The Ohio State baseball team (12-6-1) has won five straight games and is undefeated at home (4-0). Those marks will be put to the test over the weekend, as it is slated to begin the conference season with Big Ten foe Northwestern (5-16) set to visit Columbus from Friday through Sunday.
The Buckeyes are fresh off an 11-6 victory over the Xavier Musketeers last Tuesday in which OSU collected 13 hits, including two home runs, and won the game in comeback fashion.
The Scarlet and Gray’s bats have been one of the primary reasons for the team’s success, with five players hitting .300 or better. A concerted effort to clean up the mistakes in the infield has also impacted the outcome in the win/loss column.
OSU has been led at the plate by senior co-captain Nick Sergakis and junior left fielder Ronnie Dawson. Sergakis leads the team with a .410 batting average, and Dawson leads the way with 22 RBIs while batting .313.
OSU hopes to get another one of its biggest bats back in the lineup this weekend. Redshirt junior Jacob Bosiokovic has been hampered by a lingering hamstring injury that has kept him out of action for nearly two weeks. After the win against Xavier, OSU coach Greg Beals said he is taking the slow approach with Bosiokovic, opting to not rush the Delaware, Ohio, product back too soon.
“(Bosiokovic) is progressing very, very well,” Beals said. “He pulled the hamstring pretty good. He’s been down and needs to be down. He did take a full pregame routine (before the Xavier game). So we think he’s really, really close.”
Northwestern is entering this series on a decline, having lost 12 of 13 games after starting the season at 4-3. The Wildcats pitching staff has been struggling lately, allowing 7.3 runs per game over the last six contests. As a team, its overall ERA stands at 6.27 on the season, which is almost three runs higher than that of OSU (3.60).
The Wildcats do present a formidable test for OSU’s pitching staff, as junior outfielder Matt Hopfner is batting a red-hot .390 in 20 starts. Northwestern, however, isn’t a team that poses an immediate threat via the long ball. As a team, Northwestern only has four home runs all year, three of which were hit by junior outfielder Joe Hoscheit, but OSU redshirt sophomore Adam Niemeyer said he knows this is a team that can string together a few base hits.
“I remember over the past couple years, they were a scrappy team,” Niemeyer said. “They always put the ball in play.”
Tully leading the charge on the mound
Like the weather in Ohio, the Buckeyes’ pitching staff has been heating up as of late. During the three-game series against Hofstra, OSU’s pitchers only allowed four runs.
The stellar pitching was sparked by the quiet leadership of junior lefty Tanner Tully. In his previous start, the Elkhart, Indiana, native threw six scoreless innings to improve his record to 3-1. Tully for the season has the team’s best ERA among starters with a 2.73 mark. Tully is also tied with Niemeyer for the team lead in strikeouts with 27.
Niemeyer said a big key to the staff’s recent success has been issuing fewer walks to opposing hitters.
“That’s one of the things (assistant coach Mike) Stafford and coach Beals stress is just getting ahead of hitters,” Niemeyer said. “You don’t want to give free bases. You need to make the hitters beat you. They’re trying to hit a round ball with a round bat, so if you attack them and get ahead in the count, you will be a lot better off.”
The OSU bullpen is also performing to the liking of the Buckeye faithful. Several key relievers have been stepping up week after week. In the game against Xavier, starting pitcher Ryan Feltner was roughed up, allowing 10 hits over his 4.1 innings of work and pitting OSU in a 5-0 hole to climb out of. But OSU’s bullpen rose to the challenge, holding the Musketeers to no runs over the final 4.2 innings.
The large part of that control and comeback came from the arm of redshirt sophomore Austin Woodby, who threw 2.0 scoreless innings of work, picking up the win for his efforts and boosting his record to 3-1.
Closer Yianni Pavlopoulos has also performed above expectations. The redshirt sophomore has yet to allow a run this season in his nine appearances, which has allowed him to pick up a team-leading five saves for the Buckeyes.
Continuing the streak
OSU’s winning streak and undefeated home start will be on the line this weekend, and maintaining the momentum it has built up is something senior shortstop Craig Nennig said will be very important looking ahead.
“We’re definitely fired up for it,” Nennig said. “We’re going to have a good practice (Thursday) and take care of business with what we need to do for (Friday).”
The first pitch against Northwestern on Friday is set to be thrown out at 6:35 p.m. Saturday’s game is scheduled to begin at 3:05 p.m., and Sunday’s start is slated for noon. Beals announced the starters for the games will be Tully, Niemeyer and senior John Havird, respectively.