Thursday, May 28, 2009

Buckeye Grove: Buckeyes Face Tough Road in Tallahassee Regional

COLUMBUS – Ohio State won't be facing the best team in the Tallahassee regional Friday when they take on second-seeded Georgia, but they will get to test their metal against a team that was ranked No. 1 in the country earlier this season.

Picked as the preseason favorites in the SEC, the Bulldogs opened the 2009 season ranked No. 4 in the country after finishing as the runner-up to National Champion Fresno State in last year's College World Series. They beat N.C. State in a best-of-three Super Regional before knocking off Miami (Fla.) and Stanford on their way to the best-of-three championship series. Oddly enough, however, they lost the opening game of their regional tournament 10-7 to Lipscomb on their own field.

Much like the Buckeyes, who began the season 18-3, the Dawgs were on fire to start the year. They opened this season with a school-record 14 consecutive wins, earning their way from fourth all the way to first in the national rankings in just 18 days. In fact, they were so good in the early part of the season that it wasn't until 12 games into the year – or 101 innings – before Georgia finally found itself trailing at the end of an inning.

Game Information:
What: The NCAA Tallahassee Regional
Who: No. 3-seed Ohio State (40-17; 18-6/Big Ten Champion) vs. No. 2-seed Georgia (37-22; 15-15/3rd SEC East)
Where: Dick Howser Stadium; Tallahassee, Fla.
When: Friday, May 29, 12 noon ET; ESPNU

That winning streak came to an end on the opening weekend of SEC play, as the Bulldogs were dropped twice by Alabama in the opening two games of their series in Tuscaloosa, Ala. They fell to third in the rankings, but it would short lived as Georgia moved back into the top spot a week later after sweeping Mississippi State. They held on to the No. 1 ranking for 23 of the next 30 days behind some of the best hitting in coach David Perno's tenure.

The Bulldogs were averaging just over 64 home runs per season in Perno's seven years with the program, but they belted 98 roundtrippers this season thanks in big part to first baseman Rich Poythress. The first-team all-SEC slugger finished third in the conference with 21 long balls this season and he needs just one RBI to break Gordon Beckham's single-season school record 77 RBI set last year.

"The one thing I have noticed is they've hit a lot of home runs and they've struck out a lot," said Ohio State head coach Bob Todd. "It looks like to me they're not getting cheated at the plate."

While they finished fourth in the SEC in home runs – which should give you an idea just how good of a hitting conference it is – the Bulldogs struck out a league-high 503 times as a team this season, 19 more than anyone else in the conference. By comparison, the Buckeyes struck out only 283 times all season.

"I like to tell our guys that hitters can get lucky sometimes; so that can obviously happen when you have guys with their ability to not only hit the ball hard, but hit it out of the ballpark," OSU pitching coach Eric Parker said. "You can make a good pitch, and with aluminum, have someone get lucky here and there."

As the strikeouts began to rack up for Georgia, so did the losses late in the season. They finished the season going 4-13 in their last 17 regular season contests thanks to an eight-game losing streak that included a three-game sweep at the hands of Florida in Athens. They rebounded to win their first two games of the SEC Tournament over Ole Miss and Arkansas before getting thumped 16-0 by LSU in the first of two straight losses to the Tigers.

The Buckeyes also lost the final two games of their conference tournament, but the Buckeyes feel like they can hit with most teams in the country. Their .330 batting average was tops in the Big Ten and their 63 home runs this season are over a third more than the previous two years combined (40) and more than any Ohio State team has hit in nine of the last 10 years.

"All year we're been putting up big runs," right fielder Michael Arp said. "We've just got to worry about playing at the best of our ability. You can't really be afraid of what the other team is going to do. If Ohio State plays Ohio State baseball, we're going to beat a lot of teams.

If the Buckeyes get by Georgia, they would likely face regional-host Florida State, assuming they get by Marist in their opening game.

Game notes:

• The Bulldogs are making their 10th NCAA postseason appearance in school history including the fifth under coach David Perno.

• Ohio State is 40-37 all-time in NCAA tournament play, including districts, regionals, super regionals and CWS games. Coach Bob Todd's teams are 19-24 in NCAA play.

• OSU scored 10 or more runs 18 times but allowed 10 or more runs 12 times.

• Sad but true: Ohio State led the big Ten with 62 home runs this season. That total would have been good enough for eighth in the SEC.

• Turning logic around: The Buckeyes have hit 25 triples this season; no team in the SEC had more than 17 triples as a team. Georgia has hit only nine three-baggers all season.

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