Jan. 31, 2005
The goals are simple. Ohio State has finished second in the Big Ten each of the last three seasons since winning its 14th conference championship in 2001, the sixth title since 1991. All three years the Buckeyes were edged by Minnesota in the final weekend of the regular season. Twice the Scarlet and Gray fought back to win the Big Ten tournament and the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA tournament. But even that was missing last year when the team sat out postseason for the first time since 2000.
In 2005, Ohio State believes it has what it takes to get back to the top of the league standings and back to the NCAA tournament, where it has ventured 16 times in school history and 10 times under 18th-year head coach Bob Todd.
“When people talk about Ohio State baseball, they realize we have developed a quality baseball program,” Todd, who has guided the Buckeyes to the most wins by any Big Ten coach since both the 1990 (621) and 2000 (198) seasons, said. “I know the goals of our players every year are to contend for the Big Ten championship, play in the NCAA tournament and earn the right to go to Omaha.”
Ohio State is only two seasons removed from making its most recent push to the College World Series. The Buckeyes came within two victories of securing a berth in the pinnacle of the sport in 2003. Todd’s 1999 team was within one victory of getting to Omaha and his 1992 and 1993 teams finished second in the old eight-team regionals.
The Buckeyes plan on making it back to the tournament this season. Since 1991, when Todd’s fourth Ohio State team made it to the postseason, after an eight-year absence, his teams have not missed out on the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons.
Winning the Big Ten will be a tall order, just like every other season. The Buckeyes will have to face a much-improved Michigan team in Ann Arbor in late April and will play host to Minnesota the last week of the regular season at Bill Davis Stadium. Preseason prognosticators have said any of these three teams could make a run at the 2005 Big Ten Championship.
In the Field
Five of the eight position players are back to help lead the Buckeyes’ campaign. That includes senior first baseman Paul Farinacci, sophomore third baseman Ronnie Bourquin, and all three outfielders: seniors Steve Caravati and Mike Rabin, as well as sophomore Jacob Howell.
Rabin, who Baseball America said in its 2005 college preview is the best defensive outfielder in the Big Ten, is back as a third-year starter with a string of 163 consecutive starts under his belt. Rabin will remain in centerfield. Steve Caravati, the 2004 Big Ten Player of the Year for his bat and his play in left field, will move to the right side, trading places with Jacob Howell, the 2004 Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
“Our outfield may be the best group of defensive outfielders that we have had here,” Todd said.
The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association tabbed Caravati a Preseason First Team All-American, while Collegiate Baseball Newspaper named him to its second team. Caravati led the Big Ten with a .391 batting average, 138 total bases and with a school-record 92 hits. It is no wonder why his name appears on watch lists for national player of the year honors.
Howell was the eighth player in school history to be voted the league’s top freshman and with Caravati’s selection as the conference’s top player it was the third time a player from Ohio State had so been honored. Caravati can become just the third player in conference history to earn the distinction twice and just the first player not to share the honor since Barry Larkin, the Big Ten’s player of the year in 1984 and 1985.
What the team will miss is its middle infield and an experienced catcher. Gone are second baseman Drew Anderson and shortstop Brett Garrard. The tandem from Brownsburg, Ind., played three seasons together at Ohio State and another three seasons in high school. The Buckeyes lost Garrard to graduation and lost Anderson, who signed with the Cincinnati Reds after getting drafted in the 13th round. Derek Kinnear, worked behind the plate for two seasons, also graduated.
“The biggest challenge we have is the loss of Drew Anderson and Brett Garrard in the middle infield,” Todd said. Plus, there is a challenge as to who is going to be our catcher. If you are going to have a sound baseball team, you have to start up the middle. We have some people who are very capable, but have yet to prove themselves.”
Tony Kennedy and Jason Zoeller will likely get the starting day nod at second and short, respectively, but Zoeller also is a capable second baseman and Jedidiah Stephen could see time at short or at third, behind Bourquin. Behind the plate, Kelly Houser, a two-year backup behind Kinnear and Joe Wilkins, will see a majority of starts early in the year, but he will be pushed by Eric Fryer, a freshman from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, who showed good power at the plate in the fall and could provide a much-needed punch in the middle of the lineup.
On the Mound
Seven pitchers return from last season’s squad that led the Big Ten in earned run average. That includes weekend starters Mike Madsen, a 17-game winner in the last two seasons, and Trent Luyster, who came back for his senior season after getting drafted by the Chicago Cubs.
Add sophomores Dan DeLucia and Jeffrey Carroll, both who pitched well down the stretch last season, and the Buckeyes have a solid nucleus to build around in 2005, to help make up for the key departures of Scott Lewis, a third-round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians, and Josh Newman, who won 32 career games and was drafted by the Colorado Rockies.
The Buckeyes also return Trey Fausnaugh, Chris Hanners and Brett Hatcher. Fausnaugh, more of a middle reliever, was forced into the role of closer a season ago. He flourished in the role and saved nine games. After a strong fall practice as the team’s closer, Hatcher will likely get that nod in 2005. He finished 3-0 with one save in 19 appearances last season and held opposing batters to a .215 batting average, the lowest average on the team. Hanners made one appearance last season before redshirting following shoulder surgery.
“People will see we have more depth on our pitching staff,” Todd said. “Trent Luyster and Chris Hanners pitched strong in the fall. Dan DeLucia is throwing pain free and Brett Hatcher showed he could be effective in a closer’s role. That gives us flexibility to go to the bullpen with a little more confidence early in a game with red-shirt freshman Rory Meister or Trey Fausnaugh, who closed a lot of games for us last year, and then come back with Brett Hatcher.”
The Buckeyes welcome five freshman arms to the pitching staff and two players – Cory Luebke and Dan Barker – could see immediate action as the coaching staff will try to lock down a solid No. 4 weekend starter. Luebke, tabbed by Baseball America as the preseason pick as the Big Ten’s freshman of the year and a member of its list of Fab 50 Freshmen, was a 18th-round draft selection by the Pittsburgh Pirates after posting a 0.42 ERA and 119 strikeouts in 50 innings his senior year at Marion Local High School in Maria Stein, Ohio. Barker was 7-3 with a 0.83 ERA while holding opponents to a .125 batting average as a senior at Northmont High School in Dayton, Ohio.
Caravati and Rabin, both senior outfielders, serve as team captains for the 2005 Buckeyes. Both are fifth-year seniors. Caravati, the 2004 Big Ten Player of the Year, is from Dover, Ohio (Dover) and Rabin, who has made 163 straight starts, is from West Chester, Ohio (Lakota East).
“Steve is a tremendous leader,” Todd said. “This is the second year in a row he has been elected one of our team captains. To be a two-time captain is a tremendous honor. It was evident last spring and all fall that Mike was emerging as a leader. The players respect his character and work ethic and both players will represent the leadership of the team in a positive and first-class manner.”
The Newcomers Ten freshmen join the Buckeyes this season, half of which are pitchers. In addition to Luebke, a left-handed pitcher, and Barker, a right-handed pitcher, Todd also welcomes in righty Dan McCauly (Fremont, Ind./Fremont) and lefties Aaron Pikkarainen (Gahanna, Ohio/Gahanna) and Matthew Selhorst (Westerville, Ohio/St. Charles). Fryer is the lone catcher, while high school teammate Michael Arp and Kyle Dyar, who is from Newark, Ohio (Newark) are the additions in the infield. Matt Angle (Whitehall-Yearling) is the lone addition in the outfield.
Ohio State will play 17 road games before returning to Columbus March 30, when it will open its ninth season at Bill Davis Stadium. The slate gets underway Feb. 25-27 at the Wiregrass Classic and continues with the stiffest test of the preseason March 4-6 at the Keith LeClair Classic at East Carolina. Ohio State will face Georgia, a 2004 College World Series participant, North Carolina and Arizona State. All three teams are ranked in the Top 10 by all but one of the four preseason polls. The Buckeyes then stop off in Jacksonville, Fla., for three games before an eight-game spring break trip to Bradenton, Fla.
Toledo is the first of six Wednesday non-conference opponents. That game on March 30 begins at 2 p.m. and should give people in Columbus a good reason for not returning to the office after lunch. All but one of the remaining six midweek games will be played at 6:35 p.m. The exception is May 4 when the Buckeyes will welcome students from Columbus Public Schools to a rare noon first pitch against Cleveland State. Oakland, Malone, Eastern Michigan and Miami (Ohio) are the other Wednesday opponents.
In the Big Ten schedule, Ohio State will play host to Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana and Minnesota. The series with the Gophers, the first time in Columbus since the 2002 season, will close out the regular season. The conference race has come down between the two schools the last weekend of the regular season each of the last three seasons. The Buckeyes open league play at Illinois April 1-3 and then have to go to Michigan, Penn State and Northwestern. The Big Ten tournament will again be played in the home stadium of the regular season champion.
NCAA regional play is June 3-6, followed by super regional action June 10-13. The College World Series will be played June 17-27 in Omaha, Neb.