Baseball Squad Wants 'Miracle' Tourney Run

The Ohio State baseball team didn't think it would make the Big Ten tournament the way its season ended only to be given a quick reprieve. Now the Buckeyes hope to take advantage of their second chance. Inside is a preview of the tournament being held in Columbus, including analysis of the OSU squad, capsules of the Buckeyes' foes and a tourney schedule.

There's no getting around the fact that the Ohio State baseball team has posted a 4-11 record this season against the five teams that will join the Buckeyes in the Big Ten tournament field this weekend at downtown Columbus' Huntington Park.

Head coach Greg Beals doesn't seem to mind, though, heading into the postseason tourney, which begins Wednesday afternoon and reaches its first-day peak at 3:30 when the Buckeyes take on third-seeded Penn State.

Why's that? Well, think of the movie "Miracle" for guidance. Beals showed the team the movie at the start of the season and thinks its lessons still matter.

"Our gold medal hockey team got drilled by the Russians in preseason and went and beat them when it mattered in tournament time for the medal," Beals said in reference to the 1980 U.S. squad. "We're capable. We don't have to play that one perfect game to do it. We just have to do what we're capable of doing."

His players seem to think they have a chance, especially the way the season ended. Ohio State was swept this past weekend at second-place Indiana and trudged off Sembower Field in Bloomington thinking its season was over.

The coaching staff thought that, too, but Beals was quickly informed that the Buckeyes had, in fact, received the final spot in the six-team tournament over Minnesota and defending champion Illinois thanks to a tiebreaker stipulation they had previously not discovered.

So in the span of mere minutes, the Buckeyes went from down and out to up and in, and they think that shot of momentum will treat them well.

"You're taught your whole life when you get a second chance to make the most out of your opportunity," center fielder Tim Wetzel said. "There's really nothing to lose. All season, when we've played loose, we've felt like that's when we've played our best baseball."

That will be one of the keys of the tournament for Ohio State (31-25, 11-13), which Beals believes stiffened up and played too tight with its season on the line at Illinois. The second life could help relieve that pressure, just as it did earlier this year for OSU's women's soccer team, which had turned in its jerseys and thought its season was over before receiving a surprise bid to the NCAA tournament and eventually making an improbable run to the Sweet 16.

"Now that we're given this chance, I think you're going to see us play pretty loose and you're going to see some smiles and us having some fun," first baseman/closer Josh Dezse said. "What do we have to lose now?"

The Buckeyes lost two of three to the Nittany Lions this year, and the opener should be a pitchers' duel. OSU starter Jaron Long gave his team a chance to win every start this year, going at least seven innings and allowing two or fewer runs in 10 of 12 starts and walking only 12 batters all year.

Penn State will counter with southpaw Joe Kurrasch, who might have had better numbers including a 1.98 ERA. He allowed only two hits vs. OSU earlier this year when the teams met in State College but his bullpen allowed the Buckeyes to capture their only game of the series, a 4-1 triumph.

"Jaron has got five wins on Friday nights, and Friday night, it's not easy to win in any conference," Beals said. "We feel like we have as good a pitcher on Friday as anybody, which will be Wednesday this weekend. We feel good about our chances and the tournament is here in Columbus. We're hoping to have a little bit of a home crowd."

OSU Will Win Because…
1. Pitching depth: Ohio State has five starters it trusts in first-team All-Big Ten choice Jaron Long (6-2, 2.29 ERA), Brian King, John Kuchno, Brett McKinney and Greg Greve. All had excellent starts at times and all had season ERAs below 5.00 except Greve. Add in Trace Dempsey, who has been extended of late from an early-season relief role, and Ohio State has enough arms to win it all.

2. Staying in the winners bracket: The fewer games a team has to play in this event, the better, and Ohio State has a chance if Long gets the win in the opener. After that, the Buckeyes would play Purdue, who will start Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Joe Haase. However, Haase wasn't as dominating this year as fellow Purdue starter Lance Breedlove and reliever Blake Mascarello, and Ohio State put up 11 hits and five runs on Haase earlier this season. There is a roadmap to keep OSU on the right side of things.

3. It all comes together: Ohio State has some good pieces in Year 2 of the Beals era but so far has lacked the talent to be consistent on a day-in, day-out basis. Now, there's only one weekend in which the team needs to play well instead of an entire season, and if everyone lives up to their best, the Buckeyes have a chance.

OSU Will Not Because…
1. The starting rotation: After Long, the Buckeyes just haven't known what they're going to get from their starters. Inconsistency hurts this time of year, as everyone must be on his game. That's been one reason OSU has been 1-2 in each of its last two appearances in the tournament.

2. The shaky bullpen: The bullpen blew two of the losses against Indiana and has had its hiccups on the season. Senior lefthander Andrew Armstrong has walked 24 in 25.1 innings, too many for a guy needed in tough situations. David Fathalikhani can be tough to beat with his sidearm delivery but has given up nine runs in his last 10 innings over nine appearances. Closer Josh Dezse has been good this year for the most part but must shake off last year's disaster in the tourney.

3. The bats: Quite frankly, Ohio State just doesn't have much power. Other than David Corna (six homers) and Josh Dezse (five, none since March 16), no bats have shown a consistent ability to change a game on one pitch. Sometimes that's needed in a tournament that appears as though it will be pitching heavy. Scratching out games with run-scoring ground-outs and opposing mistakes isn't necessarily a great strategy for four wins in four days.

Opponent Capsules
No. 1 Purdue (41-12, 17-7)
RPI: 15
Vs. Ohio State: 2-1 in Columbus
Purdue dominated the league proceedings all season long on the way to its first championship in more than 100 years. Led by Big Ten Coach of the Year Doug Schreiber and a host of other league award winners, the Boilermakers got off to a 30-5 start this season and should be a lock for NCAA tournament play. Purdue led the league with a .318 team batting average and placed second with 6.8 runs per game while also finishing second with a 3.15 ERA.
All-Big Ten: C Kevin Plawecki (Player of the Year), .361/.450/.554, 5 HR, 40 RBI, 20 2B, 24 BB, 8 K; SP Joe Haase (Pitcher of the Year), 9-1, 3.41 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 51 K; 2B Eric Charles (first team), .368/.436/.439, 0 HR, 32 RBI, 16 SB; 3B Cameron Perkins (first team), .359/.407/.548, 9 HR, 56 RBI, 8 SB, 12 BB, 16 K; OF Barrett Serrato (second team), .318/.383/.455, 6 HR, 45 RBI, 46 K; SP Lance Breedlove (second team), 7-5, 3.06 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, .228 OppBA, 13 BB, 73 K; RP Blake Mascarello (second team), 8-1, 1.69 ERA, 2 SV, 0.86 WHIP, .199 OppBA, 9 BB, 45 K; RP Nick Wittgren (third team), 2-0, 1.78 ERA, 9 SV, 9 BB, 33 K

No. 2 Indiana (30-26, 16-8)
RPI: 84
Vs. Ohio State: 3-0 in Bloomington
The Hoosiers got off to a rough start, losing 13 of their first 19 games, before turning things around in the Big Ten campaign. Its season stats – a batting average of .273 (fifth in league) and an ERA of 4.63 (eighth) – aren't that impressive but the Hoosiers have been one of the better teams in the league for years and have some talented players. Whether the team's power – including 98 doubles, 17 triples and 37 homers, all of which are second in the league – will translate outside of the launching pad of Sembower Field remains to be seen.
All-Big Ten: RP Jonny Hoffman (first team), 7-1, 2.36 ERA, 5 SV, .223 OppBA, 5 XBH allowed; C Kyle Schwarber (second team), .313/.406/.542, 8 HR, 47 RBI, 15 2B, 5 3B, 30 BB, 24 K, 9 SB; 1B Sam Travis (Freshman of the Year; second team), .324/.404/.519, 9 HR, 49 RBI, 15 2B, 28 BB; DH Dillon Dooney (second team), .344/.440/.472, 2 HR, 20 RBI, 17 BB, 19 K; SP Joey DeNato (third team), 7-3, 3.08 ERA, 26 BB, 72 K

No. 3 Penn State (29-25, 15-9)
RPI: 95
Vs. Ohio State: 2-1 in State College
Penn State finished last in the league in batting average but boasts three of the best power bats in the league in Jordan Steranka, Sean Deegan and Joey DeBernardis. That speaks to the kind of baseball the team plays on offense, as the Nittany Lions have the second most strikeouts in the league and are next to last in stolen bases. The team has some very good pitching as well.
All-Big Ten: 1B Jordan Steranka (first team), .362/.391/.615, 11 HR, 39 RBI, 18 2B; SP Joe Kurrasch (second team), 4-2, 1.98 ERA, 72 K, .219 OppBA; OF Sean Deegan (third team), .236/.271/.459, 11 HR, 41 RBI, 4 3B, 68 K

No. 4 Nebraska (34-21, 14-10)
RPI: 92
Vs. Ohio State: 2-1 in Columbus
Nebraska is a dark-horse candidate for the title after a solid first season in the Big Ten. The Huskers led the league with 46 homers and hit .314 as a team to place second while also checking in second in fielding. The team's 4.33 ERA isn't spectacular but Nebraska seemed to patch up the rotation near the end of the season. Michael Pritchard led the league in batting average.
All-Big Ten: SS Chad Christensen (first team), .322/.387/.509, 9 HR, 46 RBI, 8 SB; OF Rich Sanguinetti (first team), .320/.369/.424, 2 HR, 43 RBI; DH Michael Pritchard (first team), .379/.438/.429, 0 HR, 22 RBI, 19 BB, 10 K; 3B Josh Scheffert (second team), .349/.403/.560, 8 HR, 39 RBI; 1B Richard Stock (third team), .348/.376/.525, 4 HR, 40 RBI, 17 2B, 15 K; 2B Pat Kelly (third team), .318/.348/.547, 8 HR, 32 RBI; SP Kyle Kubat (third team), 5-0, 2.25 ERA

No. 5 Michigan State (35-19, 13-11)
RPI: 47
Vs. Ohio State: 2-1 in East Lansing
One of the more consistent programs in the Big Ten in recent years, Michigan State was predicted to win the league in the preseason, a measure of how respected the team's talent is. The Spartans are second in the league in RPI, first in ERA (3.08) and third in batting average (.299).
All-Big Ten: OF Jordan Keur (first team), .362/.442/.424, 0 HR, 29 RBI, 14 2B, 9 SB, 26 BB, 26 K; 2B Ryan Jones (second team), .363/.431/.494, 3 HR, 36 RBI, 16 2B, 31 BB, 19 K, 8 SB; SS Justin Scanlon (second team), .275/.335/.293, 0 HR, 25 RBI, 11 SB; 3B Torsten Boss (third team), .319/.433/.474, 5 HR, 42 RBI, 38 BB, 11 SB; SP Tony Bucciferro (third team), 5-3, 2.94 ERA, 21 BB, 85 K, .238 OppBA

Game Schedule (All on BTN)
Game 1: No. 4 Nebraska vs. No. 5 Michigan State, 12:05 p.m.
Game 2: No. 3 Penn State vs. No. 6 Ohio State, 3:35 p.m.

Game 3 (elimination): Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 12:05 p.m.
Game 4: Winner Game 1/2 vs. No. 2 Indiana, 3:35 p.m.
Game 5: Winner Game 1/2 vs. No. 1 Purdue, 7:05 p.m.

Game 6 (elimination): Loser Game 4/5 vs. Winner Game 3, 12:05 p.m.
Game 7 (elimination): Loser Game 4/5 vs. Winner Game 6, 3:35 p.m.
Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 7:05 p.m.

Game 9 (elimination): Winner Game 7 vs. Loser Game 8, 3:35 p.m.
Game 10 (championship game 1): Winner Game 9 vs. Winner Game 8, 7:05 p.m.

Sunday (if necessary)
Game 11 (championship game 2): Rematch of Game 10

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