The Ohio State baseball team (6-4-1) is heading to Las Vegas to test its odds against the UNLV Rebels (5-6) for a four-game series that will stretch from Friday to Tuesday.
Predicting the outcome of the Buckeyes baseball season thus far has been a gamble. The Scarlet and Gray have cooled off since their undefeated 3-0-1 start to the season, going 3-4 over the last two weekends.
To get back on a hot streak, OSU coach Greg Beals said the team will be focused on the task at hand, which is taking on UNLV.
“We’ve just gotta go take care of business, and our guys need to understand they’re going to Sin City, but it’s a business trip for us,” Beals said. “Las Vegas is going to be there for a long time, (but) their window of opportunity representing Ohio State is here right now, and they need to make sure they take care of that.”
Lady Luck hasn’t been on the Rebels side so far this season, as the team’s batting average has been a lackluster .223.
However, the Buckeye pitchers will have to be careful when throwing to sophomore left fielder Payton Squier. The Phoenix native powers the club with his .429 batting average.
The UNLV pitching staff is led by junior starting pitcher D.J. Myers. The 6-foot-5 righty from Henderson, Nevada, leads the team with 20 strikeouts in just 16 innings of work.
Beals said UNLV has faced some tough competition versus Texas, West Virginia and San Diego State to open the season, justifying UNLV’s record. OSU’s sixth-year coach said he sees UNLV’s talent despite the losses, but he wants his team to focus on what they can control: themselves.
“The biggest thing for me is that I’m focused on Ohio State, and we need to take care of ourselves and focus on what we do,” Beals said. “The talent on our baseball team is good enough to play with everybody. We need to play up to that expectation level.”
Cleaning up the errors
OSU fell in a close game to Illinois State last weekend 5-4 due to an untimely error by senior infielder Nick Sergakis. Sergakis has been an offensive catalyst for the team, batting a team-high .378 on the year. But OSU’s co-captain has also been the biggest liability on the defensive side, committing a team-leading nine fielding errors in 10 games.
In total, OSU has 22 fielding errors, something Beals said needs cleaned up if his team wants to be ready for conference play, which opens two weeks from Friday against Northwestern.
“When we play good defense, we’re winning baseball games,” Beals said. “When we play a cleaner game we’re winning those games. We’ve got to shore up the defense. The defense should be there on a daily basis.”
Pitching inconsistencies hurting Buckeyes
Throughout the course of the season, OSU’s pitching staff has had an up-and-down start. Other than junior starter Tanner Tully (2-0, 2.70 ERA), redshirt sophomore Yianni Pavlopoulos (1-0, two saves) and redshirt sophomore Austin Woodby (2-0), the Buckeye pitching staff as a collective unit hasn’t lived up to its own expectations.
Beals said looking at the stats doesn’t show the whole picture, though,and he likes the way his pitchers have played to this point; but the key for improvement is going to have to come from a consistently solid defense behind the pitchers.
One pitcher who is looking to step up for the Buckeyes is redshirt senior reliever Michael Horejsei. He said the pitching staff will face a great test from UNLV during the four-game series, and each guy has to be ready when his number is called upon.
“We have to come in and do our job and our job is, like we reiterate every day, to attack the bottom of the zone and go after hitters,” he said. “Don’t shy away from them and try to get in on them. Force them to swing and let your defense play behind you if they put a good swing on the ball.”
OSU battling the injury bug
Beals said the Buckeyes’ power hitter, redshirt junior Jacob Bosiokovic, is dealing with a hamstring injury that has the right fielder listed as doubtful for the series against UNLV.
With one of its biggest bats out of the lineup, OSU will look to senior outfielder Daulton Mosbarger to take Bosiokovic’s spot in the lineup. But the senior transfer from Akron said he knows it’s a near-impossible request to come in and match Bosiokovic’s production thus far.
“Obviously, Bosi is going to be Bosi, I can’t be Bosi,” Mosbarger said. “I’ve gotta just be me. I can go out there, I’m not going to hit the ball 500 feet like he is, but I can get on base, I can produce for the team, and I can just do anything it takes to win.”
The Buckeyes appear to be focused and will be looking to cash in with a good team performance against the Rebels.
“It’s a business trip, though, it’s not a vacation,” Horejsei said. “It might be spring break for us with school, but we’re heading there for a four-game series against a very tough opponent. They came here last year and they competed against us and gave us everything they had and took two of three from us. So this year, our goal is now to go in and win the series against them. It’s our turn to go to their home turf and take it to them, as we always try to do.”
The first pitch on Friday is scheduled to be thrown at 9:05 p.m.
After the four-game series in Las Vegas, the Buckeyes are slated to play their first game at Bill Davis Stadium in Columbus in a three-game weekend against Hofstra from March 18 to 20.