Set for a three-game series that on paper favors them, the Buckeyes are in the Florida panhandle this weekend to iron out some kinks…while the ironing is good!
Pensacola – It’s very different from the Arizona desert of a week ago.
Unlike Phoenix a week ago, the temperature in Pensacola, Florida this weekend is predicted to be in the mid-70s. It’s spring in the panhandle – azaleas in bloom, the best shrimp of the year, and a colloquialism that’s part Air Force and part Old South. My cab driver from the airport was Emmitt Smith’s first cousin…and he more than told me all about how as young boys he made the Cowboys future star all that he would one day become.
The Springhill Suites, the Buckeyes’ hotel on the beachfront, is beautiful. The breeze off the Gulf is refreshing…and not a cloud in the sky. You’d think by the ambiance that this is the ultimate spring break weekend.
The ‘Boys’, as sports information director Alex Morando profiles them on the official Twitter account, are here with a 5-3 mark after eight games in two weekends…and by rights (or better execution), they could, or should be, 7-1. Three major issues have dictated at least two of their three losses, and to a man the impression is that they’re here this weekend to shore up those issues.
One, while they’re hitting .311 as a team…they’ve struck out so far at an alarming rate – above that of last year when the 2017 club struck in 25% of their at bats. Alarming at the time, for whatever reason the virus is still around. Through their first 284 at bats in 2018, the Buckeyes have gone down swinging (or looking) 79 times..27% of those at bats.
Two, the defense has let them down, particularly in their loss last Friday to #2-ranked Oregon State. The move of Brady Cherry to second base was done in the knowledge that there would be a break-in period for footwork, range, and coordination around the base. It is…a work in progress, and last weekend was particularly frustrating for the junior from Indiana, who works daily to bring his own personal expectations up to standard.
But he’s not alone. Third baseman Conner Pohl is living through on-the-job training at the hot corner.
There have been some empty moments at first base, divided between Bo Coolen and Noah McGowan.
Collectively, the Bucks have committed 14 errors in eight games, a .953% fielding percentage. Opponents are picking it and throwing it at a .950 clip, marginally better.
And starting pitching…it’s not a concern, officially, but Greg Beals and his staff are looking hard this weekend for some consistency and efficiency, as well, as the ability to pitch at least six innings into the game, and into their reliable bullpen.
Conner Curlis gets the Friday afternoon start against Nicholls State (1-7). Ryan Feltner gets the ball against Southern Mississippi tomorrow (7-2), and Adam Niemeyer concludes the weekend series with a start against Eastern Michigan on Sunday.
So you see, azaleas be damned…this IS a business trip before next weekend’s final warm weather trip to Myrtle Beach and a head-to-head trial with Coastal Carolina, the 2016 NCAA World Series champs.
The first guy I met in the hotel lobby when I checked in this morning was Austin Woodby, one of the most affable people you’ll ever meet.
“How was your trip?” he asked.
“Sleepless,” I assured, fresh off a heavy Thursday night of high school sectional basketball.
“The bus leaves for the park at 11:15,” he advised, dispensing with the pleasantries.