Bad memories fuel Buckeyes as they prepare for hard-hitting Michigan. Pitching will be key, and a few big hits–like those that came up against 17th-ranked Florida Atlantic–will be greatly needed.
COLUMBUS—They didn’t need a calendar or a clock, no gauge of any kind to measure their achievement. For a few minutes last Sunday afternoon, the Ohio State Buckeyes allowed themselves some time to celebrate.
They had just taken the “rubber game” in a three-game series against the Iowa Hawkeyes, building a three-run lead in the first and protecting it with good, solid pitching and superlative defensive play through the final out.
It was an impressive effort especially given what had taken place Saturday, a 12-0, two-hit shutout at the hand of the Iowa Hawkeyes. That game gave the Buckeyes good reason to recall a bad memory.
“This was the exact same point last year when we took an absolute stumble down the hill,” said reliever Seth Kinker, one of the lynch pins in Ohio State’s prolific bullpen. “We don’t want to go down that road again.”
On April 26th last year, the Buckeyes had just completed a three-game sweep of Northwestern. In Big Ten play, they occupied Red Barber’s proverbial “cat bird seat”. OSU was 31-10, 12-3 in the conference, looking at the four seed in the eight-team Big Ten Tournament.
With three league series remaining in the regular season, the doors came off. They were swept by Illinois at Bill Davis Stadium, their home field. After two midweek wins over Miami and Cincinnati, they traveled to College Park, Maryland.
OSU lost the opener, 13-4. The following day, they managed a 13-12 win over the Terps. But the signs were not good. The Bucks held a 9-4 lead entering the sixth. In their last four at bats, Maryland scored seven runs.
In the series finale, OSU built an 8-3 lead through six. Maryland answered with 11 runs in the last three innings.
Then came a trip to Bloomington. OSU was sapped. “Our spirit, it just wasn’t—it just wasn’t the same,” senior Pat Porter said at the time.
The Hoosiers hung three losses on Ohio State: 6-4, 9-1, and 6-4.
“It was devastating,” Kinker said, “devastating.”
They had traded the “cat bird seat” for the rumble seat. In the double-elimination tournament, Ohio State dropped two straight: 3-2 to Iowa; 5-3 to Indiana.
Such a precipitous fall was not forgotten.
“I don’t see that happening again,” said Kinker, who’s 5-1 this season with a 1.59 ERA. “I feel like this team is not only mentally stronger than last year’s, I feel like we are a lot better all around.
“This could not be a bigger series coming up against Michigan…Our mindset is we need to win the last three (Big Ten) series. If we can continue to pitch well, our bats are gonna spark.
“We have too much talent—even on the bench—for it not to happen. It will happen. It’s just when.”
Entering the weekend, Ohio State is in a three-way tie with Maryland and Penn State for sixth place, all 10-8 in the league. Michigan is tied for second with Minnesota at 12-5, and the Wolverines are swinging the bats.
They lead the Big Ten in batting average (.323), hits (193), runs (136) and doubles (40).
Kinker mentioned Ohio State’s bats for good reason. Their team BA in conference play (.238), ranks 12th out of 13 teams, as does their run total (69), but—as shown on numerous occasions this season—they are capable of exploding.
That said, make no mistake Ohio State’s fate rests on pitching. The staff ERA of 2.50 is best in the conference. They have given up 56 runs, also tops in the league, and in those areas Michigan lags far behind: ERA 4.53, 9th; and runs 83, 8th.
Of course, if momentum comes into play. This can’t hurt. On Wednesday night in their only weekday game of the week, Ohio State dropped 17th ranked Florida Atlantic, 10-2, cranking out 10 hits, including three home runs: Jacob Bosiokovic, Troy Kuhn and a grand slam, the first in his Ohio State career, by senior captain Nick Sergakis.
The Buckeyes used five pitchers in the game—Daulton Mosbarger, Kyle Michalik, Kinker, Michael Horejsei and Yianni Pavolpoulos. They allowed a total of six hits.
Pitching has been their strength all season. In the end, it may determine how far the Buckeyes advance.
“In the bullpen, as a staff, really, we say it all the time,” Kinker said. “’Get us three or four runs, and we got a great chance to win.’”