The Ohio State baseball team is coming off arguably its most successful season since 2009. The Buckeyes captured the Big Ten tournament title for the first time since 2007 and made an NCAA tournament appearance for the first time since 2009.
This Friday, the Buckeyes will begin their season in an effort to build off that success when they travel to Osceola, Florida, to take on the Kansas State Wildcats in the first of the four-game Sunshine State Classic Series.
But this is a new team from last season’s group of players and repeating could be a challenge without veteran leaders Ronnie Dawson and Nick Sergakis.
Co-captain and redshirt junior starting pitcher Adam Niemeyer thinks that while this team is young, they are determined and ready to compete again for another Big Ten title.
“Last year, we had a lot of position guys returning and not many pitchers at all, pitching was kind of a question mark,” Niemeyer said. “And this year it’s kind of the opposite. But last year it all worked out, pitchers stepped up and this year, I know the hitters are going to step up.”
Kansas State is coming off a rough season where they finished second-to-last in its conference with a 26-31 record (8-16 Big 12).
The strength of the team last year was in the lineup, where it compiled a team batting average of .284 with 335 runs scored, 30 home runs and 62 stolen bases. They were led offensively by now-senior first baseman Jake Scudder who produced team-bests in batting average (.333) and home runs (7).
While the team had no trouble scoring runs, it experienced difficulty in preventing the opponent from doing the same. The pitching staff posted an ERA of 5.06 and only three pitchers had an ERA below 4.00 — none of whom were starting pitchers.
Though the Wildcats had their ups and downs last season, the Buckeyes are not taking them lightly. Junior relief pitcher Seth Kinker believes this team could prove to be challenging for a young OSU team still looking to find its feet.
“Kansas State’s going to be a wakeup call,” Kinker said. “They’re a good program, they’re Big 12. It’s not like we’re going out there and playing a scrappy scrimmage against a Division III school. This is a Division I school and finding that identity is key.”
Fresh-faced rotation looking to get some valuable experience
OSU lost most of its starting lineup from 2016, but the team will also need to replace two weekend starters: John Havird, who graduated, and Tanner Tully, who was drafted by the Cleveland Indians.
OSU pitching coach Mike Stafford announced the starters will be Niemeyer on Friday, redshirt junior Yianni Pavlopoulos at 2 p.m. on Saturday against the University of Delaware, sophomore Ryan Feltner at 5 p.m. on Saturday against the University of Pittsburgh and redshirt senior Jake Post on Sunday against Kansas State.
Of those four, only Niemeyer and Feltner started in a game last season. Pavlopoulos was serving as the team’s closer while Post redshirted the year as he recovered from Tommy John surgery.
Between their lack of experience and adolescence of the season, starting pitchers will be monitored by Stafford and won’t be left in the game for too long.
“I’m thinking at the high-end 85 (pitches), 90 most. But hopefully in that 70 to 80 range is kind of how, in a perfect world, we’d like to keep them,” Stafford said.
First pitch of the season is scheduled for noon on Friday. The Buckeyes will take the role of the away team on neutral field in Florida against Kansas State. Their first game in Columbus will not be until March 17 against Xavier.