The Ohio State baseball team hasn’t won its conference or made the NCAA tournament since 2009. That six-year postseason drought, however, could be put to an end this season, as the Buckeyes are returning 20 letter winners, including 10 seniors and six starters, in a lineup that projects to be among the best hitting teams in the Big Ten.
OSU’s quest for the postseason is set to commence this season with four games at the Dodgertown Classic in Vero Beach, Florida.
Sixth-year coach Greg Beals said he is excited about his team’s potential, making it clear that he expects the Scarlet and Gray to compete for the conference championship.
“I think you approach every season with a championship mindset, and if you ask any guy in that locker room and anyone on that coaching staff, that’s our mission: to play for a Big Ten championship,” he said. “The expectation is to play up to our ability and be as consistent as we can on a daily basis. I believe with the talent on this club, the experience on this ballclub, if we’re able to play at a high level consistently, then the winning and losing will take care of itself.”
Counting on the outfield
Beals said the Buckeyes have the experience needed to bring the Big Ten championship back to Columbus. A key reason, the coach said, will be the strength of OSU’s outfield.
The unit will be anchored by a pair of juniors: center fielder Troy Montgomery and left fielder Ronnie Dawson.
“They are experienced, high-quality players with big, big futures ahead of them,” Beals said. “I’m looking for them to have big seasons.”
Montgomery will be the Buckeyes’ leadoff hitter after batting .317, with a team-high 54 runs scored in 55 games last season. Beals said Montgomery has blistering speed, as evidenced by his 35 stolen bases last season which led the Big Ten and tied a program record.
Dawson, a career .307 hitter, should provide the power for the Buckeyes. He will bat third in the lineup after clubbing seven home runs and 15 doubles last season. Beals said Dawson had an outstanding offseason, which included earning all-star honors in the Cape Cod Baseball League over the summer.
The Grove City, Ohio, native said he believes the team is fully prepared to start the season on a good note to build momentum early on.
“We’re one unit this year, and last year we had a bitter taste in our mouths,” Dawson said. “As a team I think we’re ready. We’re excited to get out there to show people what we’re capable of. It’s going to be a big year for the Bucks.”
Leadership across the board
Beals said the team’s captains, senior second baseman Nick Sergakis and junior catcher Jalen Washington, will provide the team with the leadership needed to propel the Buckeyes through the 57-game slate. Washington said the team is hungry, while Sergakis said the team will be looking for revenge on some of the teams that took it to OSU at the end of last season.
“We have a high expectation, of course,” Sergakis said. “As far as last year goes, it didn’t end up the way we wanted and we want to try and correct it. We’re looking for payback this year.”
Sergakis leads an experienced infield defense that in total has started 388 games for the Scarlet and Gray. Washington is in his first year as the everyday catcher and his development, along with the pitching staff’s, is going to be an important factor for OSU’s overall success.
Starting out strong
Heading into this season, the pitching staff will be looking to fill the void from some key departures, as it lost Travis Lakins, Ryan Riga and Trace Dempsey to graduation or the MLB draft. But fortunately for OSU, the team is returning two key pieces to the rotation in junior left-handed pitcher Tanner Tully and redshirt sophomore righty Adam Niemeyer. Tully said he is fired up and ready to take the mound as OSU’s opening-day starter.
“We all worked hard this summer going our separate ways, and we’re coming back as a unit,” Tully said. “We pushed each other harder than we have before, (we) definitely (had) a good fall, and we’re ready to go.”
Last season, Tully went 4-4, compiling a 4.32 ERA while striking out 44 batters. His counterpart, Niemeyer, a right-handed pitcher from Minster, Ohio, compiled a 2.16 ERA in 12 appearances last season, with a 2-0 record over four starts for the Buckeyes. Beals said Niemeyer will be the typical Saturday night pitcher and will be looked at as a guy who OSU can count on for big innings this season.
“Adam’s a great competitor,” Beals said. “He’s another guy that’s got good feel for pitching the baseball, he throws a lot of strikes. I’m excited for Adam to be a regular in the rotation, he’s certainly ready for that. I’m confident he’s going to have a really good season for us.”
The third and fourth spots in the rotation are set be rounded out by senior John Havird and freshman Ryan Feltner.
“Havird has been throwing the ball really well,” Beals said. “He’s not a flamethrower, he’s a lefty and he’s a command guy. He’s got great movement on his fastball, plus changeup and breaking ball. And Ryan Feltner is a very highly skilled, highly touted freshman who was in the draft out of high school. I’m looking forward to seeing his first collegiate start this weekend.”
OSU is scheduled to open versus Toledo on Friday, before playing a doubleheader against Niagara and Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Buckeyes are slated to close the season-opening series again with Toledo on Sunday. Beals said the full weekend of baseball will give him a good look into the true makeup of his team.
“Obviously, we want to get started fast, but with the high expectations that this ballclub has, we’ve got to be careful that we’re not pushing too hard too soon and that we trust ourselves and just go out and play the game,” he said.