Todd Avery / Lantern photographer
Coming into the year with “ramped up expectations,” the Ohio State baseball team is making a push for postseason play.
The Buckeyes (24-20, 8-10 Big Ten) are in eighth place as of Tuesday afternoon and are six games out of first place in the Big Ten after losing two of three games at Penn State over the weekend.
The Buckeyes look to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009, when OSU finished 42-19 and secured an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament. The first step for the Buckeyes is to finish in at least sixth place in the Big Ten to qualify for the Big Ten tournament. With 12 games remaining in the regular season, OSU is one-and-a-half games back from four teams tied for fourth place.
The Buckeyes are behind Nebraska, Michigan State, Illinois and Penn State, who are all tied for fourth with an 8-7 Big Ten record. To catch these teams, coach Greg Beals said OSU and the coaching staff must be able to stay relaxed.
“We need to be able to stay loose and have fun and be relaxed,” Beals said. “Even though we’ve ramped up our expectations, if we have a couple of bad days, we can’t let that make us press. We need to trust ourselves. Trust the system, trust your teammates and trust the coaches.”
Beals said as a team, the Buckeyes have prepared for big games like they will encounter in the Big Ten tournament with games throughout the season.
“We (played tough games) early in the year, too, with Georgia Tech in the second week of the season,” Beals said. “Our guys have been in that fire, so when it comes conference time, we’ve been there. We’ve been in these tough series.”
OSU has played Purdue, Michigan State, Nebraska, Illinois, Penn State and Minnesota so far in Big Ten play. Beals said OSU’s sweep of Minnesota early in April was one of the bigger moments of the season.
“The Ohio State and Minnesota rivalry is as strong as any Big Ten rivalry in any sport,” Beals said before the series. After the series Beals said pitching was the key. “We put a lot of emphasis on our bullpen and our guys out there know I have a lot of confidence in them.”
One of the players who Beals said he has a lot of confidence in is sophomore pitcher Jaron Long who, in his first season with the Buckeyes, has a 4-2 record with a 1.98 ERA and 54 strikeouts to just nine walks. He has been the Friday night starter and “ace” for OSU.
“Any time you can win on Friday, it’s great to set the tone of the series,” Long said about being the Friday starter. Long also said he likes to work quickly to keep batters off balance. “I just like to get up there and focus on my next pitch. It keeps your defense in it and disrupts the other teams’ timing. This game is big on disrupting people’s timing.”
Another player, junior catcher Greg Solomon, is hitting .243 on the season with and leads the team in sacrifices. Beals called Solomon a “great competitor” and a leader of the team, willing to do whatever it takes to win. Solomon said it’s been a tough season for him personally, but he’s still contributing to the effort for a Big Ten championship.
“Being competitive is something that I think all athletes strive for,” Solomon said. “Being the catcher on the team, I have to be competitive because I’m the one running the game. If I’m not competitive, then the people that are playing, the other eight guys, they’re not going to be as competitive or as tough as they should. I feel like being competitive is just the way I’ve been my whole life.”
Beals said the Buckeyes rely on all of its parts to compete for a championship, but rely heavily on its seniors. Senior outfielder Dave Corna said practice is what drives the team toward success.
“In practice we have to work on things compared to games when we stay positive so we can do what we have to do,” Corna said. “(Beals) in game time is more positive than practice, when he can be more aggressive.
Senior pitcher Andrew Armstrong also said Beals can be an aggressive coach during practice, but more relaxed during games.
“It all really kind of depends,” Armstrong said. “He can get in your face if he wants, but he kind of lets us play to whatever we need to do. Some guys he needs to jump, he’ll jump. Other guys he needs to take it easy on, he does. Just for each player, he’s kind of different, but overall I’d say he’s kind of laid back.”
Beals said he likes to think he’s tougher in practice so that games are easier for players and are more prepared for tough games.
“Practices are big for us,” Beals said. “At practice, it’s program time where we’re working on things we need to work on, and game time it’s time for guys to go out and play. If I’m going to allow them to go out and play at game day, then we have to get after it at practice so I know they’re prepared for it.”
OSU’s next game is against Northwestern (14-26, 5-13 Big Ten) Friday at 7 p.m.