Shelby Lum / Lantern photographer
The Big Ten Baseball Tournament is in Columbus for the fourth-consecutive season, as the conference’s top teams travel to Huntington Park to crown a new Big Ten Champion.
The six-team, double-elimination tournament begins Wednesday with the top six teams in the 2012 Big Ten standings vying for the conference championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
OSU is playing in the conference tournament for the 15th time in the last 16 seasons, and how it got there is the buzz surrounding this season’s tournament.
The Buckeyes entered the final three-game series of the season against Indiana sixth in the Big Ten Standings, needing two victories to secure a spot in conference tournament and likely at least one to remain in the hunt.
They got none, as the Hoosiers swept the series, and they consider themselves lucky to still be making the short trip to Huntington Park.
“Thank God that we got in this tournament,” said Josh Dezse, OSU sophomore first baseman and closer. “It’s in our backyard pretty much, and for the Bucks not to be in it would be like a shocker to everyone.”
Buckeyes coach Greg Beals said after losing the first two games of the Indiana series, he thought “for sure” his team had to win the series finale Saturday to keep the season alive.
“I did think (the season) was over when we lost,” Beals said. “It was crazy. We didn’t have any scenario that had us in (the Big Ten tournament) if we lost (Saturday), but as it turned out, we’re in.”
The Buckeyes’ loss, coupled with Minnesota’s victory against Illinois Saturday, tied all three teams for sixth in the Big Ten standings, and the final spot in the conference tournament.
Beals said that since OSU and Illinois both beat Minnesota in its season series with the Gophers, he thought that the tie would be broken by head-to-head meetings between the Buckeyes and the Illini. Illinois won the season’s series with the Buckeyes and he said he figured it would get the last spot in the Big Ten tournament.
However, OSU got the nod over the Gophers and the Illini by virtue of a tiebreaker.
“We’re awfully excited to have this second chance and this new life,” Beals said. “I told our guys they should feel like ‘Sylvester the Cat.’ They’ve gotten a new life and let’s take advantage of it.”
Beals said he thinks winning the tournament is a possibility and his team can beat any of the other five teams, as long as they play relaxed and confident.
“I feel like we match up (with everybody),” he said. “It’s a matter of us playing to our ability. It’s a matter of us doing what we’re capable of doing.”
Of the six teams in the tournament, Purdue, No. 16 in the USA Today/ESPN Top 25 coaches’ baseball poll, are the favorites. No other Big Ten school is in the top-25 rankings.
The Buckeyes backed their way into the tournament and lost each series against the other five tournament teams. Even with a tournament-worst 4-11 record against teams in the tournament, OSU is not counting itself out.
Beals, Dezse and sophomore center fielder Tim Wetzel all spoke Monday about the 2004 Disney movie, “Miracle,” made about the 1980 gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic hockey team.
Beals said he showed it to his players for inspiration earlier in the season.
“Our gold-medal hockey team got drilled by the Russians in preseason,” he said. “Then they went and beat them when it mattered in tournament time, for the medal. We’re capable of doing (something similar) at Huntington Park.”
Wetzel said the team was maybe a hit or two away every game, and his team realizes how close they were to wins.
“We’re definitely going to go in there with the attitude that we can run the table,” Wetzel said. “We know that as a team, we know that in our hearts, and if we can just play and get those couple hits when we need them, then we’ll be fine in the tournament.”
The only other time the Buckeyes were a sixth-seed in the Big Ten tournament was in 2007. OSU won the tournament that year, and is the only sixth-seed to win the Big Ten Championship, dating back to 2000 when the tournament expanded to six teams.