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Baseball: Ohio State looking for surprise in Arizona against pair of heavyweight Pac-12 opponents

Ohio State redshirt senior first baseman Zach Ratcliff at bat during the Scarlet and Gray World Series in October 2016. Credit: Courtesy of OSU Athletics

The past weekend was a tale of two halves for the Ohio State baseball team. They combined for 21 runs in the two victories, only to falter in their final two games with a combined four runs.

Now looking ahead to the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge, OSU (2-2) will have to find the bats again if it hopes to have success against No. 5 Oregon State (4-0) and the reigning Pac-12 champion Utah Utes (2-1) in Surprise, Arizona.

Despite the daunting task ahead of the Buckeyes, OSU coach Greg Beals said he’s excited to lead the team to the Grand Canyon State for the first time in 20 years and play some high-quality competition.

“We’re heading out to Arizona for the first time — site of Spring Training, we’re going out and playing in a Spring Training facility. Excited for that to take our guys to a Major League complex,” Beals said. “To play teams from the Pac-12, that west-coast style baseball, I think it’s important for us to see different styles and have to be prepared to compete against a different style of baseball.”

Scouting Oregon State

Entering the season, expectations were high for an Oregon State team that showed a lot of promise last season, finishing 35-19 (16-14 Pac-12).

The NCAA’s consensus rankings placed the Beavers as the No. 6 team in the country. After an undefeated opening weekend, they have risen in the rankings.

Pitching was the strength of this team last season and it appears this will be their backbone once again. In the first series, the Beavers’ pitching staff had surrendered a total of six runs (only three earned) with 37 total strikeouts, only 11 walks and 23 hits (.177 opponents’ batting average).

Oregon State’s offense does not stand out, but can score runs when necessary. The team owns a collective .270 batting average with 22 runs scored, two home runs and three stolen bases so far on the season.

Beals knows that Oregon State operates under a different style of play and that if the Buckeyes are going to come away with a win, they will have to force the Beavers to play a higher-scoring game.

“They’re going to play a smaller game that they like to bunt, to run and they really emphasize their pitching and defense and play lower-scoring games is their ideal way of playing out there,” Beals said. “Our goal is to shape the game where we can get out and score some runs and force them — if we can get out a couple runs — force them to have to play for more than just one run at a time”

Ratcliff emerging as power threat in final collegiate season

Redshirt senior designated hitter Zach Ratcliff has never registered more than 100 at-bats in a single season for the Buckeyes and, prior to the weekend, he had never hit more than two home runs in a single season.

After just the first weekend, he has already matched that single-season home run total. In last Saturday’s game against Delaware, Ratcliff blasted two home runs — one in the second inning and another in the fourth.

Ratcliff has been given an opportunity to serve as the regular designated hitter for OSU in his final season of eligibility and, so far, has been making the most of it. He attributes his newfound success in large part to the work he put in over the summer with Beals and assistant coach Matt Angle.

“This summer — when we got back to work with coach Angle, coach Beals — we kind of tore my swing down and worked from the ground up and made a few adjustments, just to kind of simplify everything,” Ratcliff said. “It’s obviously paying off early so, hopefully, I can keep things rolling.”

OSU will face Utah on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. ET and Saturday with games against Oregon State coming on Friday and Sunday.

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