Despite an influx of youth on the Ohio State baseball team, leadership is a likely necessity if the Buckeyes have dreams to be considered among the nation’s best. Although the team is less than three weeks into its regular season, the leaders on the pitching staff have already begun to emerge.
Senior captain Greg Greve, and junior Ryan Riga have established themselves as the starting 1-2 punch for the Buckeyes on the mound. They make up a small portion of the pitching staff with collegiate experience, though.
“It puts expectations on our roles. We have to show the young guys the ropes,” Greve said.
A corps of talented freshmen and sophomores outweigh the upperclassmen in numbers, but coach Greg Beals said he is confident going into weekend trips knowing he is sending Greve and Riga out to start games.
“I consider them bookends,” Beals said. “You got Greve going out first (on the weekend), Riga going out second … so our young guys are bookended a little bit.”
Beals said he does not have a problem with sending any of the freshmen out to throw big innings, but Greve’s and Riga’s performances thus far have yet to warrant that.
Neither were regular starters last year, but both have starting experience. Greve, a right-hander, started 20 games combined during his freshman and sophomore campaigns before moving to the bullpen last year, where he lowered his ERA to a career-best 3.65. Riga, a left-hander, began his collegiate career at Wabash Valley College, where he went 9-3 as a freshman and posted a 2.77 ERA. He improved as a sophomore during his first season with the Buckeyes in 2013, getting his ERA down to 2.14 in 29 relief appearances.
With none of the starting rotation returning this season, both pitchers knew it would be their time to step up.
“Last year the (pitching) staff set the tone for the team,” Riga said. “We’re trying to do the same to accomplish our goals and make it to the national tournament.”
Greve started on opening day for the Buckeyes against reigning Big East Tournament Champion Connecticut. In the weeks leading up to that first game, he had no idea he would be the day one starter for the team, but embraced the role.
Things looked shaky to start, with the Huskies earning two runs off him to begin the first inning.
“Opening day showed that I was excited and nervous,” Greve said. “After the first inning, I went into the dugout and took some deep breaths and talked to my teammates to just help me relax.”
Getting calmed down by his teammates appeared to pay dividends, as he subsequently pitched five strong innings, allowing only two baserunners and retiring 11 batters in a row at one point. The Buckeye offense tallied eight runs to earn him the win.
Riga started against Auburn in the second game of the season and pitched for six innings, giving up only four hits while not allowing any runs. His effort against the Tigers earned him the honor of being named a Big Ten Co-Pitcher of the week. He said the award wasn’t important, though.
“It doesn’t mean much to me,” Riga said. “I’m just trying to leave games with a lead and help the team win as many games as I can.”
The second weekend of play didn’t see Greve and Riga, but Greve said he was glad the team could generate enough offense to win even if the starters struggled.
“It’s a great feeling knowing our offense can come back and get runs even if we have a bad day,” Greve said. “Our job is to go out and keep it close for them.”
As the freshmen and sophomore relievers continue to develop, Beals said he knows Greve and Riga can provide them with someone to look up to and follow.
“They have the right leadership to prepare the (young) guys to be successful,” Beals said.
The Buckeyes (5-2) have set the tone early, just as they had hoped to do, Riga said.
“We had a big emphasis on the beginning of the year,” Riga said. “We focused on getting a good start and are happy with how it’s been.”
Riga and Greve know there is much more to be done, though, and that the team has to keep winning to achieve their main goal.
“We want to represent Ohio State in the national tournament,” Greve said. “We have worked our butts off for this all winter. All I want to do is help the team win.”
The Buckeyes are scheduled to play Pittsburgh Friday in the Keith LeClair Classic in Greenville, N.C. First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m.