On June 2, 2018, the Olentangy Liberty Patriots beat the Anthony Wayne Generals 8-1 to win their first high school baseball state championship.
Two teammates with the same first name shared in the glory of being key contributors for the title-winning team. Soon, they’d share the same diamond at Bill Davis Stadium for the Buckeyes.
Fast-forward two years and sophomore left-handed pitcher Mitch Milheim and freshman outfielder Mitchell Okuley are teammates once again, trying to rekindle their success on the diamond at Ohio State.
“Those guys won a state championship,” head coach Greg Beals said. “It’s nice to have local guys, but it’s nice to have guys that have a track record of success as well.”
The roots of their success stem from Powell, Ohio, home to approximately 14,000 people and Olentangy Liberty High School. Head baseball coach Ty Brenning’s baseball culture and acumen with the program has gained respect from coaches at all levels around the area, Beals said.
“I have a lot of confidence in coach Brenning at Olentangy Liberty,” Beals said. “They have done a really good job with the program up there.”
Milheim said Brenning’s passion for coaching baseball has impacted the players on the diamond. The 2018 Dispatch All-Metro Coach of the Year has proven that a consistent work ethic can pay dividends.
“Me and Mitchell were very blessed to have coach Brenning at Liberty. He is one of the best,” Milheim said. “He cares about baseball and his work as a coach as much as any high school coach possibly could. We were very privileged to grow up there.”
In high school, Milheim played baseball all four years, along with one year of basketball. Okuley was a letter winner in three high school sports; four years in baseball, three years in football and two years in basketball.
Milheim was a prominent starting pitcher for the Patriots, finishing 10-0 with a 1.31 ERA as a senior. He was named second-team All-State and the Ohio Capital Conference Player of the Year in 2018.
The similarities do not end at their first names, hometown and passion for baseball. Both are studying mechanical engineering and share a close friendship that has helped them settle into the college game.
“We were definitely good buddies in high school,” Okuley said. “We started playing baseball together my freshman year, his sophomore year. I think just being together really helps. It has helped me come here and feel comfortable.”
Milheim was the first to play at Ohio State after graduating in 2018, and in the lefty’s collegiate debut against Seton Hall a year ago, Milheim threw a scoreless inning of relief –– a situation he was not used to.
“I only started in high school and then transitioned to a reliever,” Milheim said. “It didn’t go perfectly. Hard to learn, but you definitely get used to it doing it a lot.
In his first year with the Buckeyes, Milheim pitched almost strictly from the bullpen while learning from fellow southpaws; redshirt sophomore Seth Lonsway and junior Griffan Smith, who earned the majority of the starts.
“They are leaders, I definitely look up to them,” Milheim said. “Not just with those guys but as a whole staff. We see things very clearly and work well together.”
Milheim is off to a dominant start in 2020, throwing five innings across three appearances. He has held opposing batters to a .118 batting average and struck out six hitters while issuing only two walks.
Okuley joined the Ohio State baseball team this season, making his collegiate debut Feb. 21 against Georgia Tech after coming in to play left field for redshirt junior Scottie Seymour. Okuley went 0-for-1 with a walk and run scored.
“There is definitely a big difference. The velo, the offspeed,” Okuley said. “They just sequence their pitches better. They know how to pitch and it is not just throwing it in there.”
Okuley’s first start as a Buckeye came seven days later against Lipscomb. He was the starting designated hitter and got on-base five times in six plate appearances. He went 3-for-4 with a double, a stolen base, two walks, an RBI and a run scored.
“It felt really good just to get settled in and get going a little bit,” Okuley said. “My teammates helped a lot and always kept motivating me when I got up to the plate.”
Okuley is hitting .333 through five games. His .467 on-base percentage leads the team, and he’s scored twice in his limited action. He has started in the eighth spot in the lineup and from the leadoff spot in his two games started.
After going 3-6 over its first three weekends, Ohio State is looking for a spark in the offense. The Buckeyes are hitting a lowly .209 as a team, which is second-worst in the Big Ten.
“We definitely have not played the way we know we are capable of, but we are making adjustments and we are going to keep going and getting better,” Milheim said. “We have had spurts of playing really, really well.”
The Buckeyes will make their final road trip this weekend to play in the Stetson Invitational in Florida before coming home to Columbus. Ohio State will play five games in six days against Stetson, Harvard, Fairfield and North Florida.