Greg Hoard
Greg Hoard

Born in Indiana and educated in Georgia, Greg Hoard came to Cincinnati in the winter of 1979 as a columnist for the Cincinnati Post sports department, and joined the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1984 as the beat writer for the Cincinnati Reds.  He has received numerous awards for his work. In 1990, he left journalism for television. Hoard worked for WLWT-TV from 1990 through 1993 as sports director and spent 12 years as sports director at WXIX-TV. His written work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, Baseball America, Baseball Digest and NFL Game Day. He has appeared on ESPN and NBC’s The Today Show. Greg is the author of three books: Joe, Rounding Home and Heading for Home; Gary Burbank, Voices in My Head; and, most recently, Hannan’s Way, An Unlikely Trek Through Life. He is currently working on a baseball memoir, parts of which he will share here.

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Michigan State righthander Mike Mokma made a statement, and Buckeye bats were forced to listen as the Bucks drop their opening game in the First Pitch Invitational, 7-1.

GREENVILLE, S.C — Ohio State had an early taste of Big Ten baseball here Saturday night in the First Pitch Invitational. It didn’t go down well. Michigan State topped the Bucks, 7-1, in a game dominated by Spartan starter Mike Mokma.

Mokma held Ohio State to seven hits—three through the first five innings—struck out 11 and didn’t walk a batter.

“That was lot of fun,” Mokma said. “The ballclub played well behind me. We got some early runs—a lot of fun.”

“That was basically the story of the game,” Bucks coach Greg Beals said. “They got him that quick lead—three in the first—and he was just able to relax into his game.”

That early Spartan lead was the other side of the story. Ohio State starter Garrett Burhenn was tagged for three runs in the first inning and three more in the third. The freshman right-hander went five innings, allowed 12 hits and all seven Michigan State runs. The loss was his first of the season against two wins.

Mokma’s complete game was as rare as it was impressive, the first by a Michigan State pitcher since 2017. He threw 127 pitches, 95 for strikes.

“He was solid, no doubt,” said Conner Pohl, who had two hits—a double in the fourth and a single in the sixth—both opposite field shots to left. “He had command of his fastball and he really kind of threw us off early. He was throwing his two-seam fastball down and away to lefties and coming inside to the righties.

“He was firm, too. I saw 96 (mph) up on the board a couple of times…He’s so over the top and so tall, the ball just runs—keeps riding in on you. That kinda got us especially when he elevated the ball a little bit.”

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Mokma struck out the side to start the game and had six strikeouts before Ohio State had their first hit in the game, a two out single by Noah West in the third. Their next hit was Pohl’s two-out double in the fourth.

Their lone run was the result of back-to-back singles to start the sixth by Matt Carpenter and Dom Canzone, putting runners at first and third.

Conner Pohl was the bright spot offensively, breaking out with two hits in four at bats.

Carpenter scored when Brady Cherry hit into a 6-4-3 double play. It was that kinda night, and not one truly suitable for baseball. It was 40 degrees, damp and dreary. All day the sky was the color of cement and the air was nearly as thick.

Beyond that, a flu bug has strafed the Buckeye camp and left more than few a little off kilter. One of those feeling the bug’s effects is freshman reliever T.J. Brock.

Nevertheless, Brock came on in the sixth, pitched three shutout innings, didn’t give up a hit and struck out five. He’s a smallish 6-1, 180 lbs., and simply deals.

“That (Brock’s performance) was the bright spot of the game,” Beals said. “That’s another example of us learning about ourselves, who can do what and who can’t.”

“I didn’t feel very well,” Brock said. “I had some fever and I threw up a couple times. But, I was happy to show the coaches what I can do.”

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The loss dropped the Buckeyes to 7-6 overall, but this is a very young club still developing, still finding its way.

“We have to learn from this” Beals said. “We were exposed a little bit by (Mokma’s) fastball. We weren’t beaten by his velocity, but his velocity exposed the holes in our swings – we got a little loop in our swings. We need to tighten up some, refine our swings so we can have more quality at-bats and not foul those fastballs off.

Freshman TJ Brock threw the final three innings – no runs, no hits, five k’s, and no walks.

“We just need to learn from this and grow. We have to learn. We have to get better. We have to work to make ourselves better baseball players.”

He stressed this point in his post-game meeting with the team and cited the example set by Pohl.

When the first game of the night—Michigan State’s 6-4 loss to Western Carolina in 10—went to extra innings and disturbed Ohio State’s pre-game routine, Pohl grabbed his bats and went to the batting cages beneath the stands here at Fluor Field.

“The game is going long so he goes in and gets some more swings,” Beals said. “What happens? He has his best offensive night of the season. That’s the kind of thing it takes and we need to understand that.”

Otherwise, it was a night when everything went Michigan State’s way.

“They score three runs early,” Beals said. “That takes the pressure off their pitcher. He goes out and deals for a couple of innings. That lets the whole ballclub relax. That’s the difference in the two sides of the field…The early runs and their starting pitcher settling in and having a great game.

“You play,” he said, shrugging his shoulders slightly. “You learn.”

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