After the Ohio State baseball team fell short of high expectations in 2010, the thoughts outside the program were that this season would be one of transition.

The Buckeyes lost their ace and reigning National Pitcher of the Year in Alex Wimmers. They replaced several starters in the field and replaced departing coach Bob Todd.

It wasn’t hard to understand that pundits would expect a transition year. Considering the personnel lost from last season and new hire coach Greg Beals, lowered expectations seemed realistic.

The Big Ten preseason poll coincided with these predictions, picking OSU to finish sixth.

After 12 games the Buckeyes were 6-6 and hovered around .500 for most of the season. Still, they found themselves in the thick of the Big Ten race.

Last weekend the Buckeyes welcomed rival Michigan to Bill Davis stadium, looking to stay in the pack.

The Buckeyes swept the series against Michigan for the first time in 15 years. They finished off the Wolverines with two come-from-behind wins in extra innings, vaulting into sole possession of third place and only one game behind Minnesota and Michigan State.

OSU has an opportunity to keep pace with the leaders as the team travels to Illinois over the weekend, where Beals said a win would help the growth of the squad.

“The next evolution of a young team is winning on the road,” Beals said. “We’ve won at home, but we’ve got two more road series and we need to at least win one of them.”

Senior outfielder Brian DeLucia said the team needs to go in focused and build on its recent success.

“It’s hard not to take the mentality into Illinois that we have to sweep them,” DeLucia said. “We’re going to do our best, play hard every game and hopefully we’ll come out on top when all said is done.”

There is not just one standout player behind the Buckeyes’ charge to the top of the Big Ten.

Senior Drew Rucinski solidified his role as the ace with a 5-1 record and 2.11 ERA. He was supported by a strong bullpen led by sophomore David Fathalikhani, junior Andrew Armstrong and senior John Strayer.

In the lineup, where most of the transition took place, freshman first baseman Josh Dezse and junior second baseman Ryan Cypret led the way with .354 and .351 averages, respectfully.

After Illinois, the Buckeyes host Iowa next weekend before concluding the season on the road at reigning Big Ten Champion Minnesota.

The Big Ten race is wide open, and the Buckeyes have a solid chance to challenge for the conference crown and return to Columbus for the Big Ten Tournament after missing out last year.