May 25, 2005

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio State baseball team surges into the Big Ten tournament as one of the hottest teams in the conference. Coming off a series winning 6-5 victory over Minnesota Sunday, the Buckeyes have won 17 of their last 20 games and four series in a row.

The series win over traditional power Minnesota was huge for Ohio State. The Buckeyes only had beaten the Golden Gophers in a four-game series once before this past weekend. Ohio State won the last three games of the series all in their last at bat. The style in which the team won the last three games should give them a lot of momentum going into the Big Ten tournament. The team will take on Michigan Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.

“This past weekend was huge for us,” senior pitcher Mike Madsen said. “It gives us motivation to keep playing the way we are.”

Coincidentally, the last time the Buckeyes took on the Wolverines may have been the turning point in the season. Ohio State was defeated 11-3 in Ann Arbor on April 22 in their only nationally televised game of the year. The Buckeyes had lost 10 out of their last 15 games, and had hit a low point of the season. Any thoughts of revenge against Michigan were ruined the next two days as the three scheduled games were canceled because of snow.

The Buckeyes may not have been to get back on track against the Wolverines in April, but they have won 17 of 20 since, en route to winning each of the last four series.

One of the reasons for the recent success is that the bats have come alive. Earlier in the season the Buckeyes were losing games simply because they could not score runs. The team clearly had become frustrated by this.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” senior center fielder and co-captain Mike Rabin said in the Columbus Dispatch after his team had lost 10-1 to Indiana April 30 to fall into last place in the Big Ten standings. “The team on paper, yeah, we have a lot of talent. But we have to score runs. It has come to the point where we have to do something about this. It’s getting embarrassing.”

The team did do something about it. They now are averaging more than seven runs per game since that night in Ann Arbor, and that includes a 29-run performance in only a seven -inning game against Penn State May 8. Freshman catcher Eric Fryer, who drove in the winning run Sunday against Minnesota, leads the team in batting with a .331 average and batted. 400 in conference games, the second best average in the conference.

The lineup has provided more run support for the pitching staff during the past 20 games, but the pitching itself has gotten better as well. Even with more room for error now that they are getting more runs, the pitching staff is giving up over half a run less per game than it did before the contest against Michigan. Freshman closer Rory Meister improved his record to 7-0, earning wins in all four games the Buckeyes won this past week.

Ohio State’s recent surge has also resulted in a climb up the Big Ten standings. After the loss to Indiana, Coach Bob Todd addressed the team in the locker room and basically told them that they needed to quit just going through the motions and put some energy into the game. Todd usually does not do that sort of thing, so the post-game speech lit a fire under the players.

Now, the Buckeyes have ascended into a fourth-place tie with Michigan. Since Michigan won the only meeting with Ohio State, the Buckeyes will be the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten tournament this week.

When Ohio State lost to Michigan on April 22, the Wolverines ace, Jim Brauer was on the hill. Brauer will once again take the mound against the Buckeyes Wednesday when the teams open the tournament.

“He had his way with us last time,” senior pitcher Trent Luyster said. “But our hitters are getting hot so we’re looking forward to it.”

Many other players on the team feel the same way Luyster does. They were disappointed when weather canceled the last three games of the series in April, preventing the Buckeyes from finishing the series against their rival.

“We kind of owe them,” senior first baseman Paul Farinacci said. “They definitely embarrassed us on national television. We think that if it weren’t for one inning that would have been a close ball game.”

Ohio State and Michigan are the two hottest teams in the Big Ten going into the tournament. Michigan has won 18 of their last 21, and they are the only Big Ten team to win 40 games this season.

Illinois serves as host of the 2005 Big Ten Tournament after claiming the regular season championship. If Ohio State could have split the four-game series with the Illini in Champaign earlier this season, it could be hosting the tournament. However, Illinois, which swept the Buckeyes April 1-3 at Illinois Field, will provide a change of scenery for the players on the 2005 team. They have not played a Big Ten tournament anywhere other than Ohio State or Minnesota.

The tournament is double-elimination format. If the Buckeyes win against Michigan, they will play either Illinois or Purdue. And if they lose, they will take on the loser of the game between No. 3 seed Iowa and No. 6 seed Minnesota.