Talkin’ Baseball: Buckeyes Open 130th Season of Hardball
By Andrew Lind
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio State Buckeyes opened their 130th season of collegiate baseball this past weekend down in Sarasota, Fla. Although the results from the first weekend of the season were less than desirable, the first athletic team in Ohio State history is looking to build upon the successful foundation laid the past few seasons under Head Coach Greg Beals.
Photo by Jim Davidson
In his first two seasons in Columbus, Beals has guided the Buckeyes to a 59-54 overall mark, with a .500 record in Big Ten play. Beals, only the fourth Ohio State head baseball coach in the past 60 years, is looking to guide the Buckeyes to a Big Ten Championship and the team’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009.
Likely standing between the Buckeyes and the tournament is the Big Ten favorite Indiana. Ohio State was picked 4th in the Preseason Big Ten Coaches’ Poll, behind the Hoosiers, Nebraska and Michigan State.
Leading the Buckeyes this season will be a trio of senior captains: second baseman Ryan Cypret and pitchers David Fathalikhani and Brett McKinney.
“These three guys were voted on by their teammates and I couldn’t agree more,” coach Beals commented.
“They all three represent Buckeye Nation the right way and will help lead this team on a championship mission this spring.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
Cypret started all 60 games this past season at second base, finishing with a .236 batting average, two home runs, and 31 runners batted in.
Like Cypret, Fathalikhani will be a captain for the second-straight season. The right-handed relief pitcher posted a 2.86 ERA after making the transition from catcher.
For the Buckeyes to exceed expectations this season, McKinney will have to continue to improve upon his ERA, like he has the past two seasons. The starting pitcher lowered his earned runs by two points from his freshman to junior year.
While the Buckeyes are relatively youthful, one position they can count on is pitching. Ohio State returns nearly 87 percent of their starting and relief pitching from a year ago, led by All-Big Ten pitcher Jaron Long. A native of Scottsdale, Ariz., Long posted a team-leading 2.66 ERA in 101.1 innings pitched, winning a total of six games.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Another player critical to Ohio State’s success is former Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Josh Dezse. Dezse will miss at least the first two months of the season with a stress reaction in his lower back. Dezse finished second on the team with a .306 batting average last season, but will limit himself to being the designated hitter – instead of his normal first base – so he can focus on coming out of the bullpen for the Buckeyes.
“We have some good pieces out there. It’s a matter of staying healthy, Beals said.
“We have a lot of depth. So many guys are capable. We’ll be three strong (with starting pitchers) on the weekend.”
They will need to stay healthy, especially early on, as they open up the season with 15-consecutive games away from home. Already having played three games this past weekend in Florida, the Buckeyes will travel to Port Charlotte for four contests, then Deland, Fla. for three more. All before heading to South Carolina to play five more games before they return to Columbus for their home-opener on March 15.
After a brutal first-month schedule that plagues all northern teams, the Buckeyes will return home to the newly renamed Nick Swisher Field at Bill Davis Stadium. Swisher, currently of the Cleveland Indians, donated $500,000 to the University for renovations to the stadium, which included field turf and a new scoreboard, installed over the offseason.
“We've been Omaha-bound for quite some time now and I think it's time we break through and get there,” said Swisher, hoping that the new renovations help bring in some of the top talent from around the country.
In the 17th season at Bill Davis, the Buckeyes will play 27 home games against some of the top teams in the country. Seven teams on the schedule reached the NCAA Tournament last season and several more look capable of reaching the tournament this year. Playing against teams like Georgia Tech, Louisville, and Oregon will prepare the Buckeyes for a run at a Big Ten Championship, and possibly even a College World Series.
Recapping Opening Weekend
The Buckeyes started the year 1-2 with a rough opening weekend down in Sarasota. They lost a close battle with Mercer University when Cypret was thrown out at home plate in the bottom of the 10th inning.
Ohio State took a 5-2 lead in the sixth inning, but McKinney couldn’t slam the door for Long, who allowed two earned runs while striking out five in 5.2 innings pitched as the opening day starter.
McKinney walked the first two batters in the ninth, and Mercer came back to tie the game 5-5 after nine innings. They would score another run off McKinney in the top of the 10th, and then Mercer centerfielder Sasha Lagarde gunned down a sliding Cypret at the plate to end the game.
Things would not get much better against Notre Dame on Saturday evening. The Fighting Irish jumped out to a 2-0 lead on OSU starter Brian King and the wheels came off for the Buckeyes in the sixth inning.
Already down 5-2, Ohio State would allow three more runs in the sixth and four more in the seventh during a 13-3 loss to Notre Dame. King allowed five earned runs in five innings, while reliever Jake Post gave up four earned runs in just 1.1 innings of work.
Ohio State would bounce back with it’s first victory of the season on Sunday afternoon. Senior Brad Goldberg struck out seven in seven scoreless innings, as OSU defeated St. John’s, 3-1, for the first win of the 2013 season.
“It was a tough weekend but I was pleased with how our guys responded,” Beals said.
“It was great to see Brad out on the mound and he set the tempo for our ball club today. We had a great start, a couple key hits when we needed them and we played a good, clean game of baseball.”
The Buckeyes scored all three of their runs late in the game, as designated hitter Aaron Gretz drove in a pair on an RBI-single to center in the eighth inning.