March 30 Power Rankings

The second week of Big Ten play is here, with Maryland, Ohio State, Purdue joining their peers in a race for the conference crown.

Many believe pitching and defense wins championships, but what can disrupt pitching an defense? A threat on the bases. This week we highlight each clubs leader(s) in stolen bases as the calendar turns to April and the race for the postseason begins in earnest.

Previous power rankings: Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4, Week 5

#1 Indiana (17-5, 1-1) Last Week: 1

Soph. OF Matt Gorski– For the second season in a row Gorski is IU’s top threat on the bases with eight steals in nine attempts. Last year, as Indiana’s first baseman, Gorski paced the club with 15 swipes, only being caught three times.

#2 Illinois (16-5, 3-0), LW: 3

Jr. 1B Bren Spillane– This season it’s Spillane’s turn to show surprising speed from a first baseman. While the junior’s Big Ten-leading 11 home runs have grabbed national headlines, Spillane is 12-for-16 in stolen base attempts, standing second in the conference in steals.

#3 Ohio State (17-7, 0-0) LW: 2

Soph. OF Dominic Canzone– A year after stealing 13 bases in 15 attempts, Canzone is right on pace with six steals in seven attempts. A team powered by extra base hits, Canzone is one of only three Buckeyes with at least three steals.

#4 Minnesota (16-10, 2-1) LW: 4

Jr. OF Ben Mezzenga– Minnesota has the Big Ten’s top average at .299, and have drawn the most walks, but are squarely in the middle in steals with 24. Mezzenga is responded for one-fourth of them, with six in eight attempts.

#5 Michigan (13-11, 3-0) LW: 6

Soph. OF Christian Bullock– Michigan is again a top-three club in terms of stolen bases, even though the team returned only three starters. Filling one of the outfield vacancies, Bullock leads the club with 10 steals in 12 tries and sports a team-leading .324 average.

#6 Iowa (14-8, 1-1) LW: 7

Soph. INF Lorenzo Elion– Iowa stands next-to-last in the Big Ten with 16 stolen bases. But no team has more players with stolen bases than Iowa’s 12. Elion leads the Hawkeye dozen with three in four attempts, as nine players have one stolen base and two with two.

#7 Rutgers (13-9, 2-1) LW: 5

Jr. OF Jawuan Harris– Stolen bases are nothing new to Harris, as he again leads the Scarlet Knights. Suspension has limit the outfielder to 13 games, but he has eight steals in nine tries, running his career total to 68 in 84 attempts.

#8 Nebraska (13-12, 1-2) LW: 8

Jr. INF Angelo Altavilla Sr. INF/OF Zac Repinski– The Huskers round up the rear of the Big Ten with only 13 stolen bases. On a positive, the Huskers have been thrown out a Big Ten-low three times. Altavilla and Repinski’s 3-for-3 efforts lead the team.

#9 Maryland (12-13, 0-0) LW: 10

Sr. OF Zach Jancarski– A balanced attack has five Terrapins with at least four stolen bases through the teams first 25 games. Jancarski leads the pack with six against one caught stealing.

#10 Purdue (11-10, 0-0) LW: 12

Jr. C Nick Dalesandro– The tools which has Dalesandro drawing the attention of professionals includes his speed, evident by his prowess on the bases. As he has thrown out 11 runners in 23 attempts, on the bases himself the backstop has stolen eight bags in nine tries.

#11 Penn State (7-12, 1-1) LW: 11

Soph. OF Mason Nadeau– Nadeau leads a group of seven Nittany Lions who have recorded a stolen base this season. Although he only has 10 hits on his second season in State College, Nadeau has recorded six steals without being thrown out.

#12 Northwestern (7-12, 0-3) LW: 9

Soph. 2B Alex Erro– Erro is emerging as a player who can do it all for Spencer Allen, adding a stolen base element to his sophomore season. Erro leads a strong Wildcats presence on the bases with 11-for-12 showing in steals, as the WIldcats average 2.5 steals a game.

#13 Michigan State (6-17, 0-3) LW: 13

Soph. OF Bryce Kelley– It’s been a tough go in 2018 for the Spartans, but the team’s ability on the bases cannot bear blame. MSU leads the Big Ten with 56 steals in 66 attempts, led by Kelley’s 17 steals in 20 attempts. The Big Ten leader is emerging as one of the country’s best, one steal behind the nation’s leader, after nabbing 13 bags a year ago.

Rutgers-Michigan State Series Schedule Altered

East Lansing, Mich.– Due to inclement weather in the forecast for the weekend, Michigan State baseball’s weekend schedule with Rutgers has been altered with a doubleheader on Friday and a single game on Saturday at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field.

The Spartans and Scarlet Knights will now play a doubleheader on Friday at 12:05 p.m., with a single game scheduled for Saturday at 1:05 p.m.

MSU opened a 12-game homestand at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field on Wednesday, and this weekend is the Spartans’ first full Big Ten series at home.

Any further schedule updates will be announced on www.MSUSpartans.com.

Week 6 Weekend Observations

Big Ten play kicked off last weekend with five conference series. And because it’s March, there was a series shortened due to weather, as Indiana and Iowa were unable to play on Saturday and Sunday.

While the snowstorm that went through the Midwest will lead to an uneven standings, the action across the board showed the Big Ten race figures to be a heated battled leading to a congested table.

Here’s more on that and what else was observed this weekend.

The conference race will be a slugfest

It may be premature to make such a proclamation after one weekend, especially when three teams have yet to play a conference game, but the results from the weekend suggest every week with be a hold-you-breath affair up and down the conference. Consider the following:

Even though Illinois swept Northwestern, two games were decided in extra innings. The lone game that didn’t reach the 10th inning was still a one-run game.

Minnesota and Nebraska each picked up a decisive victory, Minnesota won 5-1 on Friday and Nebraska grabbed an 8-2 victory on Saturday, before Sunday’s rubber match finished 2-0.

Rutgers topped Penn State, 1-0 on Saturday, to win the weekend, but the Nittany Lions scored 10 weekend runs to the Scarlet Knights’ eight.

Before snow wrecked havoc on Iowa City, The Hawkeyes and Hoosiers split a Friday doubleheader, IU won 4-2 in game one, while UI rebounded for a 5-1 victory in the nightcap.

The most dominant weekend performance belonged to Michigan, but even they trailed 1-0 heading into the ninth against Michigan State on Saturday, a Spartan club which sat 6-16 after Sunday.

As every game was finished, nearly each result showed a close contest. Little separate the weekend’s winners from losers, now it’s time to add Maryland, Ohio State and Purdue to the mix to see who, if anyone, can show they’re a cut above.

Reggie Meyer is excelling under the radar

Minnesota’s strong 16-9 has been propelled by a mix of good hitting (.302 team average) and strong pitching (3.31 ERA). Upperclassmen like Micah Coffey, Toby Hanson, Luke Pettersen and Terrin Vavra have led at the plate, while a handful of freshman have made an immediate impact on the mound, between Patrick Fredrickson, Bubba Horton, and Max Meyer. But want can’t be overlooked is the season junior right-handed pitcher Reggie Meyer is having as the team’s ace.

On Friday, Meyer Nebraska to one run while scattering eight hits, striking out five batters without issuing a walk over eight innings. Leveling his season record to 2-2, Meyer lowered his ERA to 2.89. With 37.1 innings pitched on the season, Meyer is averaging a six-inning start, and holds a 1.46 BB/9, with a 20 strikeouts against six walks. Meyer is pitching as well as the Minnesota staff could have envisioned, taking over the No. 1 role with ease following the departure of All-Big Ten left-handed pitcher Lucas Gilbreath.

Penn State and Rutgers solidify competitive rotations

Penn State has not participated in the Big Ten Tournament since 2012. Rutgers is seeking its first berth. But as the two teams head into April, both programs can look to the postseason with optimism, as Rob Cooper and Joe Litterio had the same reason to leave the weekend’s series between the two feeling well; their weekend rotations.

For Penn State, the weekend trio of Justin Hagenman-Taylor Lehman-Dante Biasi is coming together to give Cooper his most stout rotation in his five years in State College. With a 3.71 ERA, Hagenman is going on his second year of being an asset in PSU’s rotation, but Lehman is enjoying a breakout season. A highly-touted prospect upon heading to Penn State, Lehman three hits and one unearned run over six innings on Saturday. The senior left-hander lowered his ERA to 2.81 for the season. Rounding out Penn State’s rotation is Dante Biasi, a redshirt freshman who missed last season recovering from Tommy John surgery required after his high school career. Using a six-inning, one-run outing to collect the win on Sunday, Biasi has made five starts and sports a 4.79 ERA in his first collegiate season.

In the case of Rutgers, a blend of old and new have led to consistency in the rotation. In his 41st career start, senior right-hander John O’Reilly pitched his first complete game on Friday, allowing only a first-inning unearned run in Rutgers’ 4-1 victory. With the third-most career starts in school history under his belt, O’Reilly knows what it takes to win at this level. That experience is needed as two freshmen southpaws are behind him in the rotation, Harry Rutkowski and Eric Heatter. With respective 3.46 and 4.50 ERA, Heatter and Rutkowsi have been able to give Rutgers a foundation for the future, while being productive pitchers in the now. Until now, a true 1-2-3 rotation has eluded Rutgers as a Big Ten member, giving further proof this may be the year the Scarlet Knights break through.

Wolverine bats shake their slump

Michigan’s home-away-home series against Michigan State was bookend by a pair of offensive outbursts. On Friday, Michigan opened the series by rolling to a 12-3 win. On Sunday, Michigan capped the weekend sweep with an 11-0 victory.

Enjoying an eight-game winning streak, Michigan has put a forgetful first month behind them. As Erik Bakich’s club opened conference play with a perfect weekend, the rise of the Wolverines has coincided with the offense turning around.

It surely helps that eight of Michigan’s last nine games have come at home, and that they aren’t facing the pitching of Stanford. But compare the averages and OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of the team’s top three hitters from their first 11 games to were they are now, and it’s easy to see how Michigan has enjoyed the country’s fifth-longest current winning streak through Tuesday.

Soph. OF Christian Bullock First 11: .270/.665, Current: .300/.726

Jr. OF Jonathan Engelmann- .250/.571, .322/.880

Jr. 2B Ako Thomas- .250/.725, .295/.796

And as a team, Michigan is batting .253, up from .205, with a .701 OPS, a stark improvement from the team’s .582 mark just 12 games ago.

Ryan Feltner has turned the corner

Although their seven-game winning streak fell in Saturday’s 5-1 loss to Georgetown, the start Ryan Feltner gave Ohio State was his second straight strong effort. In 6.2 innings, Feltner allowed three runs, one earned, and four hits. Without issuing a walk, the junior right-handed pitcher struck out four batters. A loss was tacked on Feltner’s record, and Georgetown represents the weakest opponent Ohio State has faced to date, but the quality start is the second in a row for Feltner as the Big Ten’s top pitching prospect is turning promise into production. A week before, against CSUN, Feltner logged another 6.2 innings, allowing three runs, two earned, off against four hits. That outing saw Feltner strike out nine batters to one walk. Together, the last two weekends have seen the right-hander pitch 13.1 innings, concede eight hits, allow two earned runs and strike out 13 batters to one walk. Feltner faced as tough of a run as any pitcher in the three previous weekends, taking on Oregon State, Southern Miss, and Coastal Carolina, the respective No. 1, No. 12 and No. 23 teams in the country. Now, as Ohio State heads into conference play, Feltner is rolling and knows what it takes to beat the best of the best, a welcomed thought for Greg Beals.

 

Penn State Contest Against Binghamton Postponed

University Park, Penn. –Due to inclement weather, Tuesday’s Penn State baseball game against Binghamton in Medlar Field at Lubrano Park has been postponed to Wednesday, April 11 at 6:30 p.m., Penn State head coach Rob Cooper announced Tuesday morning.

Fans with tickets for the Binghamton game can redeem them at the State College Spikes box office for any other 2018 Penn State baseball game.

Penn State is next scheduled to play Wednesday against Cornell at 6:30 p.m. It will be “Wing Wednesday,” so fans can enjoy wings at the ballpark at the following prices: Three wings for $3, six wings for $5.50 and 12 wings for $10.

Season, flex and single-game tickets for the 2018 season, presented by Family Clothesline, are available online at GoPSUsports.com or by calling the Medlar Field at Lubrano Park ticket office at 814-272-1711.

Check back to GoPSUSports.com for continued updates on Penn State Baseball. Follow on Twitter at @PennStateBASE and Facebook at Penn State Baseball.

Illinois’ Spillane named NCBWA Player of the Week

Champaign, Ill. –Bren Spillane was named the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Player of the Week, the third Illinois player in program history to earn the prestigious award. Spillane joins Dusty Bensko (April 12, 2005) and J.R. Kyes (May 10, 2005) as the only other Illini to earn the award.

Spillane was also named the NCAA.com Player of the Week and was one of eight named as Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Players of the Week. He earned his second straight Big Ten Player of the Week award and the Illini’s fourth in a row.
Illinois is up to No. 12 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll. The Illini are No. 22 by Baseball America and No. 25 by D1Baseball.com.

Spillane Weekly Notes

• Led Illinois in average (.643), on-base percentage (.737), slugging (1.500), doubles (3), homers (3), RBIs (10), runs (7), total bases (21), walks (5) and steals (3) during the perfect 4-0 week
• Reached base at least three times in every game of the week
• Two HR against CSUN on Tuesday
• Eight RBIs against CSUN is the most by a Big Ten player this season
• Homered against Northwestern on Friday
• Scored the winning run in extra innings against Northwestern on Saturday
• 3-for-4 in the extra-inning win against Northwestern on Sunday
• At least one extra-base hit in all four games of the week
• 3-for-4 on steals during the weekend against Northwestern

Illinois’ Game Against Bradley Cancelled, Add Concordia

Champaign, Ill. –The No. 22/25 Illinois baseball team’s game scheduled for Tuesday at Bradley has been cancelled due to wet conditions and the threat of more rain. As a result of Tuesday’s cancellation, Illinois (15-5, 3-0) will host Concordia Chicago at 4 p.m. CT Wednesday at Illinois Field.

The game against Division III Concordia will count towards Illinois’ record and statistics. The game will not count towards the Illini’s RPI, a factor in NCAA tournament selection.

Concordia (12-3) is ranked No. 5 in the D3baseball.com poll. The Cougars’ No. 3-hole hitter Andrew Massey is the brother of Illinois second baseman Michael Massey.

The Illini and Bradley have not set a make-up date, although a game in Peoria this season is possible. Bradley is scheduled to visit Illinois Field on Tuesday, April 24.

The Weekend 10

The first weekend of Big Ten play saw two intra-state rivalries, a meeting of two 2017 NCAA Tournament teams, a showdown between the last two conference champions and a border battle. Adding to the intensity of the weekend was Maryland hosting nationally-ranked Stetson during their conference bye week.

With bragging rights across the board on the line, and teams starting to fight for the conference championship, the weekend’s top performances were dominated by pitching, holding the adage true, pitching and defense wins championships.

Here’s who stood out.

Michigan Jr. OF Jonathan Engelmann

Helping the Wolverines to a 3-0 start to Big Ten play, sweep in-state rival Michigan State, and run Michigan’s winning streak to eight games, Engelmann terrorized Spartan pitching. This week’s player of the week, the junior outfielder picked up six hits in 12 at-bats, highlighted by a 4-for-5, two-home run contest on Friday. Englemann added a double and triple in the game, en route to finishing the weekend with seven runs, eight RBI, and added two stolen bases for good measure.

Minnesota Fr. RHP Patrick Fredrickson

In a battle between the last two Big Ten champions, Minnesota freshman Patrick Fredrickson had little trouble with Nebraska, leading the Gophers to a 2-0 victory on Sunday, to claim the series.  Over seven innings, the right-hander held the Huskers to four hits and did not concede a run. Improving to 3-0 on the year, the Gopher struck out six batters while only walking one.

Michigan St. Sr. RHP Ethan Landon

With eight innings of scoreless baseball under his belt, Landon was the victim of spotty Spartan defense, suffering a hard luck loss in Michigan State’s 3-1 defeat on Saturday. Pitching into the ninth, Landon held the Wolverines to four hits and three walks, while striking out nine batters. Two unearned runs were tacked against the senior, as U-M rallied to the last-at-bat victory.

Penn State Sr. LHP Taylor Lehman

A strong performance wouldn’t result in a win, but Lehman held a high-powered Rutgers lineup in check, turning in one of his best performances as a Nittany Lion. Over six innings, Lehman held Rutgers to three hits and one unearned run, striking out two batters and issuing one walk. Providing Rob Cooper with a solid Saturday starter, Lehman’s ERA fell to 2.81 in 25.2 innings on the year.

Illinois Soph. 2B Michael Massey

Massey continues to be one-half of the most dangerous first and second baseman duo in the Big Ten. Hitting in the five-hole, behind Bren Spillan, Massey picked up three singles, a double, and a home run in Illinois’ weekend sweep of Northwestern. Grabbing a walk, and touching 10 bases, Massey posted a .500 on-base percentage and slugged .762 over 14 plate appearances.

Maryland Jr. RHP Hunter Parsons

The season thus far for Maryland has been rocky, uneven, and inconsistent. None of those would describe Parsons on Sunday, as the junior right-handed led the Terps to a series-clinching, 2-0 victory over No. 26 Stetson. Earning 10 Innings’ Pitcher of the Week honors, Parsons twirled a two-hit shutout. Racking up a career-best nine strikeouts, Parsons pitched to only three batters over the minimum, surrendering singles in the fourth and fifth innings, and hitting a batter in the seventh.

Rutgers Fr. LHP Harry Rutkowski

Going toe-to-toe with Lehman, and the reason why Rutgers grabbed the 1-0 victory, was a sterling outing from Rutkowski. The first-year Scarlet Knight did not allow a run, scattering four hits over six innings, punching out seven batters against two walks. Moving to 3-0 on the Rutkowski induced nine groundouts as Rutgers clinched the weekend series.

Iowa Jr. RHP Brady Schanuel

Schanuel’s best performance as a Hawkeye came at an opportune time. With weather disrupting Iowa’s series against Indiana, a Friday doubleheader, and ultimately the weekend, was split, as Schanuel led Iowa to a 5-1 victory after a 4-2 defeat. In seven innings of work, the junior struck out 11 batters to four walks while allowing just one Hoosier hit. The right-hander did not yield a run in his 110-pitch outing.

Nebraska Sr. DH Scott Schreiber

Fredrickson and Minnesota may have grabbed the weekend series in Lincoln, but they did little to contain Schreiber. In 12 at-bats, Schreiber collected seven hits, and had two home runs in Nebraska’s 8-2 victory on Saturday. Schreiber opened and closed the weekend with two-hit games, each included a double, as the senior scored three runs, and plated four teammates.

Illinois Jr. 1B Bren Spillane

Spillane’s offensive outburst showed no signs of slowing down this weekend. Against the Wildcats, Spillane went 6-for-10, with two doubles and a home run, posting a triple-slash of .600/.714/1.100. Helping Illinois to their 15th win in 20 games, Spillane stole three bags on the weekend, running his season total to 10, one more than the number of home runs he has, showing a incredible blend of power and speed.

March 22 Power Rankings

With the exception of Maryland, Purdue, and Ohio State, Big Ten play starts this weekend. With teams tending to non-conference schedules in hopes of positioning themselves for an NCAA Tournament berth, the focus now turns to the conference crown.

From a standout newcomer, to veterans with multi-year track records, this week’s power rankings takes a look at each team’s closer, examining the first five weeks of the season for the pitchers responsible for nailing down the victory as Big Ten teams begin to fight for the title.

Previous power rankings: Week 1Week 2Week 3, Week 4

#1 Indiana (15-4) Last Week: 1

Jr. RHP Matt Lloyd– A preseason All-American at the utility position, the two-way talent has done his job at the back of the IU bullpen. Appearing in four games, Lloyd has pitched six scoreless innings. Saving two contests, Lloyd has surrendered five hits, walked two batters and struck out seven hitters.

#2 Ohio State (14-6) LW: 3

Sr. RHP Seth Kinker– A 3-1 record stands next to four saves for Kinker, as the Buckeye provides Greg Beals with security to keep games close and lock down Ohio State victories. In 17 innings, Kinker has struck out 19 batters against three walks, and holds a 1.06 ERA.

#3 Illinois (12-5) LW: 2

Jr. RHP Joey Gerber– Conceding only four hits in 27 at-bats, Gerber sports an impressive .148 batting average against, With a 3.58 ERA, the Illini has recorded four saves over eight outings, picking up 11 strikeouts and issuing three walks in 7.2 innings.

#4 Minnesota (14-8) LW: 6

Fr. RHP Max Meyer– Trough the first five weeks of the season Meyer has delivered on high expectations. After the graduation of All-Big Ten second-team selection Brian Glowcki, Meyer, has filled in nicely, recording five saves over nine outings. Meyer has picked up 19 strikeouts to four walks in 14.1 innings and holds a 3.14 ERA.

#5 Rutgers (11-7) LW: 5

Jr. RHP Serafino Brito– Brito has transitioned from the rotation to the bullpen in his third season in Piscataway. Making nine relief appearances, Brito has recorded two saves for the upstart Scarlet Knights. Brito has struck out 17 batters in 14.2 innings, sporting a 6.14 ERA.

#6 Michigan (9-11) LW: 11

Soph. RHP Jack Weisenburger– It’s been bullpen by committee for Michigan, but more and more Weisenburger’s number is being called later in tight contests. With all seven appearances coming in relief, Weisenburger has logged 14.2 innings and has a save under his belt. The second-year pitcher has struck out 17 batters, walked 11, and holds a .176 batting average against.

#7 Iowa (12-7) LW: 9

Jr. RHP Zach Daniels– Three Hawkeyes have recorded saves this year, but Daniels has been the most consistent. The converted infielder has a 2.03 ERA over 13.1 innings, with two saves and a 2-1 record. Daniels has recorded 16 strikeouts, tied for third most on the team, responsible for nine hits and five walks.

#8 Nebraska (12-9) LW: 5

Sr. RHP Jake Hohensee– Injuries have depleted Darin Erstad’s pitching staff, but Hohensee has been a rock in a move to the bullpen. Hohensee’s five saves have come over eight outings, as he’s allowed one run over nine innings. Hohensee has stifled the opposition, allowing just four hits in 32 at-bats with one walk, while striking out seven.

#9 Northwestern (7-8) LW: 12

Sr. RHP Tommy Bordignon– Bordignon’s power arm is starting to turn in the production Spencer Allen has believed the senior held. Enjoying his best season in Evanston, Bordginon has recorded three saves in five outings. Logging 11.2 innings of work, Bordginon’s ERA stands at 3.09.

#10 Maryland (10-11) LW: 7

Jr. RHP John Murphy– Murphy has been a strikeout machine out of the Terrapin bullpen, picking up 19 strikeouts in 10.1 innings. Nine walks have contributed to a 2.61 ERA, as Murphy has only allowed four hits in 34 at-bats. The junior has two saves on the season.

#11 Penn State (6-9) LW: 13

Soph. RHP Eric Mock– Coming off of Tommy John surgery, Mock has shown flashes of promise for Rob Cooper. The redshirt sophomore has recorded three saves, as he’s toed the rubber six times this year. Mock’s 5.86 ERA is the result of 10 hits in 11.1 innings, two being home runs, but he has struck out 16 batters to four walks.

#12 Purdue (9-9) LW: 8

Sr. LHP Ross Learnard– A preseason All-American, Learnard has pitched well, although save opportunities have been limited. Appearing in seven games, Learnard has pitched eight innings, and holds a 2.25 ERA. The lefty’s .143 opponent’s batting average continues to be one of the best in the conference.

#13 Michigan State (6-12) LW: 10

Soph. LHP Mitchell Tyranski– The Spartans as a whole may be off to a tough start, but the sophomore southpaw has been a consistent weapon out of the bullpen for Jake Boss. Tyranski’s 1.15 ERA leads Michigan State pitchers who have at least two appearances. In eight games, Tyranski has allowed nine hits, issued eight walks, and struck out 15 batters.

10 Innings Extra: Cultural blueprint fuels Buckeye bounce back

In mid-September, well before the his team compiled a 14-6 record over the first five weeks of the season, even before the first pitch was thrown in the fall-capping Scarlet and Gray World Series, Greg Beals liked what he saw in what would be the 2018 Ohio State baseball team.

But feeling good in the fall rarely holds much water, In fact, it would be noteworthy if a coach didn’t like what he saw in the fall, if optimism wasn’t falling alongside wind-blown leaves.

Players have a hop and skip in their step, returning to campus after a season of summer baseball. Recruits become freshmen, and in today’s recruiting cycle, it can take up to four years for a coaching staff to reap the fruits of their labor in recruiting, between the start of a recruitment and the time a player dons the school uniform for the first time. Coaches are revitalized, having spent the offseason examining what went wrong the prior season and determined to fix it, or to carry on what went right. And there’s the small fact that you can’t lose a game in October that will hurt your chances to reach Omaha in June.

However, now, in mid-March, the sentiment has only strengthen, Beals likes this team.

“[For us] to get to a national-caliber it’s just being a little cleaner, but there’s a lot to like about this ball club,” said Beals, following Ohio State’s 7-3 victory against Cal State Northridge on Sunday. “I like the depth, I like what we’ve done offensively, and the growth we’ve had.”

On paper, it’s easy to see what Beals likes about the current outfit of the Buckeyes.

A year after batting .260, the fourth-lowest mark in the Big Ten, Ohio State’s offense is hitting at a .295 clip, second best in the conference. A .352 on-base percentage has improved to .382, while the team is has a collective .435 slugging percentage, up .40 points. All together, Ohio State is averaging 7.45 runs through their first 20 games, a year-over improvement of 2.07 runs. And on the mound, Ohio State’s team ERA sits at 4.04, down from 2017’s 5.32 rate.

But to truly know what Beals likes about this team, why the program feels last year’s 22-34 campaign was an aberration and that they’re back on track to reach a regional, it’s what doesn’t show up in statstics, but what’s found in blueprints.

Posted through the coaches offices, coaches and players locker room, is the cultural blueprint of the Ohio State baseball program. It’s simplistic, it’s direct, and for Beals it resonates.

Elite preparation.

Competitive toughness.

The brotherhood.

Nothing more, nothing less. Those three mantras define what it means to be a Buckeye. And after a year where Ohio State suffered its worst Big Ten finish, 11th, in program history, the Buckeyes’ bounce back season has been anchored in the cultivation of that blueprint.

“I dig into our cultural blueprint,” Beals said, as Ohio State welcomes Georgetown to Columbus during their conference bye week. “Win, lose, or draw, we have to respond, behave, and do the things we expect each other to do. We’re going to prepare at an elite level, we’re going to compete with toughness—that’s what we’re starting to see now.”

When it comes to elite preparation, its the commitment to preparation which has spurred one of the Big Ten’s breakout players.

A transfer from McCLennan Community College, Noah McGowan arrived in Columbus last year as a junior expected to fill the offensively voids created with the departure of second-round pick Ronnie Dawson. Like Dawson, McGowan sports No. 4 and looks the part of a linebacker for Urban Meyer, less three-hole hitter for Beals. McGowan flashed brilliance a year ago, recording a three-home run game against Xavier on March 19. But McGowan connected for only two other home runs in his 128 other at-bats, and only 25 other hits in total, to bat .214.

This year, through 79 at-bats, McGowan has 31 hits for a team-leading .392 average. With seven doubles and five home runs, McGowan’s .696 slugging percentage is second in the Big Ten, and his 27 RBI leads the conference.

“[It’s just] trusting what I’m doing,” McGowan said on his strong senior season. “Seeing what I’m seeing, seeing spin, or if I see ball up in the zone, offspeed pitch, put a good swing on it.”

That may explain how McGowan approaches each at-bat, but it’s the work done prior to that allows him to step to the plate relaxed, with a clear mind and trusting himself.

“I’ll hit with coaches, but then I usually like to come back later at night and hit by myself” McGowan said. “Just so I can have time to myself and hit, not have outside distractions and focus on what I do in the cage, get my reps off of the machine.

“Last year I didn’t hit off the machine as much, and when I was in JUCO we hit off the machine a lot, and I think that was a part of my success…off the machine, that’s when you find the flaws in your swing.”

With the preparation established, taking on the opposition with competitive toughness is where results come.

Starting with the season-opening 11-7 victory over Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where Ohio State scored nine runs over their final two at-bats, of the team’s 16 victories, four have come with Ohio State trailing after seven innings. The comeback wins include its two marquee victories, a 9-6 win over Southern Miss, and a 7-5 win at Coastal Carolina, both are ranked teams.

“This team has a lot of fight in them,”  Beals said. “You’ve seen that with comeback wins, late-inning breakouts, those type of things. Our guys are willing to play the whole game, go the long haul and that leads back to the competitive spirit we have.”

McGowan leads a charge of seven players batting .286 or better, on a team with “guys in our dugout that’ll be able to score runs and put up just as many runs as anyone else.” To him, Ohio State is never out of a contest, there’s never a moment to relent.

A beneficiary of Ohio State’s powerful offense is freshman Griffan Smith. Appearing in six games, including one start, Smith has logged 11.2 innings for the Buckeyes.

“You just go out there and pitch and do your thing, knowing that your offense has your back, especially with the way we’ve been hitting. There’s not a doubt in my mind when I step on the mound or go back in the inning that they’re going to pick me up, whether I do bad or good.”

And that’s where the final pillar of the Buckeyes foundation comes together: the brotherhood.

Co-captains for Ohio State are Kyle Michalik and Adam Niemeyer. Fifth-year seniors, the pitchers were part of a prolific high school class of 2013 recruiting haulthat Beals landed. Along with Dawson, Travis Lakins, Troy Montgomery, and Tanner Tully, the recruiting class is one of the Big Ten’s best over the last decade.

But tragically, there was only a glimpse of the unparalleled potential of the best prospect, Zach Farmer.

After a courageous two-year battle with acute myeloid leukemia, Farmer passed away in August 2015. Never prepared to suffer such a loss, the Ohio State players found comfort in each other, found a renewed sense of commitment to each other, and formed an unbreakable bond.

Arising from tragedy, taking the fight Farmer valiantly displayed, Ohio State ended a seven-year NCAA Tournament drought, claiming the 2016 Big Ten Tournament title and leading the Big Ten with 44 wins.

A championship will never replace a life. Whenever a player’s career is over, be it at the end of his senior year or when the professional game passes him by, there is still life to take on. The best in athletics is preparing an individual to succeed in life, to take lessons learned from sacrifice, hard work and selflessness to be an asset to society. It would never be appropriate to compare a losing season to the loss of a life. But the brotherhood, the commitment to others that fueled Ohio State in 2016 has returned to Bill Davis Stadium.

Atop Ohio State’s pitching staff is junior left-handed pitcher Connor Curlis. With a 3-0 record, next to a 3.07 ERA in 29.1 innings, Curlis has ran with the role of weekend ace. But the title means less to him, it’s more what he can do to set the tone for the weekend.

“It feels awesome to have the coaches tell you that you’re the Friday starter, but more it’s to go out there and give it your all for the team,” Curlis said. “Every Friday night, that’s what I’m trying to do.”

McGowan, arguably the Big Ten’s top player over the first month deflects individual glory.

“Our focus this year has been more of a team, to come together and enjoying being around each other.” he said.

And when you have elite preparation, competitive toughness, and each player takes on the life of a brotherhood, to Beals that is what has spurred the Buckeyes to win tough games, go into tough environments and fight and enter the last week of non-conference play with all goals in tact.

“They believe they can do it. That belief goes back to everything we’ve talked about, the competitive toughness, the brotherhood, and it’s the elite preparation that they all know they’ve done. Then to be able to go out and do it, like we’ve done a few times this year early in the season, to prove it on the field also, just really builds that belief and feeling our guys have right now.”

Now, even though it was well before a pitch was thrown, a home run hit, or a game was won, it’s clear what Beals liked about this ball club in the fall. It’s in the blueprints.

Week 5 Weekend Observations

The final weekend before in-conference play beings was a good one for the Big Ten. There were seven home series, with Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State all grabbing weekend sweeps, Penn State captured two of three, and Michigan State and Nebraska split their weekend sets. On the road, Minnesota grabbed national attention with their road victory at TCU and Rutgers picked up a pair of solid victories at Florida Gulf Coast. All told, only two of the 13 teams suffered weekend defeats.

What garnered the most attention from the strong weekend? Here’s the top weekend observations.

Spillane jumps to the front of POTY race

A lot of attention, and rightfully so, had been cast upon the law office-sounding duo of Ohio State’s Noah McGowan and Purdue’s Jacson McGowan. Both first baseman put together impressive first months at the plate, where numbers on pace to shatter school records helped lead their respective clubs to strong starts. But there’s been an offensive eruption over the last three weeks by Illinois first baseman Bren Spillane that has him on track to be Illinois’ third conference player of the year in six years. Following an 8-for-16 weekend, where the series opener at Southern Illinois produced three home runs, before a two-double, 4-for-4 effort capped the Saturday doubleheader, Spillane is second in the Big Ten in hitting (.419), first in slugging (.887), first in doubles (nine), second in home runs (six), second in total bases (55), fifth in on-base percentage (.471), fifth in RBI (21) and fifth in stolen bases (five). Putting himself in line to be an All-American over the first month, the next two months will show if Spillane can follow the feats of former Illini who were named Big Ten Player of the Year, Justin Parr (2013) and David Kerian (2015), and lead Illinois to a regional.

Kaletha is Indiana’s catalyst

With Matt Lloyd, Luke Miller, and Logan Sowers returning, Indiana was expected to have a strong offensive club. And through 19 games, Indiana is batting .286 with 42 doubles and 19 home runs, Chris Lemonis does indeed have a potent team at the plate. But it isn’t Lloyd, Miller, nor Sowers who is the driving force behind the high-powered Hoosiers offense, its newcomer Logan Kaletha. A transfer from John A. Logan College, the junior outfielder led Indiana in runs created heading into last weekend. As Indiana swept Northern Illinois, Kalthea went 5-for-13 with a double, home run, two RBI, three runs, a walk, and a stolen base. Atop Indiana’s lineup, Katleha has settled into being a dynamic leadoff batting, offering with hitting ability (.319 average), power (.580 slugging percentage) discipline (12 walks to 15 strikeouts), grit (12 plunkings) speed (five stolen bases). and for good measure sports a perfect fielding percentage.

Ohio State continues regional trajectory

Indiana has done nothing to dissuade any belief they are the Big Ten’s top team. Checking in at No. 15 in this week’s NCBWA poll, the first five weeks for the Hoosiers have justified their preseason top billing by conference coaches. But the Hoosiers aren’t the top rated Big Ten team by RPI, that would be Ohio State. According to Warren Nolan’s RPI formula, Ohio State’s RPI is 25 heading into Wednesday play. With only one-third of a season’s data in place, the RPI is very fluid and drastic fluctuations are common in March. But at 14-6, if the season ended today, the Greg Beals’ team would be in a regional. Riding a six-game winning streak, Ohio State has not suffered a losing weekend yet, the Buckeyes have picked up a pair of wins which figure to stand out on their resume (Coastal Carolina and Southern Miss), and started their home slate with three wins in three games. A solid win total, grabbing marquee victories as they come, and protecting the home field is the path to the postseason, and with their sweep of Cal State Northridge, the Buckeyes stayed on course.

Rookie Gophers grow up on big stage

Speaking of postseason resumes, Minnesota’s weekend victory at then No. 11 TCU will surely help the Gophers’ case to be in the field of 64 for a second time in three years. For those who have watched Big Ten baseball over the past few seasons, the upset may not have been that shocking. Minnesota is a game from being two-time reigning Big Ten champions, the Big Ten has equaled the Big XII’s 13 teams in a regional since 2015, and Minnesota has a very deep and veteran-laded lineup, But what was eye-opening, and may have a lasting effect beyond May, was the performance of Minnesota’s freshmen pitchers. In a weekend where TCU saw more than 4,000 fans turn out for each game, Patrick Fredrickson, Bubba Horton, Max Meyer, and Sam Thoresen combined to pitch 15.2 innings and allow just seven hits, striking out 17 batters. Minnesota will experience heavy roster turnover following this season with the graduations of Alex Boxwell, Micah Coffey, Toby Hanson, and Luke Pettersen, but those four pitchers, along with classmate Joshua Culliver and Ryan Duffy give the Gophers a foundation to continue the program’s ascend on.

Whelan provides a spark

Iowa had lost five straight games before Evansville came to town. The Hawkeyes started this week on a three-game winning streak. While it would be tough to give him all credit for halting the team’s skid and starting a run, the return of Chris Whelan had to be comforting for Rick Heller. With Whelan back in the lineup, Iowa had a true leadoff batter, something that was missing the first four weeks. In addition to someone who can get on base, Whelan can drive the ball and be a run-producing taking a little pressure off Tyler Cropley and Robert Neustrom. While Whelan’s UCL injury will limit him to just DH duties, his first weekend of action saw little rust. The 2017 Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player went 5-for-12, drew two talks and scored four runs.

 

Michigan freshmen find comfort at home

No school in the country produced more MLB Draft picks last year than Michigan did with 11. While a noteworthy accomplishment, having that many players leave a program tends to cause a step back the following season as newcomers and role players are thrust into prominent roles. For the first four weeks of the season, Michigan did scuffle, the Wolverines entered last weekend’s series against Bowling Green at 4-11. But during their first home series, the emergence of a few freshman, part of a recruiting class ranked 10th by Baseball America, spurred a turnaround and should bring optimism to Ann Arbor ahead of conference play. Earning Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, outfielder Jordan Nwogu post a triple-slash of .362/.692/1.097, with a home run, two double and eight RBI. 10 Innings’ Freshman of the Week accolades went to Michigan left-handed pitcher Ben Dragani, after he pitched seven shutout innings on Sunday, striking out six batters without issuing a walk. Another freshman, shortstop Jack Blomgren reached base five times, picked up a double and stole two bases.