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The Sports Page: Baseball Buckeyes Preview

 Corey Barnes The Sports Page: Baseball Buckeyes Preview
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The skies above Columbus may be gray, but Ohio State’s baseball team has spring on its mind. Coming off a 25-25 campaign, including a 13-11 mark in Big Ten play, the Buckeyes open up the 2012 season this weekend with the Big Ten/ Big East Challenge in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Bucks are slated to play USF, Seton Hall, and Connecticut.

The 2012 campaign will be the second in head coach Greg Beals’ tenure. Despite adding nine freshmen he feels the team is gelling and will play well together. “The older guys have done a great job of reeling the new guys into the program.” He is optimistic about the program in Year 2. “We’re getting closer. This has been a fun group to coach. The guys all have a greater understanding of the expectations of the program, and they have really taken to that.” The team returns 15 lettermen from the 2011 season which is a drastic improvement on the three that Beals inherited a year ago.

Shortstop Kirby Pellant has been identified as a player to watch this year. Pellant is a junior college transfer out of Chandler, Arizona who will bat leadoff for OSU. As a freshman at Marshall, Pellant batted .293 with seven doubles and 20 runs scored. Beals calls him “a dynamic offensive threat” who is expected to produce both on the basepaths and with a bat in his hand. He should make an immediate impact at shortstop.

Other positions on the infield are not as solid. Junior Greg Solomon is a solid catcher but has also emerged as the team’s best defensive third baseman. Solomon will platoon the hot corner along with Brad Hallberg. Freshman Aaron Gretz will catch on days that Solomon plays the field. It will be interesting to see how Beals juggles these players and how they are utilized versus righties and lefties.

The outfield will look familiar for Buckeye fans. Senior David Corna will play in right field which, according to coach Beals, is a natural fit for him because he has the strongest arm on the team. Mike Carroll will play in left field. He was forced to sit out last year due to transfer rules and is chomping at the bit to get going. Carroll is expected to hit fifth in the lineup. Sophomore Tim Wetzel saw plenty of action in center field last year where he will likely be playing this season.

The starting rotation will feature Brett McKinney, Brian King, and Greg Greve. Jerrod Long and John Kuchno are both pitching well and will have a chance to compete for a starting spot. Beals called McKinney “a great competitor” and he feels comfortable with the effort he can expect from his ace on Friday. McKinney and Greve are both returning starters and will be joined by King who most recently played for Paradise Valley Community College.

One of the biggest changes with the program this season is the improvements to the facilities. During the offseason, OSU alum and current New York Yankee Nick Swisher made a donation to the school which funded the purchase of a new turf playing surface that has been dubbed “Nick Swisher Field.” The resilient surface promises to better endure the inconsistent Ohio springs which allowed Ohio State to schedule 26 home games. Beals made a point to schedule plenty of tough out-of-conference opponents. For example, playing Austin Peay may not mean much to the casual fan but the program is a regular participant in the NCAA tournament and could help build Ohio State’s tournament resume. Beals quipped, “Hopefully Austin Peay comes up here, we take care of business, they go back home and win a bunch of baseball games.”

One player to watch this year is sophomore Josh Dezse. He is expected to close and has been working in the offseason to add a changeup to complement his fastball and curve. Dezse says the team is not concerned about the lack of credit the national media lent the young team. “Our goal is to make it to the national tournament.” When asked who he is looking forward to playing this year, Dezse grinned and said, “Michigan.” Even in the dead of winter, all Buckeyes look forward to the same things: sun, blue sky, and beating That School Up North.

Questions? Comments? Feedback? The author can be reached on the Twitter @Corey_Barnes.

Photo from www.ohiostatebuckeyes.com.

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