The Ohio State baseball team is in a familiar spot: the NCAA Tournament.
The Buckeyes have qualified for the tournament 11 times since 1991 and 17 times overall.
The one catch this year is that they have to travel across the country.
Friday at 8:05 p.m., the No. 4-seeded Buckeyes open tournament play against No. 1 seed/host Oregon State.
Ohio State (38-19) qualified for the field by winning the Big Ten tournament last weekend at Illinois. The Buckeyes entered as the No. 5 seed, but compiled a 4-1 record, including a 14-6 romp over Minnesota in the decisive game.
Pac 10 champion Oregon State (41-9) is in the midst of its best season in school history. Outfielder Jacoby Ellisbury leads the team with a .415 batting average, 86 hits, 17 doubles, six home runs, 45 runs scored and is second with 42 RBI. As a team the Beavers are batting .315 and have a .970 fielding percentage.
Ohio State is expected to face sophomore right-handed pitcher Dallas Buck, who is 11-1 on the year with 109 strikeouts and a 1.93 ERA in 107.0 innings. Buck is one of the top hurlers in the nation and Oregon State's overall pitching staff has an ERA of 3.02.
For Ohio State, senior outfielder Steve Caravati leads the way with a .371 batting average, five home runs and 33 RBI. He was the 2004 Big Ten MVP and 2005 Big Ten Tournament MVP.
Caravati has plenty of help in OSU's lineup. Senior outfielder Mike Rabin is batting .333 with 14 steals, freshman OF Matt Angle is batting .318 with 13 steals, junior Jedidiah Stephen is batting .318 with five home runs and a team-best 46 RBI, and sophomore infielder Jason Zoeller is batting .316 with a team-best six home runs and 35 RBI.
Looking at the Buckeyes' pitching staff, sophomore lefty Dan DeLucia is the ace with a 5-5 record and 3.12 ERA.
The Buckeyes know they are going in as the underdogs, but they seem to relish the role.
"It's fun," Angle said. "You go in there and no one is expecting big things from you. From that standpoint, it makes it easier, because you can just go out and play."
Angle has been the table-setter for the Buckeyes recently. He and Rabin are getting on base and the likes of Caravati have been knocking them in.
"Yes. It's been great," Angle said. "If I can get on and score runs, the rest of the team will follow, so that's good."
Caravati has been around the block a few times. He knows it doesn't really matter what team you play in the tournament, or where you play, all that matters is playing well when you get there.
"Right now, we're just focused on playing baseball," Caravati said. "It doesn't matter who we're playing. Whether they are the No. 1-ranked seed in the country, or the No. 8-seed. It's a game between white lines and if we go out there and play the way we can, we feel pretty confident in our chance to come out of that regional.
"Obviously we can't control anything with the NCAA committee. Of course if we had a choice, we'd be closer to home where our family and friends can come. But having them ship us off to Oregon as the No. 4 seed, it feels like we have something to prove out there and I think we're going to go do it."
The Buckeyes knew that they would have to win the Big Ten Tournament in order to qualify for head coach Bob Todd's 11th NCAA appearance in 18 years at OSU.
"Absolutely," Caravati said. "We knew going into that tournament, if were going to have a chance to get into the NCAA Tournament, we were going to have to win it. We went in there and took one inning at a time and that's the mentality this team has had for the next couple of months."
Caravati knows that Oregon State is one of the top up-and-coming teams in college baseball.
"We've read some of their stats," he said. "It looks like their offense is kind of similar to ours. Guys hitting .330, .340 with six, seven home runs. But their pitching staff is pretty dominant. I think that's the one thing that sticks out more than anything.
"We're looking to go up there and put pressure on them early and hopefully that will continue for the rest of the game. We just want to keep the game close. With all the adversity that this team has been through, if it's a close game towards the last couple innings, I think we're going to prevail. What we can't do is get behind early in the game. Especially with them being at home with their fans and their crowd, fall behind 5-0, 6-0, 7-0, it's going to be awfully tough to come back."
It was a rough beginning to the season for Ohio State. But they pulled together midseason and turned it around.
"I think it was the Penn State weekend, actually," Caravati said. "We were seventh in the Big Ten, they were fifth. We knew that weekend was going to be extremely crucial in our chances of making the tournament. To go out there on the road and sweep them – and we didn't just sweep them, we beat them pretty much single-handedly on hitting alone. That was a huge turnaround for this team's confidence."
Joining the Buckeyes and Beavers in Corvallis will be Virginia, the No. 2 seed, and St. John's, the No. 3 seed. Those teams will open the regional Friday with a game at 3:05 p.m. The losers of the two games Friday will play Saturday at 4:05 p.m., while the winners will meet Saturday at 9:05 p.m. The winner of game three will play the loser of game five on Sunday at 4:05 p.m. with the winner advancing to play the undefeated team in the championship Sunday at 9:05 p.m. If the undefeated team loses, the second championship game will be played Monday at 5:05 p.m. with the winner of that game moving on to the super regional round against the winner of the NCAA Long Beach Regional.