If you’re looking for reasons for why the Buckeyes are having to fight their way back into Big Ten contention, you might be surprised that one pre-season question mark has been nothing but pleasant production.
The Ohio State Buckeyes are admittedly fighting for their conference lives, post-season lives, and for a few seniors not likely to be drafted come June…literally, their baseball lives.
There’s no describing the sensation, or the emptiness of abject space, like you feel when you realize the next 20 games might be the last time you ever wear a uniform.
“We’ve got something to prove, there’s no question,” said Buckeyes coach Greg Beals last week. “We’re not out of this thing and one thing about baseball, you’re always as close as a well-pitched game, a game-winning hit, or a great defensive play to turn things around.”
And on the subject of great defense, Beals will count on the middle of his defense, anchored by Jalen Washington (catcher), Troy Kuhn (second base), Craig Nennig (shortstop), and center fielder Troy Montgomery to limit (or eliminate) mistakes as the stretch drive begins with this weekend’s series at Illinois. All four are seasoned veterans, all four are playing the best baseball of their college lives, and to the Buckeyes that’s the one valuable advantage they’ll take with them when they get off the bus Friday afternoon in Champaign-Urbana.
Despite some rough moments in the season’s first three weeks, the trio of Sergakis, Nennig and Montgomery all finished in the upper quarter of all Big Ten fielders at their respective positions in 2015 for fielding efficiency.
Nennig played at a .949 clip at shortstop, starting in 54 games.
Sergakis split time between second and third, and picked it at a .957 clip.
And Montgomery, rated among the best center fielders in America, was errorless in 137 chances…a perfect .1000%.
Nennig, at short, had by far the most overall chances, 235, and is justifiably proud of the Buckeyes’ efficiency with the leather.
“There’s a lot of talent on this ballclub,” he said back in March. “The trick has always been to bond and do what we can do as as team. It’s a very tight-knit bunch of guys and our defense has been very solid. There’s someone at every position that can play and our depth with the young guys coming in has been impressive.”
They say that hitters have slumps and pitchers have bad days. But there’s never an excuse for sloppy defense. Just catch the ball…and throw it. Nennig has been superlative in the past 20 games at doing just that, while adding enough offensive efficiency (.237 with 3 home runs and 18 RBIs for the year) so no one takes him for granted.
The senior from Wrightstown, Wisconsin hit .266 last year and led all OSU infielders with runs batted in with 30. And while Nennig knows that his bat is secondary to his responsibility in the field to help improve their current 24-12-1 record, no one of late has had bigger at bats!
“He’s worked his tail off,” says Beals. “He’s always been steady with the glove, but when we needed some extra offense before the Bethune Cookman series Craig did the extra work, stayed late, came early, and got in a lot of extra swings. The next day he hits a home run, his first in college baseball.
A consumer finance major, Nennig can figure it out, with the books, and with the Wilson A2000 he uses in the middle of the Buckeyes’ infield. Let Montgomery, Sergakis, Dawson, Bosiokovic and Brady Cherry do the heavy work with the bats this weekend against a tough Illinois pitching staff. If they struggle, Beals can still rest peacefully knowing his defense won’t be giving runs away.
His strength is up the middle. Craig Nennig will always catch the ball…and throw it!