Toughest Test Awaits Never Say Die Buckeyes
Time and time again throughout his first season, Greg Beals has referred to his team as scrappy. Be it a pair of extra-inning
wins in a doubleheader against arch-rival Michigan, to finding a way to comeback
and defeat nationally-ranked Oklahoma State 3-2 a day after being toppled 16-3, or being just two games behind
conference leader Michigan State going into the final weekend in a season
nobody could expect that possibility to exist, Ohio State has pieced together a
season full of resolve.
Now comes the toughest test yet.
While true the Buckeyes are just two games from the Big Ten
lead, if the season were to end today, a three-team tie for fourth place
alongside Indiana and Purdue, would have Ohio State as the sixth and final seed
in the Big Ten Tournament hosted in Columbus at Huntington Park. The security
of the Buckeyes’ postseason aspirations is from comforting as Ohio State’s
11-10 conference mark sits just one game up on Penn State’s 10-11 clip. That
one-game lead is a bit deceiving as earlier this spring Penn State hosted Ohio
State and captured the weekend series, meaning if the two teams were tied, the
tiebreaker would go to the Nittany Lions.
If that isn’t enough to head into the final weekend with a
bit of anxiety, consider the opponents the two teams have.
Ohio State travels
to Minnesota to tangle with the Golden Gophers in three games, that while
played at Target Field and not the house of horrors that is the Metrodome, Ohio
State has not won a weekend series in Minnesota since 1949, splitting sets in
1979, 93, 99, 2000, and 07. Penn State on
the other hand has fortune prospects as they travel to face a last-place Michigan team
that has lost seven in a row overall, eight consecutively in the Big Ten. Ohio State would also lose a tiebreaker to Indiana, due to another road weekend series loss.
However daunting the task appears to be to secure a tournament
berth that undoubtedly would make Big Ten official happy, as Buckeyes equals
more butts in the Columbus stadium, the composition of this team is one to
comfort Buckeye Nation.
Consider the careers of the seven seniors.
Be it Drew Rucinski, who has performed in every pitching
role in his four seasons, to relievers Theron Minium and Jared Strayer, who after rocky underclassmen years have bolsted a Buckeye bullpen that Beals has unbridled
faith in. Co-captains Brian DeLucia and Dean Wolosiansky are fifth-year seniors
who know what it means to wear the Scarlet & Gray and upholding the storied
program's tradition, as does Matt Streng whose father once wore an Ohio State uniform in the 1970s. To
Streng’s right in the infield, shortstop Tyler Engle has suddenly emerged as a
force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten batting .351 in conference after inconsistency
marked his first seasons.
Whenever one has counted out or doubted these seniors, be it
physically as DeLucia, Engle, Minium, and Strayer have all had surgeries at one
point, or on the diamond as Rucisnki, Streng, Wolosiansky, and had sub-par junior
seasons by their standards, the players have responded. It should be no surprise that on a team the
players say is as close-knit as ever, the team has taken the preserving identity
that the seniors have displayed.
Now comes the ultimate test of will, surviving, or as Beals
would say scrappiness.
In 2010, Ohio State missed the Big Ten tournament for the
first time since 1996. The program has not spent back-to-back seasons without
playing for the conference’s NCAA postseason automatic bid since 1986-87. Also,
with Ohio State’s overall record at 23-24, anything short of a winning weekend
would provide the program with its first losing season since 1987.
Win a road weekend at a place you haven’t in more than a
half-century, keep a losing season off the program’s record for a
23-consecutive season, and put a smile on the conference’s face by playing in
the tournament hosted in your hometown.
Not for these Buckeyes, just another chance to show just how
scrappy they are.