIs, and 22 stolen bases. Sophomores Nick Patten and Kyle Baker also provide pop after being named Louisville Slugger Freshman All-Americans last year.

The pitching staff is anchored by sophomore Brandon Walter, another Freshman All-American in 2016, who along with redshirt junior Ron Marinaccio, gives Sherman an experienced duo at the front of the rotation. The bullpen is also in capable hands, with the lefty-righty combination of Colman Villa and Burk FitzPatrick, who tied for the team lead in saves and combined to make 46 appearances.

Game times and probable pitching matchups

Friday, February 17th, 12:00 p.m. ET vs. Kansas State

Adam Niemeyer (4-2, 4.31 ERA in 2016) vs. Ward (redshirt in 2016)

Saturday, February 18th, 2:00 p.m. ET vs. Delaware

Yianni Pavlopoulos (3-4, 3.03) vs. Nick Spadifino (5-3, 7.01)

Saturday February 18th, 5:00 p.m. ET vs. Pittsburgh

Ryan Feltner (3-4, 4.06) vs. Falk (3-7, 4.77)

Sunday, February 19th, 11:00 a.m. ET vs. Kansas State

Jake Post (redshirt in 2016) vs. Parker Rigler (4-9, 4.89)