Friday, May 1, 2009 2:52 AM
By Mark Znidar
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
The sunny disposition that is Justin Miller's trademark suddenly turned cloudy and cold when the subject of Ohio State-Michigan baseball was broached.
The Buckeyes have dominated the Wolverines recently in football and basketball but have struggled on the diamond.
"We sure do know all about that, especially the seniors," said Miller, a senior first baseman. "They have had some great teams up there recently and we've been in the middle of the pack. We haven't been ourselves. We know we've got to change things."
Ohio State has been a Big Ten baseball power since 1991, but since 2003, Michigan has won all five series against the Buckeyes and 20 of the past 26 games.
That trend must stop this weekend if Ohio State (32-10, 11-4) is to remain in contention for its first regular-season conference championship since 2001.
The Buckeyes, who are tied for first place with Illinois, face the Wolverines in the first of three games tonight in Bill Davis Stadium.
"Michigan made a coaching change up there and was able to bring in some good local talent," Ohio State coach Bob Todd said.
It hasn't always been this way. The Buckeyes so dominated the series from 1990 to 2002 that Minnesota became their chief rival. Of the 13 series against the Wolverines, they won nine, split three and lost one, and won 38 of 54 games.
Things changed when Michigan hired Rich Maloney seven years ago. He brought stability and a can-do attitude to a team that saw four coaching changes the previous 14 years.
Second baseman Cory Kovanda of Worthington Kilbourne said Ohio State will be ready to play.
"Especially with the Big Ten at stake, every game is huge for us," he said. "That makes this series that much more exciting. This is a rivalry. You know they will come ready because they have a great coach. We can't get ahead of ourselves in this series. It's one game at a time, and you can't let emotion come into play.
"This isn't like football or basketball, and that's why baseball can be such a hard and frustrating game to play."
Michigan (23-19, 6-9) bears little resemblance to the team that stormed to the Big Ten regular-season championship the previous two years. Last season, it won by five games.
Todd said Ohio State has been special this season because the players are not worrying about the opposition but themselves.
"I have stressed that you can't let things such as outside influences affect you, and that includes girlfriends, parents and the pro baseball draft," he said.
"Girlfriends and parents want you to do well, certainly, but you have to worry about how you play the game and not about pleasing them.
"You can't look at the big picture, but at the next game. You have to block certain things out."