Victor Huang / Lantern photographer
With the Ohio State baseball team coming into the 2011 season with a new coaching staff and six first-time starters in the lineup, it’s imperative that there be senior leadership. Although senior shortstop Tyler Engle came into the year with the most games played for the team, he, like most of his teammates, struggled out of the gate.
Engle has played in 190 games for OSU, starting 186. He made his first appearance as a Buckeye in the third game of the season against Seton Hall in 2008. He played his first game as the shortstop two games later, and took over as the starting shortstop that same year, March 9 against Connecticut.
Through 18 games this year, OSU had an 8-10 record and was heading into Big Ten play with a weekend series against Northwestern. Engle went 1-for-3 as the Buckeyes had just defeated Xavier, 4-1, in OSU’s home opener.
To that point, Engle was batting .214 and had racked up nine errors — both uncharacteristic numbers for the four-year starter. Before this season, Engle was a .252 career hitter and was coming off his best defensive season with just 10 errors.
About the time of the Xavier game, Engle said he re-evaluated his season and decided it was time to step up his game as he had done many times for the Scarlet and Gray. He said he knew his days as a Buckeye were numbered.
“It kind of hit me that I was having a rough year, and it’s about to end,” Engle said. “I only had so many days left to play as a Buckeye and play ball.”
Coach Greg Beals agreed.
“They can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and they’re trying to push that light further and further away,” Beals said. “They want to play as long as they can, and they’re just playing with great determination.”
As Big Ten play began, Engle became a threat with his bat at the bottom of the lineup. He had the second-highest batting average on the team and the highest among Big Ten shortstops this year, .353 against conference opponents.
“My approach is different at the plate,” he said. “I like to be more patient than I used to be. I was scared of striking out, and now they’re a part of the game.”
Beals said Engle and senior third baseman Matt Streng’s second half of the season made an impact on the team’s young lineup. During that time, Engle raised his batting average to .275, which is tied for fourth on the team.
“We need that leadership,” Beals said. “We need those seniors to pull the younger guys that don’t have that experience yet. If you look back four weeks in the season, it has been a huge boost to us.”
Engle’s performance in Big Ten games is one of many reasons the Buckeyes were able to get back into the conference tournament a year after they barely missed playing in it. Engle said last year was disappointing and that, although several people counted out OSU early in the season, he is thankful to the coaching staff for keeping the team focused enough to play until the end.
“We have a lot of young guys playing, and as a team we have never really thought that way,” Engle said. “The coaches would not allow us to get that way. They deserve a lot of credit for getting our minds right.”
The Buckeyes begin the Big Ten Tournament at 12:05 p.m. today against Minnesota, and, for most of the team, it will be the first time playing postseason ball at the Division I level. It will be Engle’s sixth conference tournament game.
Engle hails from the small town of Beverly, Ohio, about two hours southeast of Columbus. Playing at a big university such as OSU was a big deal for his hometown. When he signed with the Scarlet and Gray four years ago, it was front-page news in The Marietta Times.
He said there would be a big Beverly crowd in the stands at Huntington Park and that he is happy his friends and family will be there.
“It’s just a great atmosphere,” Engle said.