Ohio State comes home for the Big Ten schedule with both questions and answers…and the reality that they can play with the mighty and handle the pack.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.—This spring trip started with a smack in the mouth. It ended with a grip on reality.
We know this about Ohio State, The Buckeyes may not be on their way to the pinnacle of college baseball this season, but they can play with the mighty and handle the pack.
After losing the first two games to 24th ranked Florida Gulf Coast in undistinguished fashion, the Buckeyes bounced back to win three straight, including back-to-back wins over Lehigh and Bucknell Tuesday and Wednesday in the Snowbird Classic.
Following a convincing 5-4 win over FGCU, the Buckeyes hung a 7-3 loss on Lehigh (2-10) and backed that with a 5-2 win over Bucknell (6-7).
Along with Sunday’s 5-4 win over FGCU, these two games were more important than they might have seemed. But they followed a 10-9 loss Friday night, when OSU gave up six runs in the bottom of the ninth, and a 13-1 drubbing at the hands of the Eagles on Saturday.
“I got to go back to Sunday, “ Beals said. “We showed our resolve that day coming back and winning that game, and that set the tempo for these two games. We were able to take these two. Games we should take care of business in (Lehigh and Bucknell), we took care of business.
“We got ourselves back to .500 (8-8). We take three-out-of-five and we got a three-game winning steak going home. That’s not to say we don’t have work to do.”
Whatever lies ahead, there were those who showed here—in wins and losses—that they are ready to contribute, and likely will as OSU heads toward the Big Ten portion of the schedule.
Tuesday it was starting pitcher Connor Curlis. The sophomore lefty pitched 5 1/3 innings of shutout ball, allowing just four hits and one walk before giving way to Kyle Michalik.
“Connor is a gamer. He’s proven he’s ready to pitch and man a role,” Beals said. “He’s one of those guys who is better on game day than he is in practice…He really gave us a good start today.”
Curlis showed his mettle in the third. Bucknell reached him for back-to-back, one-out singles putting runners at first and second. He struck out the next hitter he faced and, after walking the bases loaded, got out of the inning on a soft fly ball to right.”
“I was just trying to keep the fastball down, get that first pitch strike and then go to my curveball,” Curlis said. “I feel like all of my pitches were working for me today, especially my breaking pitches.”
OSU staged a two-out rally in the fifth to take a lead it never lost. Jacob Barnwell started things with a single through the left side of the infield and Tre’ Gantt followed with a base hit through the hole at short.
With runners on first and second, shortstop Jalen Washington doubled down the right field line to give the Buckeyes a 2-0 lead.
“My first two at-bats I was a little behind, so I got a (1-and-1) fastball a little in and I just tried to inside-out the pitch,” Washington said. “The wind caught it and it went a little crazy, but I’ll take it.”
Ohio State picked up an unearned run in the sixth to take a 3-0 lead, but the infield defense came into play once again in the seventh and Bucknell pulled within a run. The Bisons strung together three hits and Washington’s error at short extended the inning and led to an unearned run.
It was Washington’s ninth error of the season, but he’s not alone in that area. The Buckeyes have committed 27 errors in their 16 games and 21 of those were made by infielders.
“We need to continue to get better defensively,” Beals said. “There is no doubt about that…Down here we’ve been playing on dirt fields and clay fields and they are a lot harder and faster than we are used to training on…
“That’s not an excuse. There is no question our infield defense has to improve. We know it’s something that has to get better for us to be a championship caliber ballclub.”
With Bucknell breathing down their necks, Ohio State pulled away, mustering two runs in the seventh. Tre’ Gantt, who continues to roll, singled to score one run and eventually scored as a result of a throwing error and a wild pitch.
Relievers Seth Kinker and Yianni Pavlopoulos took it to the house. Pavlopoulos picked up his second save of the season, requiring just eight pitches to shut it down.
NOTES: Monday’s 7-3 win over Lehigh was primarily a display of the Bucks’ potential at the plate. Their seven runs came on 12 hits, led by newcomers Noah McGowan (2-for-4), Bo Coolen (2-for-4) and Dominic Canzone (2-for-4)…Nine men hit safely… Before the season began Beals said he was not concerned about his team scoring runs. He was, however, genuinely concerned about the defensive play. “I wonder,” he said, “if we can support this pitching staff the way we need to in order to play championship baseball…Sixteen games in certain things have not changed…The Bucks begin their first home series of the season Friday night at Bill Davis Stadium…”It’s going to be nice to get back home,” Beals said, “regardless of the weather.”