High School Rivals Leading OSU Baseball

With the Ohio State baseball team (3-3 Big Ten) continuing league play this weekend during a three-game set with Michigan State in Bill Davis Stadium, the Buckeyes will continue to be led by fifth-year seniors Brian DeLucia, Matt Streng and Jared Strayer. The Columbus-area natives grew up playing against one another but are now the elder statesmen of the OSU squad.

Matt Streng remembers exactly where he was when he first talked to Brian DeLucia.

"Right there," he said pointing to the outfield. "Left-center field at Bill Davis Stadium is where it started."

The two central Ohio prep stars were at The Buckeye Scout showcase in Ohio State's diamond when that meeting occurred. Little did they know that they would later spend five years as teammates on the Buckeyes baseball squad.

Then again, Jared Strayer and Streng go back even further. The two Columbus area natives first met while playing basketball in grade school. Now, Streng picks up the ground balls hit by batters confounded by Strayer's sidearm approach.

Though there are seven seniors – five of them of the fifth-year variety – on this season's Ohio State baseball squad, it's interesting to note that the careers of three of them intertwine farther back than their team-issued scarlet and gray paraphernalia.

Streng, Strayer and DeLucia have been major contributors on the field for years, friends and roommates off of it and representatives of the central Ohio area on the Buckeye team since their arrival in the fall of 2006 as part of a recruiting class put together by Bob Todd.

Now they're the dependable veterans – Streng the starting third baseman, DeLucia the leadoff hitter/right fielder and Strayer a key bullpen arm – and old hands who have been part of Big Ten championships, NCAA tournament runs and the changeover from Todd to new head coach Greg Beals.

"Pretty much from the start of our college careers, we made that connection," Strayer said. "We've grown so close as friends and teammates through the last five years. We've literally been through it all. You can't get much closer to these guys than I am right now."

That came after the three were in some ways rivals growing up. In addition to playing baseball against one another, all were multisport athletes, allowing them the chance to compete in more than one athletic arena.

Strayer, a Columbus native, went on to prep at Worthington Kilbourne – the same school that produced former Buckeyes Cory Kovanda and Ryan Dew – while DeLucia went to Columbus Bishop Watterson and Streng to Upper Arlington. Seeing each other on the baseball diamond or the basketball court – both in high school sports and other competition – was commonplace.

"We played the majority of sports against each other in high school," DeLucia said. "Definitely we were rivals."

"When we were playing against each other, it was definitely trying to show up the other person," Strayer admitted. "It was that good competition."

Of course, there were no hard feelings when the three arrived at OSU.

"Coming to Ohio State," Strayer said, "we knew we had a good thing."

Streng made sure of that during the summer before the recruiting class arrived. Despite that fact that DeLucia's brother, Dan, was a standout pitcher on the team, he didn't commit until the months before the group was set to report.

Just days after he made his pledge to Todd, DeLucia had his phone ring. Streng was on the line.

"He asked me if I wanted to be his roommate, and we've been best friends ever since," DeLucia said.

"I did," Streng confirmed. "I was like, ‘You know what, I'm just going to give him a call right now.' I got his number from a kid that I used to play ball with. I just thought it would be pretty cool to live with him."

That proved to be fortuitous.

"He's a great guy," Streng said of DeLucia, a team co-captain. "I loved rooming with him. That's why I lived with him for three years. He's a hard worker, works hard in the classroom and comes out here ready to play every single day. He's a good friend. We can go out there and have a good time, play basketball together, hit the golf ball together."

Strayer later ended up joining the group as another roommate later on, but the three have each had different paths over the years. The reliever redshirted during his freshman season and pitched sparingly his first two seasons before becoming a dependable setup man a season ago, fashioning a 3.30 ERA after coming back from midseason knee surgery. This year, he's come back from an early-season broken arm to go 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA in eight appearances.

Streng also redshirted as a freshman and then burst onto the scene as a sophomore in 2009, hitting .308 with eight homers and 38 RBI for the Big Ten championship squad. After struggling last year, Streng is in the midst of an eight-game hitting streak that has left him at .299 with a homer and 14 batted in.

DeLucia was the only one not to redshirt as a freshman, earning experience the first two years before being ticketed for a starting role in 2009. Instead, he broke his finger after hitting two homers in three games and ended up redshirting. Finally a starter last year, he hit .320 with six homers and 39 RBI, and this year he's at .283 with a solid .369 on-base percentage and 14 RBI.

All three are hoping to make their final seasons at OSU memorable, but 2011 certainly won't be their last season as friends.

"We're basically brothers in here," he said. "We spend so much time on the road or practicing. There's definitely a connection that you can't get with anybody else. We're building lifelong friendships with these guys."

Ohio State and conference leader Michigan State (5-1) start a three-game Big Ten series tonight at 6:35 p.m. Saturday's game will be at 2 p.m. and televised on the Big Ten Network while Sunday's is set to start at 1 p.m.

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