Moeller Stars Leading Baseball Buckeyes

The Ohio State baseball team might have thought it had scored a coup when it was able to reel in classmates and friends Dan Burkhart and Alex Wimmers from Cincinnati, but the current results probably have exceeded expectations. Wimmers is the team ace and Burkhart leads the league in RBI as the No. 16 Buckeyes (18-3) begin Big Ten play on Friday.

Ohio State baseball pitcher Alex Wimmers and catcher Dan Burkhart have been playing baseball together since they were 9 years old. Talk that the two batterymates are thus on the same page is more than just rumor.

Take their answers to a question posed by a reporter about the storybook nature of the fact that the two childhood friends, now sophomores, are presently excelling for the No. 16 Buckeyes.

"You can't ask for anything more," Wimmers said.

Later, Burkhart's take: "You can't ask for anything more than that."

No wonder the Cincinnati Moeller graduates don't have to say too much during the occasional mound meeting. Words would simply be unnecessary.

"It's awesome," Wimmers said of the relationship between the two. "He knows everything about me."

Besides, there are few reasons for such mound conversations the way the two are having success this season.

Wimmers' renown has skyrocketed this season. He has earned the last two Big Ten pitcher of the week honors, and his last three outings have been spectacular. First, he struck out 15 Pittsburgh batters in a complete-game outing to become the Louisville Slugger national player of the week, then he retired 14 during a complete-game shutout against Indiana on March 20.

Finally, the righthander went five scoreless, hitless innings on Tuesday as the Buckeyes beat No. 2 Miami on the road by a 7-1 score, a win that puts Ohio State (18-3) on the right foot heading into a three-game series that opens Big Ten play this season at Penn State.

For the season, Wimmers is 5-0 with a 1.62 ERA in six starts. His 49 strikeouts (in just 39 innings) lead the Big Ten and opponents are hitting just .197 off of him.

"I'm in my comfort zone," he said. "I love being a starter now. The last three starts, I just have my stuff and the defense plays behind me. I'm just throwing strikes up there and they're swinging and missing."

Wimmers' performance might come as a surprise to those who looked at his 4.50 ERA last year as a freshman reliever and 8.53 mark in Big Ten play.

However, the signs were there that the 6-2, 195-pounder would be up to the challenge of being in the starting rotation. He was first-team All-Ohio as a senior and finished his Moeller career with a 1.20 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 105 innings. Most noteworthy, he threw the first perfect game in Moeller history during his final campaign.

He admitted that his first year at Ohio State was a tough transition considering his pedigree as a starter, but he showed he was starting to get set at the college level when he gave up a single run in 5.1 innings during his final outing of the 2008 season against the Hoosiers in the Big Ten tournament.

Over the offseason, Wimmers put together a 1.70 ERA with Luray of the summer Valley League, and he kept on pitching well during camp, leaving senior captain Gus Miller raving about a changeup that keeps getting better. He confirmed suspicions that he was ready for the job by throwing six scoreless innings in the opening game of the year, a win against Notre Dame.

"He's always been a really good pitcher, but this year he's thrown every pitch for a strike," Burkhart said. "When you're spotting your offspeed like that, it's real hard for a team to be able to hit the ball."

Now, the challenge becomes following in the footsteps of former Buckeye aces like Scott Klingenbeck, Justin Fry, Scott Lewis and Cory Luebke. He'll get his next chance on Sunday against the Nittany Lions.

"He's certainly making a case for himself (as a No. 1)," head coach Bob Todd said. "To me, the mark of a true, quality No. 1 is one that's consistent and can do it over the course of a whole year, and that's still left to be shown, but Alex is making a name for himself."

Behind the plate, Burkhart has been no slouch. The 5-11, 205-pounder hit .415 as a senior at Moeller, and his early work at Ohio State convinced Todd that he could handle the load as a freshman catcher a season ago.

He didn't disappoint, hitting .308 overall and .284 in Big Ten play. Over the final 11 games, he hit .428 and batted in seven runs.

This year, he's been a run-producer from the start. He started the year on a 19-game hitting streak, the fifth-longest in school history, and currently is hitting .378 with four homers, three triples and Big Ten-best 30 RBI.

"With guys on third base, my role is to go in there and bring them in," he said. "I've been able to do a good job of that so far. I do like those types of situations. It puts a little more pressure on me to get the job done, and when there's pressure on me it makes me focus a little more."

As the Buckeye season continues, the pair along with infielder David Corna and pitcher Ross Oltorik, who earned his first OSU win on Sunday, hopes to continue to carry the Moeller Crusader flag well.

Considering the school was the high school home of eventual major league stars Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Larkin, Buddy Bell and David Bell, the current Buckeyes have a long way to go to measure up. Wimmers and Burkhart are well on their way, though.

"It's a great thing for Moeller," Burkhart said. "We've worked hard all of our careers and I think it's starting to pay off."

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