The temperature and humidity are high, as is anticipation for Friday’s opening round of the NCAA regional in Greenville – with three Carolina teams and media all curious about the northern interloper, Ohio State.
Greenville, NC – The Ohio State Buckeyes got their feet wet Thursday – literally – as the four teams in this Greenville Division I NCAA regional showed up at East Carolina’s beautiful LeClair Stadium to become acclimated.
The temperature on one field level thermometer read 88 degrees. But the relative humidity was higher, about 92%, and with each passing dark cloud a few rain drops fell. Nothing serious for a region recently deluged by storms from the hurricane, just the reminder of what could still come over the next three days.
The humidity was so high one reporter said you didn’t have to throw a baseball to loosen up – just shake hands with someone. After one round of infield and an hour of batting practice the Buckeyes were…drenched!
They come in as the #3 seed, behind host East Carolina (#1) and South Carolina (#2). UNC-Wilmington is the fourth team, the #4. And local media were out in force Thursday, feeling out Greg Beals and the Buckeyes with more curiosity, it seemed, than respect for Ohio State’s 36-22 record and a lineup featuring five hitters with batting averages .300 or better.
Buckeye radio play-by-play voice Matt Andrews did some on-air interview time with a local station earlier in the day.
“Are these guys just happy to be here, given the weather they play in up in the Midwest?” he was asked.
“No,” answered Andrews. “I’m pretty sure these guys are here to win.”
“How do you guys play in weather like you’ve had in Ohio?” Beals was asked. He was courteous, of course, and explained that the first month of the season for Big Ten teams is spent on an airplane, chasing better weather and playing condition in the south and west.
In the press box upstairs, a local writer asked, “They’re last in the Big Ten in fielding (.958 and 92 errors in 58 games) and eighth in pitching (4.58 ERA). How will they compete with these teams from the South and the SEC?”
The point being…they are curious here as to just how the Buckeyes will compete with South Carolina, East Carolina, and UNC-Wilmington and the dazzling statistics that some of these programs proudly claim – in pitching, defense, and for their overall strength of schedule.
But internally, it’s not an issue. Senior captain Adam Niemeyer explained afterwards that there’s no shortage of their own confidence regarding playing the presumptive ‘host’ favorites.
“We’re just as confident as we were two years ago, when we won the Big Ten Tournament,” said Niemeyer. “We feel like we can win this regional, and we’re not going to be happy just being here. They’re definitely good teams, but we’re here to win and move on…to keep playing. I think it’s going to be a fun weekend.”
They’ve done their research, for sure. They seem to know about everything from snow storms, to defensive stats, Noah McGowan and Tyler Cowles…and the recent quad strain that had right fielder Dom Canzone hobbling through the final two games of the Big Ten tourney.
But make no mistake, if they’re searching for cracks, the red and gray are having no part of it. Canzone talked about his injury confidently following Thursday’s workout, and expressed no doubts about his readiness to play on Friday.
“I’m not 100%, but I’m definitely ready to go,” says Canzone, who continued to hit in Omaha despite the leg strain. He currently sits at .329. “I’m rehabbing it a lot and it feels a lot better. I’m ready to play right field tomorrow.”
As the question of who they’ve beaten, there really is no qualifying answer. You can only play who you play, according to the region of the country you’re from. But Canzone points to those early weeks of the season – the games against Coastal Carolina, UNC-Wilmington, and Southern Mississippi – and reflects upon the positive outcomes that has helped them land a berth in this weekend’s tournament.
“We already beaten some ranked teams this year – several of them – so that shows that we’re definitely capable of playing at this level and winning. It’s one of those things where we know we can play with anyone in the country, especially on our good days.”
And ah-h-h-h….the good days. Everybody has ’em; and everybody has some bad ones, too. Which invites some actual comparison to the records and stats of the other three teams this weekend.
#1 seed, East Carolina enters with an impressive 43-16 record, with a team batting average of .286 – exactly that of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Pitching-wise, the Pirates have thrown to an impressive 3.28 earned run average, and opposing teams are hitting just .247 against them. They field at a .978 average, having committed just 50 errors in 59 games.
The #2 seed, South Carolina, is 33-24 by way of record, and as a team the Gamecocks are hitting .274. Opponents are hitting just .240 against them. But pitching-wise, they’re very favorable with the Buckeyes, pitching at a 4.31 ERA. They strike out a lot of hitters (493), but they walk some, too (244 in 501 innings). But they can catch it and throw it. South Carolina owns just 39 errors in those 501 innings.
The #4 seed, UNC-Wilmington, is 37-21, record-wise, including a pair of losses to Ohio State (8-3 and 8-1) back in early March. As a team they hit at a .260 average, and they pitch well, holding opposing teams to just a .223 average. But the Seahawks have had their own issues defensively. They’ve committed 87 errors, as well, so it proves that you can compete, and you can be dangerous in an NCAA regional without every credential being perfect.
Tomorrow at 2 pm we’ll all know…whether being from the South is worth style points when it comes to the bottom line. Connor Curlis gets the ball for the Buckeyes, opposed by righthander Adam Hill (7-3, 4.42 ERA) for South Carolina. Rain is in the forecast, of course, with more humidity. They’re accustomed to it here. Everybody sweats alike.
And they’re all confident – South Carolina, East Carolina, and UNC-Wilmington.
They’re just not so sure about what to think of the Buckeyes.