Ohio State’s run to the NCAA Tournament started at the hardware store.
The Buckeyes had just lost two of three at Illinois, dropping their record to 25-14-1 overall and 5-7 in Big Ten play. One year after their postseason hopes were sunk by a May stretch in which they lost 10 of 11 games to Big Ten teams, the Buckeyes were looking at another year without a tournament appearance.
Backup outfielder Jake Brobst spoke with Dean Hansen, the team’s strength and conditioning coach, about replacing the Buckeyes’ dugout weapon of choice.
“We had a sledgehammer that we held up in the dugout,” Brobst said. “We went to Maryland and got swept and went to Illinois and lost two of three. I was talking with our strength coach and we decided we needed to do something different. We settled on an ax.”
With the newfound inspiration in hand – despite being an ax, it’s never had any problems with airport security (while stashed in a bag of bats) or in opposing stadiums – the Buckeyes closed out the season by winning 17 of 21 games. That run included five wins in the Big Ten tournament, giving the program its first conference tournament title since the 2007 season. That stretch also featured five wins against Michigan in as many games, as the Wolverines went from the No. 19 team in the country when they first met May 19 to out of the NCAA Tournament entirely two weeks later when the Buckeyes eliminated them from the Big Ten Tournament.
Those wins – along with all the others – are chronicled on the ax. Circles of tape with the name of each victim written in marker currently reach halfway down the handle. As the Buckeyes got hotter, the ax’s spotlight grew bigger and brighter. The Big Ten Tournament was a big showcase for the ax, where Brobst could often be seen in the background of the dugout holding it with a rigid posture and steely expression.
It continued in the first game of the NCAA regional, where the Buckeyes dispatched Wright State by a 7-6 margin on a walkoff single by Jalen Washington that scored Ronnie Dawson. Even if teammates and coaches aren’t sure how – or why – the ax appeared, they’re more than happy to accept it given the run the Buckeyes are currently experiencing.
“I’m not exactly sure the philosophy behind it, but Coach Hansen does an incredible job with our guys preparing them physically and mentally,” head coach Greg Beals said. “He brought that ax in and they’ve handed it off to Brobst. Brobst is the guardian of the ax. It’s just a rallying point for us. Regardless of what’s going on, you can look at the ax and say, ‘Let’s go. Let’s keep grinding.’”
Added Dawson: “The ax is basically our team. It’s a symbol of our team. We’re tough, we’re going to bear down and anything in our way we’re going to chop it down. We had to change the momentum of the team and find something that would drive us. That was the little thing that did it. It just takes one little thing, and it worked for us.”
As Ohio State prepares to take on No. 2 national seed Louisville on Saturday, Brobst is excited for what the Buckeyes have become while also downplaying the ax’s role as anything other than a way to keep the players having fun.
“It’s just something that gets the boys fired up a little bit and something we can rally around,” he said. “We got some tough breaks early in the year and lost to some teams we shouldn’t have, but really we just got hot at the right time. Sometimes that just happens. Baseball is a crazy game.”