Following a legend is never easy, especially at a place as steeped in tradition as Ohio State. It takes a person of a certain character to do so successfully; an Earle Bruce, for example. Or, in the case of the Buckeye baseball program, a Greg Beals.
When Beals took the reins of the program after the 2010 season, he succeeded Bob Todd, the 23-year skipper who won 901 games, was named Big Ten Coach of the Year a record five times, whose teams claimed seven Big Ten championships and eight Big Ten Tournament titles, and secured NCAA regional berths thirteen times.
That’s a hell of an act to follow.
All Beals has done in the time since is guide Ohio State to 259 wins to date (including the 500th of his coaching career), seven trips to the conference tourney in eight seasons (including a near-miraculous run through the losers’ bracket to the 2016 title), and an NCAA regional appearance. At times he has taken heat from the fanbase, and at times that heat has been warranted. But what those detractors fail to appreciate is the way he leads and the culture he has built. That culture has enabled the team’s turnaround in 2018.
After a disappointing 2017 campaign that saw the Buckeyes stagger to a 22-34 record and no postseason, it would have been easy for the program to bottom out. Ohio State wasn’t on the radar in any meaningful way prior to this season, not ranking among the top six teams in the Big Ten’s preseason poll, and not even being mentioned in Baseball America’s conference preview. But Beals stuck to what he calls the program’s “cultural blueprint,” and the results speak for themselves.
“Win, lose, or draw, we have to respond, behave, and do the things we expect each other to do,” he told Chris Webb of the Big Ten baseball site 10 Innings. “We’re going to prepare at an elite level, we’re going to compete with toughness.”
As the Buckeyes prepare for the Big Ten tournament to get underway on Wednesday at TD Ameritrade Park — the site of their improbable triumph two years ago — that blueprint will determine how much noise they are able to make.
Big Ten Tournament Preview
The 2018 Big Ten season defied much of the media’s preseason assumptions. Indiana, heralded as the conference favorite by basically every media outlet, and a team that has spent most of season nationally ranked, wound up fifth in the standings. Maryland and Nebraska, two clubs expected to challenge the Hoosiers, will miss the Big Ten Tournament altogether after finishing ninth and tenth, respectively.
Ohio State’s seventh place finish was among the bigger surprises in the conference, and it’s also a little deceiving. Just a game and a half separated the Buckeyes from third place Michigan in the regular season standings, and the conference as a whole has proven to be fairly evenly matched.
Here’s how the Buckeyes fared against this year’s field:
- Minnesota: 1-2
- Purdue: 2-1
- Michigan: Did not play (great job schedule makers!)
- Illinois: 2-1
- Indiana: 2-1
- Iowa: 1-2
- Michigan St. 1-2
Top-seeded Minnesota enters having won five straight and nine out of last ten. Second-seeded Purdue put together a 13-game winning streak in the middle of the season, which would be quite impressive, except that three-seed Michigan won 20 in a row at one point. Illinois boasts the surefire Big Ten Player of the Year in Bren Spillane, who won the conference’s triple crown with a .407 batting average, 22 home runs, and 57 runs batted in. Indiana is Indiana, which is to say always dangerous, Iowa is the defending tourney champ, and Michigan State just took two out of three from Ohio State last weekend.
The point is, the odds of correctly handicapping this season’s tournament fall somewhere between getting hit by lightning and picking the winning PowerBall numbers. The Buckeyes have shown resilience and grit this season, embodying the culture Beals has worked so hard to build. It’s why the scarlet and gray has as good a chance as any to be the last team standing in Omaha.
How to watch Ohio State vs. Purdue in the 2018 Big Ten Tournament
Time: 2:00 p.m. ET
Location: TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Nebraska
TV: Big Ten Network
Online: Live Stats
Pitching matchup: Connor Curlis (7-3, 3.59 ERA) vs. Tanner Andrews (6-4, 2.71 ERA)