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Baseball: Ohio State ends nine-game homestand with Kent State

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Senior shortstop Jalen Washington singles to third on a 0-1 pitch in the bottom of the first inning against Purdue on Sunday. Credit: Edward Sutelan | Lantern reporter

The Ohio State baseball team (11-16, 1-5 Big Ten) is putting a disappointing series loss to Purdue in the past, and moving ahead to a midweek game against Kent State on Wednesday before its first road conference series at Penn State on Friday.

Senior shortstop and co-captain Jalen Washington said that the team will try to find that elusive, momentum-building win on Wednesday against Kent State.

“We’ve just got to keep pushing forward,” Washington said after the team’s 2-1 loss to Purdue on Sunday. “We’ve shown that we can play very well, we’ve just got to put it together and we haven’t done that yet. We’re still working to get there. We’ll have a good day of practice on Monday and then come back on (Wednesday) against Kent State.”

Scouting Kent State

The Golden Flashes will be one of the toughest midweek matchups the Buckeyes face all season, as they currently sit at a 17-8 overall record and enter this matchup as winners of seven of their last 10 games.

In what has been a strong start to the 2017 season for Kent State, little has gone wrong for the Golden Flashes. The team is 17th in the NCAA in batting average with a .313 average, tied for 49th in home runs (26) and 26th in slugging percentage (.469).

Statistically, the team is led by redshirt senior right fielder Luke Burch. The team’s leadoff hitter is leading the team in extra-base hits (13), walks (11), hits (44) and doubles (8). Among qualifying batters on the team with an NCAA minimum of 40 at-bats, he also leads the Golden Flashes in batting average (.411), on-base percentage (.462) and slugging percentage (.607). His three home runs are third on the team for most in that category.

Pitching has also been a major strength of the team this season. The team is 51st in the NCAA with a 3.58 ERA and 27th in strikeouts per nine innings, averaging 9.2. The Golden Flashes have also been stingy with the baserunners, allowing only a 1.26 WHIP — 45th best among NCAA teams.

The starting pitchers have not yet been announced for the game. The midweek starter for the Golden Flashes last week was redshirt junior starting pitcher Robert Zeigler and he did not pitch in Tuesday’s 11-6 loss against Youngstown State. In 20 innings pitched this season, he has allowed just 17 hits and seven walks, helping him register a team-low 1.35 ERA. Zeigler has also struck out 16 batters and has served up just two extra-base hits.

Beals said on Sunday that he is not looking past Kent State to his team’s weekend conference matchup against Penn State, and said they are going to be a tough team to beat.

“We’ve got a tough game on Wednesday. Kent’s solid and they’re a good ball club and they’ll come in here with a lot of energy and a lot of confidence,” Beals said. “They believe they’re the best baseball school in the state of Ohio, and they’re going to come in here on Wednesday night trying to prove that and it’s an opportunity for us to defend the T-H-E that we represent.”

Getting Gantt Going

The Buckeyes found a lot of success early offensively in the season when their leadoff hitter, junior center fielder Tre’ Gantt was hitting his stride at the plate.

But lately, Gantt has been unable to deliver the kind of production the team has been counting on from him. Over the past nine games, Gantt is slashing just .094/.256/.188 with only one extra-base hit, six runs scored and 11 strikeouts in 32 total at-bats.

During that span, he has more strikeouts than times reached base, an issue Beals said comes down to issues seeing the ball as clearly as he has earlier in the year.

“The strikeouts and the strikeouts looking, there’s something — and he’s not seeing the ball very well,” Beals said after the team’s 2-1 loss to Purdue on Sunday. “Some of that can be pressing, and mind’s going so your mind’s not free to read and react as well as you’re capable of and that’s what Tre’ needs to do. Tre’s a very good athlete, and a very good baseball player and can hit, if he can keep his mind in the situation where he’s just reading and reacting.”

The team is likely hoping he gets his bat going soon, because as Gantt goes, so too goes the offense, redshirt senior first baseman Zach Ratcliff said last Wednesday.

“He’s really our spark plug and he gets us going,” Ratcliff said.

Gantt and the rest of the OSU baseball team will try to get things going again this Wednesday as they host Kent State for the conclusion of their nine-game homestand. First pitch is scheduled for 6:35 p.m.

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