On a humid, windy 82-degree day, the Buckeyes scored 14 runs the first two innings and went on to win the third game of the four-game series with no sweat.
Daytona, Fla. – Noah West was more than ready for the academic load of college before he even considered signing a national letter of intent to play baseball for Ohio State.
As an all-district shortstop for Westerville Central High School in suburban Columbus, he brought a winning mentality being on a Division I state tournament finalist as a junior.
His glove also was golden, and that’s what got Buckeyes coach Greg Beals interested in the first place.
But West was so-so to sub-par with a bat in his hands, and that carried over to his first two seasons in college.
Fast forward to his third varsity season and West continued to show pop at the plate in the lead-off spot by going 2-for-5 in Ohio State’s 16-9 victory over Bethune-Cookman on Sunday at Jackie Robinson Ballpark.
The Buckeyes (7-4) have won the second and third games of the series against the Wildcats (4-6) after losing the first, and it might be the last game with rain and high winds forecast for Monday. A decision whether to play will be made in mid-morning.
That would be a shame for someone like West. He hiked his batting average to .324 and his RBI total to seven, so he can’t wait to lace on the spikes again.
In the second game, he led off the first inning with a double down the left field line to jump-start a 6-0 victory.
“Before we got off the bus yesterday, Coach Beals told us we had to have the mindset that it was Opening Day,’’ West said. “We were all excited to play. I just tried to get a fastball that first at bat to get the boys going.’’
Yesterday, he led off the game with a single to left-center and scored in a six-run inning. In the second inning, he hit a bases-loaded triple to the wall in left-center.
What is going on with him?
He batted .213 starting 30 games as a true freshman and .223 last season in 45 games.
“I took a lot of time over the summer with (assistant) Matt Angle and Coach Beals and they really developed my swing a lot,’’ he said. “It was small adjustments and changes. I’m seeing the ball really a lot better.’’
Beals agreed that the work with West’s swing was a little tinkering and not wholesale changes.
“His hands are good, but we were trying to get him to use his legs and hips better for a more connective full body swing,’’ Beals said. “Noah set the tempo today with the lead off hit and the bases-loaded triple. Noah West is in a comfortable place right now. He is comfortable with his ballgame and how he is playing. His game is just feeding off his offense and defense. He is competing and playing good baseball.’’
West was an Ohio State scholar-athlete his first two years and academic All-Big Ten last year. He is majoring in finance.
No matter how high the batting average goes, defense always will be his calling card.
Last season, the Buckeyes struggled mightily until some changes were made, and one of them was making West the everyday shortstop. He started 38 games in helping the team snag a second NCAA tournament bid in three seasons.
“It truly was an honor to be on that stage last year,’’ he said. “This year, we have a different mindset. We let the game come to us defensively instead of attacking the game. I look forward to going out there every single day to work on my defense. I take pride in it.”
The game was played in front of a couple hundred spectators – about half were Ohio State parents, siblings, relatives and friends – but it was special for true freshman right-hander Bayden Root of Kokomo, Indiana.
His relief appearance was all over the place in that he struck out the side in the sixth and seventh, but also walked four. He gave up one hit in 2 1/3 innings in throwing 52 pitches.
In 1998, Root’s mother Debbie was sitting in the same grandstands pregnant with him when father Derek threw a one-hitter for the Class A Kissimmee Astros against the Daytona Cobras.
“This was a pretty emotional day,’’ Debbie said.
Houston drafted Derek in the fifth round out of Lakewood St. Edward High School in suburban Cleveland. He pitched seven seasons of minor league ball with the Astros, San Diego and New York Mets.
“My dad texted me the other day (about playing here),’’ Root said. “It was an honor pitching on the same mound as my dad. I felt really good. The slider was working well for a strike and a wipeout. My fastball was coming out pretty good, too. I was trying to get the job done for a couple of innings.’’
Root is in the same predicament as the rest of the bullpen in that innings have been scarce with starters Seth Lonsway, Garrett Burhenn, Griffan Smith and Jake Vance going so deep into games.
“It was a good experience taking advantage of the innings I got,’’ he said. “Coach Staff (pitching coach Mike Stafford) and Coach Beals always know I’m there when they need me. Our starters have been pitching some amazing games and our bullpen has had a chance to rest. I tried to slow the game down today.’’
Center fielder Nolan Clegg made his second collegiate start as the No. 9 batter. He went 2-for-4 with two RBI and scored one run.
Clegg drove in a run in the first with a single to left-center, but his beating out an infield hit in the second was the head’s-up play of the afternoon.
He hit a slow roller up the first base line and appeared to be an easy out for first baseman Danny Rodriguez.
But Rodriguez took things for granted and threw down a lazy swipe tag, and Clegg performed what amounted to a pop-up slide about 20 feet from the bag and resumed running full bore.
“Two days ago, Malik Jones hit one down the first base line and I saw the same first baseman put a high tag on him,’’ he said. “The idea popped into my head, but I never thought I’d use it. Today, it was the same situation and I told myself, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen?’ I would be out.’’
Clegg was a three-time all-state selection and Ohio Division IV player of the year as a senior for Toronto High School, but he got as much or more experience playing for the famed Midland Redskins near the Cincinnati area last summer.
Midland won the Connie Mack World Championship at Farmington, New Mexico, and Clegg was in the dog pile celebrating in the middle of the diamond.
“We had a lot of fun with that team,’’ he said. “That definitely got me used to the college atmosphere before college with all the fans.
“Today, I was just focusing on seeing the ball as well as possible,’’ he said. “No matter where I hit the ball I wanted to give them a hard 90 to first base.’’
It wasn’t all seashells and balloons for Ohio State in that the bats all but shut down after the first two innings and Smith gave up seven runs – six earned – in five innings.
“It was tough offensively from the standpoint that their pitchers were nibbling so much and didn’t give us a lot to hit,’’ Beals said. “Getting out to that big lead set the tempo for the game, but I wish we could have sustained some quality at bats through the back half of the game. It was a win – an ugly win – but it was a win. So we’ll take that.’’
Bethune-Cookman left-handed starter Bryan Melendez and first reliever Joseph Strong made it easier for the Buckeyes with a combined six walks and two wild pitches.
“You score 16 runs and you think you did well offensively, but we got aided quite a bit,’’ he said. “The pitching was OK. Bayden Root has great stuff and can strike guys out. But he can walk guys, too. His go-to is that slider, and that’s what he gets strikeouts with.’’