Tuesday’s 3-0 victory over Ohio University didn’t feel like a typical midweek game for the Ohio State baseball team. After being swept two straight weekends by Xavier and Minnesota, the Buckeyes were in desperate need of something good happening on the field, something to stave off, if even for a few days, the feeling of the season teetering on the brink of collapse.
“It was one of those games where we wanted to get guys work, but we thought we needed to win also,” head coach Greg Beals told The Lantern. “We needed to get on winning ways. We needed to change the air and the only way to do that is to have some success and win a ballgame.”
It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, but that isn’t the point. Ohio State did just enough with the bats, getting the kind of timely hitting that has eluded the club for much of the season, and had one of its most solid performances of the year on the mound in notching its first shutout. Coming out on top doesn’t change the fact that the Buckeyes sit four games below .500, or that they started 0-3 in Big Ten play, but heading into the second weekend of conference play, it provides a little extra feeling of momentum.
Last season, Ohio State’s sweep of Purdue was a jumping-off point for the success the team would experience later in the season. The Buckeyes are hopeful that this weekend’s three games against the Boilermakers can have a similar effect.
“Last year at this time, we kind of had it tough. We were kind of battling out, seeing what pieces fit where,” said redshirt senior Jake Post. “We got time to adjust, and I think this weekend against an opponent like Purdue would be a good spark for us.”
Beals will once again be short-handed with his pitching staff, as senior starter Adam Niemeyer (elbow tendinitis) and junior reliever Kyle Michalik (ankle sprain) continue to rehab from injury, causing the rotation and bullpen roles to be question marks heading into Friday night.
Ohio State can’t afford to be on the receiving end of a sweep for the third straight weekend or to fall too far behind in the Big Ten standings. If the scarlet and gray has any designs on avoiding a lost season and defending its conference tournament championship, the turnaround must start now.
Purdue Boilermakers (13-11, 1-2 in Big Ten play)
First year head coach Mark Wasikowski inherited a massive rebuilding project when he took over the Purdue program. The Boilers had a woeful 10-44 record in 2016 under former head man Doug Schreiber, who had been at the helm since 1998. But Wasikowski has been resolute in his belief that things could be turned around.
"The way you turn things around is simple: You have a solid plan, a solid system, and bring in great players to develop with that system,” he told SB Nation’s Hammer and Rails after being hired last July. “When you recruit players to fit into your system that is when you get results."
While recruiting is a long-term venture, Purdue is already way of last season’s pace, having recently put together a seven-game winning streak and already notching wins against high-quality programs that would have seemed impossible a year ago. The Boilers are scoring nearly double the amount of runs per game as they did in 2016.
Leading the attack at the plate for Purdue sophomore catcher Nick Dalesandro and freshman center fielder Skyler Hunter. Hunter has been among the most impressive rookies in the Big Ten, slashing .384/.429/.438, while Dalesandro has built upon a solid first season last year to post a .366/.423/..505 slash line, knocking five doubles, two home runs, and driving in 20 runs in the team’s first 24 games.
Sophomore first baseman Jacson McGowan has supplied plenty of pop in the cleanup position as well, leading the team with eight doubles, three homers, and 24 RBIs.
If anything is holding back the Boilermakers’ revival, though, it has been the pitching staff. Wasikowski’s arms have a collective 5.44 earned run average, a WHIP just under 1.50, and an opposition batting average of .280. Given the Buckeyes’ struggles at the plate of late, it appears this is the perfect opportunity for the team to get its bats going.
The weekend rotation for Purdue is anchored by junior right-hander Tanner Andrews, who has posted a 4-1 record in six starts, with a 3.55 ERA and a nearly 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, while limiting opposing hitters to a .223 average.
Behind Andrews are sophomore southpaw Gareth Stroh, a junior college transfer who has struggled a bit, going 1-2 with a 6.83 ERA, a WHIP of 2.06, and an opposition batting average of .354, and right-handed sophomore Mike Kornacker, who has yielded an ERA of 5.00 and opponent clip of .324 in seven appearances that includes three starts.
But despite the trouble the rotation has had, the Boilers’ bullpen has been strong. Junior lefty Ross Learnard has allowed just a single run in 10 appearances covering 17 innings, and freshman righty Dalton Parker has saved four games, limiting opponents to a .143 clip at the plate and sporting a WHIP under 1.00. If Ohio State is to come out on top this weekend, its lineup will need to jump on the starters.
Game times and probable pitching matchups
Friday, March 31st, 6:35 p.m. ET (streaming live on Buckeye Vision)
TBD vs. Andrews (4-1, 3.55 ERA)
Saturday, April 1st, 6 p.m. ET (streaming live on BTN2Go)
TBD vs. Stroh (1-2, 6.83)
Sunday, April 2nd, 1 p.m. ET (streaming live on Buckeye Vision)
TBD vs. Kornacker (0-0, 5.00)