Preparing for a ‘must’ road trip this weekend to Michigan State, the Ohio State Buckeyes struggled again at the plate Wednesday against Eastern Michigan.
Columbus – Whether he talks openly about it or not, Ohio State baseball coach Greg Beals has tried just about everything.
He’s juggled the lineup to try to catch some of the on-again, off-again magic of his team’s offense.
Not by his own choice he’s had to juggle his pitching rotation, accounting for injuries and ineffectiveness.
And during last weekend’s series at Penn State he even juggled the coaching duties. Beals returned to the third base coaching box, where he was previously autonomous before turning over the duties to Chris Holick earlier in the spring. Holick returned to his customary first base position.
Wednesday he inserted freshman Connor Pohl in the designated hitter’s spot, his second start of the season. Fellow freshman Matt Carpenter made his first varsity start at second base.
The point is…the season is slipping by. And standing 14-18 entering Wednesday’s non-con affair with Eastern Michigan (14-20), there’s precious little time and opportunity remaining to right the ship and make a run at the prize of a Big Ten Tournament bid come May. And without being open about that, too, Beals knows it.
The heavy lifting starts in earnest this weekend in East Lansing, and with a Spartan team hitting (collectively) .238 it’s not hard to do the math…any of it. Michigan State is hitting 60 points higher (.298), first in the conference, while ranking 7th in the latest Big Ten standings (18-10 overall) with 3-3 record.
The Buckeyes’ offensive woes continued Wednesday, following Tuesday’s 7-1 loss to the UC Bearcats, a game in which they only got four hits. Squandering a great pitching effort by starter Austin Woodby, relievers Jake Vance, Reece Calvert, Ryan Feltner, and Seth Kinker, they fell to Eastern Michigan, 3-1!
Woodby staggered out of the gate before settling down in the second and third innings, surrendering a pair of first inning runs on an error by shortstop Jalen Washington, a double by Eastern’s designated hitter Brennan Williams, and a 2-RBI single by right fielder John Montgomery. And that was the sum total of either team’s offense until the bottom of the fourth.
Noah McGowan opened the bottom of the fourth with a base hit to center field, advanced on a two-out walk to Bo Coolen, and scored on Connor Pohl’s RBI single to right.
Beyond that…goose eggs until the top of the eighth when first baseman John Rensel touched up Seth Kinker for a leadoff homer in the eighth (his first of the year), a run the Buckeyes could ill afford. Eagles closer Matt Beaton came on in the bottom of the ninth and retired the side…quietly!
Eastern won it with 3 runs, 6 hits, and no errors.
Ohio State lost it with 1 run, 5 hits, and 2 errors, precipitating an almost hour-long meeting in left field after the final out.
Asked about topics in that meeting on which he was willing to share Greg Beals said, “We gotta’ do better offensively. That’s as much as I’m willing to share.”
Throughout the year, on their way to a now 14-19 record, Beals has talked about approach, patience, confidence…all of it. Wednesday night he lumped it all together.
“They threw strikes, and I don’t mind the number of first and second pitch outs we made, as long as you make an out on the pitch you want to hit, and it’s with solid contact. We needed louder outs. If we’re going to make early outs it has to be on something we like. It has to be on an ‘offensive’ swing, a loud out.”
Without question, this is a team in the throes of an offensive ‘funk’, for lack of a better word.
“Yeah, it is a funk,” said Beals, struggling for an explanation. “It’s hitting, and it’s on top of us right now. It’s the hardest thing to do in sports and the confidence you need to hit is a special thing. Because even the best of hitters fail at a 70% clip. We’re simply struggling with the confidence thing. You can just see that in our approach. The early outs tonight were a matter of not trying to fail, as opposed to trying to win.”
His voice was quiet. Beals is in a position of being backed in a corner at this point of the season, and with no alternative but to fight his way out. This weekend in East Lansing…is do or die.
“We’d hoped to extend the momentum we had coming out of Sunday at Penn State,” he added. “We had a good day, a comeback win, and we’d hoped to carry that momentum through the week and keep that good feeling of confidence going.”
Now, it’s back to juggling prior to Friday’s series opener with the Spartans.
“We gotta’ keep mixing up what we’re doing to find the right thing,” he concluded. “And it’s not a matter of finding the right people, but it’s a matter of what’s going to spark this team. Sometimes it is personnel, and sometimes it’s preparation.
“But as a coaching staff and team we’re going to continue to fight. We gotta’ find that thing that’s going to spark this ballclub.”
That’s about all you can say…when it’s do or die!
Notes: Arcanum native Connor Pohl went 1 for 4 in his second start, a single (his second hit of the year) that drove in his second run of the year in the fourth inning. Noah McGowan was the hitting ‘star’ of the game, collecting a pair of singles and scoring the Bucks’ only run in the fourth inning. Eastern Michigan pitchers (Justin Thompson and Matt Beaton) retired 13 of the last 14 Buckeyes hitters from the end of the fifth through the bottom of the ninth. OSU’s Ryan Feltner made his fourth consecutive scoreless outing from the bullpen pitching the eighth.