During the 2021 baseball season, Ohio State’s strength was its pitching — both starting and out of the bullpen. With the entire starting rotation heading off to the pros following last season, pitching was certainly a concern for the Buckeyes heading into 2022.
Well, if the four games that the Buckeyes played in Port Charlotte, Fla. last past weekend are any indication, they needn’t worry too much. The bats were so hot that I could have pitched and gotten the “W.” The Bucks scored 39 runs in four games, winning the first three before dropping the finale on Monday to BYU 9-6.
If you’re keeping track of such things, you can declare OSU the “champs” of the round-robin Snowbird, since they finished 3-1, while Indiana State and BYU were 2-2, and Marshall managed to go 1-3.
Heading into the weekend, I was wondering about the starting lineup for the Buckeyes. Coach Greg Beals didn’t do too much experimenting in these first four games. Six of the nine (including DH) starters started all four games. Some of these players — like Zach Dezenzo, Kade Kern, and Mitchell Okuley — I had penciled in. But then there was freshman Trey Lipsey off to a great start and transfer Drew Reckart showing up at second base and practically stealing the show.
If you score as many runs as the Bucks did last weekend, you’re going to have some gaudy hitting numbers. After four games, third baseman Marcus Ernst leads the club in batting with a .438 average, while Lipsey is hitting a sweet .417. Reckart (.357) and Dezenzo (.333) are the other regulars hitting better than .300. Reckart and Dezenzo have two homers each, and Dezenzo also leads in RBI with six, followed by Lipsey (5), Kern (5), and Reckart (4).
Pitchers Isaiah Coupet and Nate Haberhier look to be capable starters, but the Buckeyes will need to find another one, or two, to handle the weekend series that characterizes the college baseball schedules. The relief pitching, so far, looks strong.
One troubling stat that seems to have carried over from last season is Zach Dezenzo’s fielding percentage. He’s committed four errors in the four games and (frankly) is a bit of a liability in the infield. Need his bat, though!
Friday, Feb. 18 | Ohio State 15, Marshall 4
The Buckeyes opened the 2022 season last Friday and saw their hitters pounce on the Thundering Herd pitchers. Leading only 2-1 going into the bottom of the fifth, the Bucks were in a tight one, a pitchers’ duel. Then, slugger Kade Kern cleared the bases with a triple and Trey Lipsey did him one better later in the inning with his grand slam. A solo blast by transfer Drew Reckart allowed the scorekeeper to hang an “8” on the board in the fifth for OSU. And it was essentially all over.
Isaiah Coupet, moving from the bullpen and making only his second career start, was brilliant all night. He pitched six innings, allowing three hits and one earned run. 11 Thundering Herd batters walked back to the dugout after getting K’d by Coupet. His performance may help to remove one of the big question marks facing OSU this season – starters.
Saturday, Feb. 19 | Ohio State 9, Indiana State 3
Saturday afternoon saw the first of two games that the Buckeyes played against the Indiana State Sycamores. This game had quite a difference trajectory to it from Friday’s game. The Bucks jumped on ISU pitchers early, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first and two each in the fourth and fifth. At that point, the score was 7-3, and the Sycamores were done, thanks to the relief pitching of Ethan Hammerberg and Nate Karaffa, who threw a couple of scoreless innings each. Starter Nate Haberthier was solid in his four and two-thirds innings, yielding three runs, two of them earned.
Batting heroes for the Buckeyes included third baseman Marcus Ernst and first baseman Hank Thomas, both of whom hammered triples and knocked in two runs each.
Sunday, Feb. 20 | Ohio State 9, Indiana State 8
The Sunday game against Indiana State reminded us (as if we needed reminding) how weird baseball can be. OSU starting pitcher Will Pfennig pretty much got pounded and yielded eight runs (five earned) in his four innings on the mound. As the Buckeyes came to the plate in the top of the fifth, they were down 8-0 and looked to be headed to their first loss of the young season.
Then the game turned. The Bucks scored three in the fifth, added another in the seventh, and put up five in the eighth to take a 9-8 lead. T. J. Brock time. Last year’s star closer took the mound for the first time this year and sealed the deal. He pitched the eighth and ninth, striking out three and getting the save.
Monday, Feb. 21 | Brigham Young 9, Ohio State 6
OSU’s undefeated start came to an end on Monday, as they lost to BYU. Going in to the Snowbird, the Cougars figured to be the toughest competition for the Buckeyes – and they were, at least for the Buckeyes.
BYU jumped on Buckeye starter Aaron Funk, bombing him for five hits and four runs in the opening frame. Wyatt Loncar took the mound for Ohio State in the second, but didn’t fare a whole lot better, giving up a couple of walks, four hits, and four runs in his 3.2 innings (though he did strike out six Cougar batters).
The Buckeyes’ bats weren’t silent, but they weren’t able to make up the big deficit this time. Dezenzo hit his second homer of the season and batted in three of the six OSU runs in the losing effort.
On Friday, February 25, the Buckeyes will take their 3-1 record to San Marcos, Texas, for a three-game series against the Texas State University Bobcats. Then, the following weekend, they’ll head to Fayetteville, NC, for the Armed Forces Invitational, where they’ll take on Campbell, Pitt, and Army.