It’s funny how a baseball season can seem so unbelievably quick yet so interminably long at the same time. Ohio State has reached the end of its schedule, the final three games in what has been a disappointing season to say the very least. It feels as though opening day in Osceola, Florida was just last week, but a grueling 53 games that saw the Buckeyes on the wrong end of the score time and again, often from self-inflicted wounds, has also worn down even the most ardent supporters of the program.
There will be a time, after the season finale on Saturday, to evaluate what, exactly, the state of the program is; to dissect what went wrong, who underperformed, who surprised, and where things go from here. There will surely be a host of answers, details that in hindsight will help to explain how the club went into a tailspin, and, as always in baseball, reasons to be optimistic that 2017 was just a momentary glitch for the scarlet and gray, a bump along the road to bigger and better things.
But for now, we turn our attention to the games still left to be played. We turn to the five players (Shea Murray, Jake Post, Zach Ratcliff, Joe Stoll, and Jalen Washington) who will be donning the scarlet and gray for the last time, with Senior Day being held on Saturday. It goes without saying, that quintet would like the final act of their careers to be a mark in the win column.
Baseball is a sport beloved because of its promise of nearly infinite tomorrows, but those days are in short supply for this year’s Ohio State squad. With the postseason all but mathematically out of the question, this is one last chance for the Buckeyes to leave everyone involved - players, coaches, and fans alike - with something positive to hold onto once this season has receded deep into memory, and something to build off of moving forward into future seasons.
Indiana Hoosier (30-19-2, 12-8-1 in Big Ten play)
There is perhaps no hotter team in the Big Ten than Indiana, which comes to town winner of seven of its last 10, including a 4-3 victory over national No. 2 Louisville on Tuesday night, and consecutive conference series wins over Minnesota, Michigan Maryland, and Penn State. Though the two sides did not meet in 2016, the Hoosiers have won their last 10 games against the Buckeyes, dating back to 2013.
Head coach Chris Lemonis has a team that can mash the baseball and do enough on the mound to win ballgames. Indiana has a conference-leading 60 home runs and ranks third in slugging percentage and doubles. Against an Ohio State pitching staff depleted by injuries and ineffectiveness, the Hoosiers lineup will be licking its chops.
The 3-4-5 hitters for Indiana will give any staff nightmares. Sophomores Matt Lloyd and Luke Miller and senior Craig Dedelow all rank in the top eight in the Big Ten in home runs. Lloyd in particular has having an all-conference type of season, slashing .322/.429/.611 with 13 doubles, 10 homers, and 39 runs batted in. Dedelow’s 13 longballs and 42 RBIs lead the team.
The pitching staff has had its issues, though, and may explain why a club with such power potential sits in sixth place in the Big Ten standings. The Hoosiers’ hurlers yield a .280 opposition batting average and give up just under five runs per game.
The weekend rotation kicks off with sophomore right-hander Jonathan Stiever, who has gone 3-3 with a 3.90 earned run average in 11 starts covering 57.2 innings. Stiever has been hit at a .277 clip by opponents, but managed to walk just four batters all season.
Behind him is fellow sophomore Pauly Milto, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound righty who has split time between starting and relieving. In 17 appearances that includes 7 starts, he’s amassed a 5-3 record with a 3.54 ERA in 61 innings of work. With a .258 batting average against and 1.26 WHIP, Milto has been solid, if unspectacular.
The final arm of the weekend is freshman Cal Krueger, who like Milto has split time between the rotation and the pen. Going 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA in 19 appearances that includes four starts, the Jasper, Indiana native has been impressive in his first collegiate season. Opposing batters hit just .243 against him, and he possesses a strikeout-to-walk ratio better than 2-to-1.
What Lemonis has in spades is options in his bullpen. An additional eight arms on the roster have made at least 13 appearances in some capacity, with freshman lefty Cameron Beauchamp (2.89 ERA) and Lloyd, who pulls double duty as the club’s closer, saving seven games, being tough to scratch out runs against.
The rivalry with Indiana has not been kind to Ohio State in the recent past, and given that these are two teams having decidedly different seasons, the odds seemed stacked against the Buckeyes. But this is a squad that has shown fight even in tough circumstances, and with the year coming to a close, will want to send its seniors off on a positive note.
Game times and probable pitching matchups
Thursday, May 18th, 6:35 p.m. ET (streaming live on BTN Plus)
Connor Curlis (4-3, 4.20 ERA) vs. Stiever (3-3, 3.90)
Friday, May 19th, 6:35 p.m. ET (streaming live on BTN Plus)
Jake Post (1-6, 4.32) vs. Milto (5-3, 3.54)
Saturday, May 20th, 3:05 p.m. ET (streaming live on BTN Plus)
TBA vs. Krueger (3-1, 2.61)