Ohio State baseball will rely on experienced youth to return the Big Ten title to Columbus in 2020, beginning the new year with three games this weekend.
Returning six starting position players and all three weekend starters, the Buckeyes feel that it’s not just their talent, but experience that can lead them back to the NCAA Tournament in 2020.
“The fact that we have been in the national tournament three of the last four years, we have a great understanding and a realization of what that expectation is, and it has given our guys a clearer vision,” head coach Greg Beals said.
The 2019 team went 36-27, won its 10th Big Ten Tournament title and appeared in its third regional round of the NCAA Tournament appearance in the past four years before being eliminated by eventual national champion Vanderbilt.
Although Ohio State has experience, it remains young, as 23 out of 38 players are underclassmen.
“We may have a younger core, but just going out there and experiencing big moments — guys know what it feels like, and guys are hungry to get back there because they know just how special it is,” redshirt senior infielder Matt Carpenter said.
The Buckeyes won’t take the field in Columbus until a month into their season, however. Ohio State will play series in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee before their home opener March 13. It begins with matchups against St. Joseph’s, Pittsburgh and Indiana State this weekend.
Carpenter leads a strong infield for the team in 2020. Among the six returning infielders, the unit combined for 232 starts and a .268 batting average.
“I like that our entire infield is back defensively,” Beals said. “We missed [senior shortstop] Noah West the back half of the season because of injury last year. Inputting him along with everybody else who is back will make our infield defense a major strength of our team.”
West was hitting .284 prior to going down for the final 44 games of 2019.
Sophomore shortstop and third baseman Zach Dezenzo will try to build off a freshman All-American season in 2019.
Senior infielder Connor Pohl collected 45 RBIs a year ago –– the second most on the team.
Accompanying the infield is a starting pitching staff that returns its top three starters in terms of ERA.
“To go into the year and know you have the entire starting rotation back from last year is huge,” Beals said.
The starting rotation will be anchored by redshirt sophomore Seth Lonsway, who received freshman All-American and third-team All-Big Ten honors a season ago and was recently named a second-team preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.
The southpaw led Division I freshmen and the entire Big Ten in strikeouts in 2019, but said he isn’t intimidated by the added pressure on himself or the team.
“I don’t think too much about the accolades and the personal things,” Lonsway said. “I just focus on going out there and putting my team in the best position to win a game.”
While the starting rotation remains strong, the young bullpen will have to step up following the departure of 2019 Big Ten Tournament Most Valuable Player Andrew Magno, who was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 15th round of the 2019 MLB draft.
On the other end of the battery is Baseball America 2020 Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year and captain Dillon Dingler. The junior catcher also received second-team All-Big Ten honors a year ago.
Dingler is accompanied by redshirt junior Brent Todys, who appeared in 55 starts as a designated hitter and catcher in 2019.
“Having the catching corps back with Ding and Todys is big for us,” Beals said.
While the infield, pitching and catching units have a wealth of experience, the outfield is still seeking replacements for second-team All-American Dominic Canzone and All-Big Ten honoree Brady Cherry.
Canzone and Cherry led the team in batting average, hitting .345 and .314, respectively, in 2019.
Despite losing two of their top players, the Buckeyes’ overall experience, talent and hard-working mentality means high expectations to open the season.
“We’re definitely looking to achieve more this year. We have our eyes set on bigger prizes,” Dingler said. “There’s definitely a different mindset to this team.”
The Buckeyes intend to display that energy on the field for their first contest at 1 p.m. Friday against St. Joseph’s in Port Charlotte, Florida.