The last time the Ohio State baseball team played in TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, the team finished hoisting a trophy, winning four games in two days to win the 2016 Big Ten Tournament.
As the Buckeyes travel to Omaha for the first time since that tournament win, the team is in a very different position.
In the regular season’s final week, Ohio State lost three of its last four games, losing the final conference series of the season, recording losses in the final two games of the season against Michigan State. Instead of a team entering the Big Ten Tournament hot like it was in 2016, winning eight of their last nine games that season, the Buckeyes do not have the same momentum this time around.
Immediately after the series loss to the Spartans, senior right-handed pitcher Seth Kinker said the mindset immediately became that of a new season. A restart.
“It’s one of those things where, yeah, we struggled at the end, but you got to turn that page,” Kinker said. “You got to realize the new season begins. The road to Omaha starts in Omaha for us.”
This is not the same team that Ohio State head coach Greg Beals came to Omaha with in 2016. He is bringing a team with something still to prove to the conference.
“We have the same jerseys and the same name on it on the front, but it’s not the same group,” Beals said. “This group needs to go to Omaha and prove that they are that caliber; they are a championship-caliber ball club.”
The Buckeyes have the regular-season resume to back that up. Ohio State heads into the Big Ten Tournament ranked No. 41 in RPI rankings, putting itself in a prime position for a NCAA Tournament bid.
Ohio State senior utility player Noah McGowan believes that the team doesn’t have to change its playing style to acclimate to the high stakes in front of them.
“When you play loose and relaxed, you play really good baseball and I think we have shown that throughout the season,” McGowan said. “Most people didn’t really have us in the Big Ten Tournament, so we are already past that and I think we are playing loose, not really worried about outside noise and stuff like that and trying to do too much.”
Instead of the big picture, Ohio State is focused on the present: its first round matchup in the Big Ten Tournament with Purdue.
Facing the Boilermakers in the final home series of the year, the Buckeyes won the series, winning two of three games against the eventual No. 2 seed in the tournament.
If that means anything in tournament play, Kinker said he is expecting Purdue to come into the first-round game with a chip on its shoulder.
“They want to beat us,” Kinker said. “I mean, we took two of three from them two weeks ago. It’s not like we are a foreign team to them.”
With the same Game 1 matchup as the May 11 game, Purdue starter Tanner Andrews going against junior left-handed pitcher Connor Curlis, Beals is not expecting anything drastically different from the Boilermakers in the first round.
“That’s the best scouting report you can get is that fresh memory,” Beals said. “We will dig into the video and our guys will be able to watch how he pitched against them and it’s going to be a matter of execution. That’s what baseball at a high level is really about. Not a whole lot of surprises.”
Navigating through the loser’s bracket and winning four games in two days to take home the title the last time his team was in the tournament, Beals knows how momentum can be created in tournament play.
Despite leading a team that limped its way to the finish line of the regular season, he believes a successful run in Omaha has the ability to reinvigorate the players in his locker room.
“A tournament is designed to create momentum,” Beals said. “You go into a tournament and make a run for a championship there, that’s going to create momentum for sure.”
No. 7 Ohio State will face No. 2 Purdue in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament at 5 p.m. Wednesday.