After winning its first Big Ten series, the Ohio State baseball team (16-7-1, 2-1) took care of business against two nonconference opponents: Ohio University and Toledo. Now, the Buckeyes are looking ahead to a weekend series against Bethune-Cookman (11-15).
The Buckeyes, winners of 16 consecutive midweek games, have done an excellent job protecting the home turf against these teams. For OSU coach Greg Beals, part of what makes those wins so special is that they have come against teams from Ohio.
“Well the thing I like about that midweek streak is the fact that we’re playing a lot of other schools,” Beals said. “They come in here and it’s a really big game and we’re defending the T-H-E and a lot of places don’t like the T-H-E on The Ohio State University, but it’s something that it’s our responsibility to defend it.”
The 2016 season has not been so terrible for Bethune-Cookman, but it certainly could have started better. The Wildcats are 6-4 in their past 10 games, a span that has included a one-run loss to No. 4 Miami (Fla.), but also a 21-8 throttling courtesy of Florida International (13-15).
The pitching has been the Achilles’ heel for the Wildcats this season. They do not have a starting pitcher with an ERA below 4.50 and own a miserable team ERA of 5.62.
While Bethune-Cookman has struggled on the mound, hitting has not been nearly as much of a concern. The Wildcats are batting .260 with 19 home runs as a team. The major force in their lineup is junior catcher Michael Cruz, who through 90 at-bats has a .333 batting average with nine home runs. Up and down the lineup, the Wildcats have players who can hit the ball with some authority, but Beals said he believes OSU can keep up its winning ways of late.
“I think our pitchers need to stick to the gameplan and execute the gameplan, and that’s pitch the bottom of the zone,” Beals said. “I’d like to see us click a little more (on offense) and have a 12-, 13- or 14-hit night where we get contributions from up and down the lineup and a little more steady than we’ve been.”
One would be hard pressed to find a more dangerous top four hitters in college baseball than the quartet starting things off for the Buckeyes.
The table-setter, junior center fielder Troy Montgomery, currently has the most walks in the Big Ten with 26 and is sixth in on-base percentage (.490). The No. 2 hitter, redshirt junior right fielder Jacob Bosiokovic, is second in home runs with eight already; the No. 3 hitter, junior left fielder Ronnie Dawson, owns a .557 slugging percentage, good for 10th in the Big Ten.
The cleanup hitter, senior third baseman Nick Sergakis, is first in hits with 40 and second in batting average (.417). Even with the recent success, Bosiokovic, who has hit a home run in three straight games, said he still wants to keep his approach simple.
“I’m seeing it pretty well right now, but it’s just baseball,” Bosiokovic said. “The first weekend I had those home runs and then next week, I had one hit so it’s really just taking each at-bat and each pitch for what it is and tracking the ball and just trying to put a good swing on it.”
Part of what has made this team so successful has not only been the outstanding hitting at the top of the lineup, but steady contributions from every player on the team. Against Toledo, senior shortstop Craig Nennig (batting ninth) went 2-for-5 with a home run. Junior left-handed pitcher Joe Stoll came in and provided the Buckeyes with four lockdown innings in relief.
When looking at the past couple of wins for the Buckeyes, Beals said he knows that the bench, bullpen and bottom of the order have been crucial to the success of this team.
“It’s the bullpen, it’s the bench guys, it’s the fact that we’ve got talent up and down the line,” Beals said. “We pinch hit twice last night, pinch ran twice last night, had a defensive switch, and we were able to do some things and the talent on our ball club is what allows (me) to make those decisions.”
Now riding a four-game winning streak, it will be important for the Buckeyes to keep things rolling against the Wildcats. Despite his team having played two games already this week, Beals said he is certain that his team will be ready to go against Bethune-Cookman.
“These guys all have the ambition of playing professionally, and when you play professionally, you play every day,” Beals said. “I think this is what they train for, and I think this is what we train them for, and this is what they’re expectation is and when players get going in the sport of baseball, more than any other sports, it’s a rhythm, so once they get going and get feeling good, they want to play and they want to play almost every day.”
The series against Bethune-Cookman is scheduled to begin Friday at 6:35 p.m. with junior lefty Tanner Tully set to take the bump for the Buckeyes. Redshirt sophomore right-hander Adam Niemeyer and senior left-hander John Havird are set to follow him up on Saturday and Sunday.