It went from bad to slightly worse for the befallen Buckeyes, dropping the second game in their weekend series with UNC-Greensboro, 11-4…nothing to do but forget, and get better!
Columbus – OK, maybe it’s time to debug, reboot, or in pure human terms…forget and cleanse the mind.
For the second day in a row – for the fifth time in their last six games – the Buckeyes strangled on their own frustration with leaving the bases loaded, untimely and inexplicable errors, and cliche’ as it sounds…simply trying too hard not to lose.
It’s supposed to be a simple game, but the Buckeyes made it anything but on Saturday, losing for the second day in a row to UNC-Greensboro (24-14), by an identical score, 11-4.
They did it in almost identical fashion: 4 runs, 8 hits, 3 errors, and 8 men left on base.
They committed the most unthinkable of errors – three in the same inning, by second baseman Connor Pohl, first baseman Bo Coolen (both on routine throws that were dropped), and centerfielder Tre’ Gantt whiffing on an RBI single hit to him in center that went all the way to the warning track. Those three miscues enabled the Spartans to parlay two hits into three unearned runs and an early 3-0 lead.
They left the bases loaded in the bottom of that same second inning for want of a base hit, after Jake Barnwell was hit by a pitch and freshman Conner Pohl stroked an RBI double to left center to score him. Shea Murray then walked, Andrew Fishel singled to load ’em up…only to have Jalen Washington strike out and Tre’ Gantt pop up.
They were unlucky, as well. Leading off the third Brady Cherry hit a laser down the left field line for a would-be double. Only, it hit dead-center on the foul line and home plate umpire James Muhlek didn’t get his mask off in time to see it. He called it foul, and two pitches later Cherry struck out.
In the meantime starting pitcher Connor Curlis was dealing, throwing strikes, and doing his best to show command. But for lack of support he eventually succumbed; out of the game one out deep in the fifth. His line: 8 runs, 11 hits, 4 strikeouts and a walk.
To be honest, UNC-Greensboro is a very fine baseball team for the eight position players they put on the field. Admittedly, they have a thin bench, and their pitching is good enough. Starter Matt Frisbee (6-2) threw strikes Saturday, and mixed it up. But that was all it took.
What they do is hit…THEY REALLY HIT. Very disciplined at the plate, they hit line drives and find holes. They put pressure on opposing pitchers and defenses. Relentless in their offensive approach, they make opposing teams, especially young ones, play with the feeling of having no margin for error. They know how to play their game.
As they did in Friday’s opener, UNCG scored all their runs between the second and sixth innings – 3 in the second, 1 in the third, 2 in the fourth, 2 in the fifth, and 3 more in the sixth. It was mind-crippling in its redundancy. A nightmare, like the story line from the old Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day.
“I really don’t want to talk about today’s game,” said OSU coach Greg Beals post-game. “No disrespect, but I need to talk about where we are as a ballclub, and what we can do to get better. You saw it…We weren’t very good again today. And in my own opinion, and this is what I told the guys after the game…we’re just trying so damned hard, trying to be so perfect, and there’s no such thing as perfect in baseball.
“The trouble is when you’re playing that way you try to do too much, or you’re afraid of making mistakes. And that’s where I think we’re at. We’re afraid of making mistakes – pitchers trying to make perfect pitches, getting into bad counts and a club like this one is going to put good swings on you in that situation. I see our hitters feeling like they have to hit everything, rather than hitting the pitch they want to hit. We’re being too willing to go to action early in the count, trying not to fail, and trying too hard to put everything in play.”
Beals’ logic is sound, and obvious if you watch the body language – of indeed trying not to make a mistake, of trying to capitalize on every hit ball or opportunity to hit…and of having no margin for error.
It explains the three obvious errors in the fateful second inning that saw Conner Pohl drop a simple throw from the pitcher as he covered first base on a sac bunt attempt, a play he’s made hundreds of times in Acme and High School baseball.
It explains how Tre’ Gantt over-ran the single in center field and had the ball go under his glove and all the way to the wall.
It’s sound, too, when you consider the obvious talent, though young, on a team that at times has played loose, with confidence, and played well. But it also begs the question of where confidence goes when it disappears from a baseball player?
“I think the lack of confidence simply becomes self-doubt,” said Beals. “And that makes you question whether a person was REALLY confident in the first place. How real was that confidence? Are you confident just because you got a hit, or are you TRULY confident? Confidence doesn’t come from a result, or from a coach, or a mom, or a dad. Confidence is squarely inside each human.”
Having dropped five of their last six, Beals heartily agreed Saturday that it was time for rebooting – for putting the past three weeks in the rear view mirror and focus, however they can, on the reality of four remaining weeks of critical league play, starting with Nebraska next week.
“That was the gist of my post-game to the team,” he said. “We’re playing with an air of pressure and the stress we’re putting on ourselves isn’t working. Every one of us, coaching staff, and individual players, have to find a way to get their hands off their throats. We’ve got to live again. We’ve got to find a way to get healthy, physically and mentally.”
And not to add to the stress, but they’ve got exactly one remaining game with Greensboro on Sunday…and five days to do it before Nebraska comes to town next week. The Buckeyes are still in the hunt for a Big Ten Tournament berth, but like the man said…it’s hard to grip the bat when your hands are around your throat.
It’s a time to cleanse the mind!