For a while Friday they were great…then, some old, bad habits raised their ugly heads. Then, the bullpen, one one steady influence came on to salvage another thrilling win for the Buckeyes.
Conway, S.C.—Four weeks into this baseball season, Ohio State remains a mystery. They’re 8-4 and Saturday at Springs Brooks Stadium, they dropped High Point, 8-6, pulling another one out that almost got away—an experience that’s a little too familiar already.
On many fronts, they look swell, but there are definitely flies in the ointment, and the flies are visible even on a day when they get home runs from three of their top guns—Dom Canzone, Tyler Cowles and Noah McGowan—and relievers Andrew Magno and Seth Kinker stemmed the tide, preserving the win for starter Connor Curlis (3-0).
“There’s some stuff out here that’s pretty nice,” said Buckeyes Coach Greg Beals, “and then you’re like, ‘What the heck was that?’
“How does Bo Coolen miss that ground ball (in High Point’s sixth)? He doesn’t miss that ground ball ever! Noah (McGowan) knows better than to dive for that low liner when he has no back-up (also in the sixth). Where’s this stuff coming from? We got to find that ‘It’ factor that gets us where want to be.”
Both plays, Coolen’s error, his third this season, and McGowan’s mental error, played significant roles in High Point’s run at the Buckeyes.
Ohio State took a 7-1 lead to the sixth and Curlis appeared to be cruising. To that point he had allowed four hits, but with one out the trouble began. He walked a batter and gave up a sharp single to left-center by Blake Schunk.
With runners at first and second, Travis Holt rolled one to Coolen. It was a tailor-made double play ball. It was reminiscent of Bill Buckner’s gaff in the ’86 World Series—without, of course, such enormous consequences.
Tanner Wells followed with a single to right. Beals went to the bullpen for Kyle Michalik. But in 1.1 innings, he was reached for four hits and a run.
A total of five runs scored and it was a one-run game, 7-6 Ohio State.
“Again, we fueled their inning (with the error), and the thing was we beat him (Holt), we jammed him,” Beals said. “The pitch was in. So, we help them and we tax our pitcher.”
Coolen’s error—one of three committed by the Buckeyes (shortstop Kobie Foppe had his second and Canzone committed his first of the season)—would not have warranted so much attention or conversation but for the fact that poor fielding continues to be an issue for OSU.
To date, they have committed 23 errors while opponents have 15. The good thing is that on this occasion they could not only survive that bugaboo but, yet another that continues to raise it’s ugly little mug—strikeouts.
Friday the Buckeyes logged 15 strikeouts. This season—12 games—they have 115 strikeouts. Opponents have 92.
There are issues confronting this team, and no one is denying it.
“We’re progressing,” Beals said. “We’re close, but we’re not there yet. We need to keep fighting and clawing to get where we are capable of playing.”
One piece that appears to be shaping up nicely is the bullpen. When Michalik stumbled Friday, sophomore lefty Andrew Magno came in and made a definite impression. He cranked the gun up to 93, 94 mph and struck out the first hitter he faced.
When he walked the second, Beals went to the anchor of the pen—Seth Kinker. The senior got a double play ball to close the eighth and a second to get out of trouble in the ninth.
“We’re getting better,” Kinker said. “Getting better. We’re not there for sur We have so much talent if we put it all together, we can be a really good ballclub, a really good club.
“There are still little things that continue to crop up day-in and day-out, things we have to improve (upon)…Coach talks about it all the time—consistency.
“Errors are going to happen. It’s baseball, but it seems like a lot of it is the thought process: guys thinking about the last error they made or taking an at-bat to the field.
“But,” he continued, “then you get a great play in the field, like Pohl starting that double play (in the ninth). It goes back to working on the little things every day, over and over.”
Obviously, Kinker is not a guy who spends all his down time in the bullpen chewing and flipping seeds. He realizes, as do most who have watched this team closely, that beyond fielding and strikeouts, there are other issues.
The starting rotation is not exactly set. In the meantime, the bullpen is set and now maybe more than at any point this spring.
“We all want the ball,” Kinker said, “and at any point in the game.”
The new development was the spot where Beals decided to use Magno.
“His stuff is electric,” Beals said. “He is the piece we need out in that bullpen (a power lefty. This was a huge stepping stone for Magno to pitch with a one-run lead in the eighth inning. He’s never done that before.
“I hope more than anything,” Beals continues, “that what he takes away from the day is, ‘Coach gave me the ball in a critical situation.’”
For his part, Magno was fully aware of what had taken place and the trust it suggested.
“I want the ball,” he said, smiling. “I want it and I want it right now. I’m gonna come in and I’m gonna shut it down. I love that. I love that attitude, not: ‘Oh, I hope it comes around to me.’ Everybody in the bullpen feels the same way. We all want it and we all want to put it away.”
As for the progress of the team, Magno takes a surprisingly mature approach for a sophomore.
“We do have a ways to go,” he said. “But, you know what, it’s gonna be fun to see how we develop and we get better throughout the season.”
He spoke with a smile on his face and not a note of doubt in his voice.
NOTES: Kinker’s save was his fourth and leads the Big Ten…Five players had multi-hit games: Canzone (2-for-5), Brady Cherry (2-for-5), McGowan (2-for-5), Pohl (2-for-4) and Cowles (2-for-5)…Those 15 Buckeye strikeouts may have had something to do with the strike zone. Plate umpire Cody Clark heard it from all sides. Beals took issue with a number of calls and was given a warning…Saturday the Buckeyes play a pair of games. At 11 a.m. they go up against High Point, and our hours later they get a shot at host Coastal Carolina, the 2016 NCAA World Series Champions.