When the schedule was made before the season began, a Big Ten season opener between reigning Big Ten tournament champion Ohio State and reigning Big Ten regular season champion Minnesota would look like a matchup between two of the conference’s elite teams.
But up to this point in the year, both teams have struggled to find the same success they found last season.
Minnesota currently sits at fourth in the Big Ten, with an 11-8 record, while OSU is ninth in the conference, with a 9-11 record.
OSU coach Greg Beals sees this as a new start to the season and that his team is excited for the opportunity to kick off conference play against a tough opponent.
“We’ve had a tough beginning part of the season. We’ve played a very strong schedule, we’ve dealt with some adversity, we’ve played some really, really good teams, we’ve won some big games,” Beals said. “So we’ve shown the ability to play at a very elite level and now it’s just an opportunity that I believe that that preseason has got us ready. We’re battle tested and ready for Big Ten play.”
Senior shortstop and co-captain Jalen Washington said the team’s records to this point do not mean as much now that conference play is kicking off, and that his team is ready to start “a new season” on Friday.
“You know those first couple games are really to kind of start meshing, getting together and trying to get on the right track, but Big Ten play is where it all counts,” Washington said. “This is for the postseason and things like that. Championships are being played for so that’s the big idea here.”
The Gophers have been mired in a bit of an up-and-down season to this point. Just a year removed from their Big Ten regular season championship, they are currently sitting at 11-8 on the season and have gone 6-4 in their last 10 games.
The success they have found to this point has been largely derived from their offense. But despite the offensive success, the team has not relied on the long ball or the stolen base at all. Instead, they have put runs up on the scoring board by consistently reaching base.
As a unit, they are batting .275, the third-highest team batting average in the Big Ten, while also boasting the second-most hits of any team in the conference. Their ability to make consistent contact has also helped them avoid striking out at a high rate as they currently have the fewest strikeouts with 106.
The leader of their offense has been junior second baseman Luke Pettersen, who has been able to provide the team with a spark from atop their lineup. The team’s leadoff hitter this season, Pettersen is fifth in the Big Ten with a .379 batting average while scoring 10 runs with only four total strikeouts compared to three walks.
But arguably the biggest strength of the team has been their ability to play sound defense and provide that level of support for their pitching staff. Their defense leads the Big Ten in fielding percentage at .983 and has turned the fourth most double plays in the conference at 19, helping their pitchers get out of any potential jams.
While the reigning Big Ten regular season champions have proven solid to start off the season, Beals said his team is focusing more on his team playing well in general than specifically playing against Minnesota.
“It’s not as much about Minnesota, obviously that’s going to be our opponent and we’ve got to compete against them, but most importantly for me it’s about Ohio State playing Ohio State baseball up to its highest potential,” Beals said. “We’ve just got to play our good baseball and we’ve proven it already this year that if we play solid, clean baseball, we can beat anybody.”
Beals’ team has not been off to the greatest start to the season so far, and he said after Tuesday night’s game that the team really is focusing on all facets of their game when they practice ahead of the big matchup.
“We’ve got all aspects of our game that need to improve,” Beals said. “Thursday we’ll have a good day of practice where we really grind on some fundamentals to make sure we’re ready for that second season, for Big Ten play start on Friday.”
The Buckeyes have stuck with the same three guys — redshirt junior Adam Niemeyer, redshirt senior Jake Post and sophomore Ryan Feltner — in each three-game series since the season began with back-to-back four-game weekends.
But heading into this matchup against Minnesota, Beals will be making some changes to his rotation with Niemeyer out with an elbow injury.
Without Niemeyer, the team will send out Post on Friday, with Feltner on Sunday and sophomore Connor Curlis in for Niemeyer on Saturday.
“The reason for that is Curlis has given us some quality starts, some quality innings,” Beals said. “We feel like he’s the guy that’s ready to take that role. Having Feltner go on Sunday keeps him on his normal weekly routine since he went on Sunday this past weekend.”
Niemeyer said that though he will be sitting out this weekend, he will still be there to provide leadership to the rotation that will now consist of two sophomores.
“I’ve just got to do what I can to help the team win, help Feltner, Curlis, Post, those guys and all the bullpen guys too,” Niemeyer said. “Just help those guys out, trying to do what I can to help us get a series win against the Big Ten defending regular season champions.”
Zach Farmer Memorial Night
On Aug. 4, 2015, the OSU baseball team lost a member of their family when pitcher Zach Farmer passed away after a long battle with leukemia at the age of 21.
And for the second consecutive season, the team will host Zach Farmer memorial night to honor his memory on Saturday against Minnesota.
The decision to honor Farmer on Saturday was intentional as the team will be hosting Minnesota, who lost pitching coach Todd Oakes last season. Like Farmer, Oakes had been battling leukemia for many years and died on May 26.
Looking ahead to the night, Beals believes this will be an important night, with the honoring of two people special to their teams.
“We both lost somebody that’s important and dear to our families here and our programs recently, so it’s just a day that we feel is critical,” Beals said.
The bone marrow registry Be The Match will be at the stadium on Saturday, providing fans attending the game with an opportunity to sign up to register as potential bone marrow donors.
“The bone marrow registry Be The Match was where Zach got his transplant from,” Beals said. “It’s something that was important to him and that’s something that we, as a program, are going to continue to carry on in his honor.”
The Minnesota series is set to start at 5:05 p.m. on Friday.