Ranked Buckeyes Digging The Long Ball

One of the reasons the Ohio State baseball team struggled to do more than post a 30-26 overall record and even 15-15 league campaign was a lack of power from the hitters. This year, that has been rectified to the tune of 15 homers in seven games for the No. 25 Buckeyes. We've got more on the power surge and if the team can keep it up.

The coaching staff of the No. 25 Ohio State baseball team has talked quite a bit early in the season about how a year of learning from pressure situations has helped the maturing team.

One new skill the Buckeyes, now 7-0 for just the third time in school history, have added to their repertoires has been a welcome sight: the home-run trot.

A year after hitting just 19 homers, the least since 1980, the Buckeyes have hit 15 so far through seven games. That total includes 13 homers hit last weekend at the Kennel Club Classic in Jacksonville, Fla., including seven blasted during a 21-14 win against Connecticut that ended the weekend with the Buckeyes possessing a 4-0 record.

The power was on full display in the third inning of that game as Ohio State hit five bombs to earn eight runs in the frame.

"It was pretty shocking," said catcher Dan Burkhart, who scored one of the runs after a walk put him on base for Cory Rupert's shot. "We were all dying in the dugout laughing. It was pretty fun."

Equally as impressive was the performance of sophomore infielder Matt Streng, who hit his first career homer in that inning and then followed it in the seventh inning by hitting a shot from the other side of the batter's box.

Streng is one of six Buckeyes with two homers on the season a year after just four members of the squad had multiple big flies. He's joined by Burkhart, Zach Hurley, Ryan Dew, Brian DeLucia and Michael Stephens, while Rupert, Justin Miller and Cory Kovanda each have one.

Numbers like that are enough to get the Buckeyes to overlook that the wind was blowing out in Jacksonville, especially during the slugfest against the Huskies. The OSU coaching staff entered the year thinking that they'd get some more power out of their hitters, especially given the extra year of experience and workouts provided to the team's young players.

Last year, seven of the 10 hitters to receive more than 100 at bats were freshmen and sophomores, and six of those players return to the lineup this year.

"All of those guys are a year older, a year stronger and hopefully a year smarter," hitting coach Greg Cypret said. "I did expect us to swing the bat a lot better."

The power surge has helped take pressure off the team in every avenue. A season ago, the Buckeyes seemed to need to string together three hits at a time to earn most of their runs because 471 of its 597 hits (78.9 percent) were singles. As a result, the team struggled against the Big Ten's better pitchers, often leaving a small margin for error for its own pitchers.

This season, the pitchers have been picked up when struggling, such as in the game against the Huskies when they – a group that included starter Ross Oltorik, a walk-on member of the football team – were struggling with the same blustery conditions that allowed the OSU offense to go off.

"To get in there and all of a sudden have one hit be a three-run home run and you're already up 3-0, it puts a lot less pressure on the pitchers to constantly get all of the outs," Burkhart said.

Stringing together hits hasn't been much of an issue, either. The team's batting average of .327 is nine points better than last year's mark, and five players have started every game while keeping a batting average above .300.

Outfielder Zach Hurley leads the way with a .484 batting average, 11 RBI and 1.382 OPS. Dew is batting .458 and Burkhart has 12 RBI to go with his .387 average.

"When we get back in the Big Ten and you start playing where the air is a little thicker, so to speak, the ball won't carry as well," head coach Bob Todd said. "We're still going to have to win an awful lot of ballgames with base hits."

The Buckeyes will next face off against Rhode Island on Friday in the Cleveland Indians' old spring training complex in Winter Haven, Fla. The Buckeyes conclude the weekend at Chain O'Lakes Park with games Saturday against Northeastern and Maine and on Sunday against Central Michigan.

OSU will be without third baseman Brian DeLucia, who broke a finger in Jacksonville, and might choose to rest shortstop Tyler Engle, who continues to battle a hamstring injury.

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