The scuttlebutt on more than a few websites has Ohio State in line to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, provided it wins two or three games in the Big Ten tournament.
Kendall Rogers of PerfectGame.org and Jeremy Mills of ESPN.com have the Buckeyes receiving No. 3 seeds in the Vanderbilt and Louisville regionals, respectively. The Big Ten might receive as many as three at-large bids.But Ohio State coach Greg Beals and his players are thinking only about a conference tournament championship going into their first game against Nebraska this afternoon at Target Field in Minneapolis.
“My overall mindset is we have to win the Big Ten tournament to get in,” shortstop Kirby Pellant said. “That (receiving an at-large bid) was brought to my attention. It’s good that they think we’re a pretty good ballclub, but we should win it all to leave all those questions behind.”
The Buckeyes (34-20) have lost seven of their past nine games but have a Rating Percentage Index of 60, according to NCAA.com. Three losses came against Oregon, two against Indiana and one each against Georgia Tech and Louisville.
The problem is that Ohio State hasn’t been able to get over the hump, especially at the plate, scoring just 14 runs in those games.
The biggest disappointment was coming two outs from clinching at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title with Indiana. The Buckeyes lost 7-2 to the Hoosiers in 10 innings in the second game of a three-game series last week.
Beals, in his third year, has met the questions about not winning big games head-on. Part of the problem, he said, is that too many players are trying to do too much.
“We’re definitely close,” Beals said. “We can look at it two ways: We played those teams very close and we’re not quite there, or we are there and we need that extra spark. That’s what we’re hoping for in this Big Ten tournament.”
Playing high-profile teams down the stretch has shown the Buckeyes what they must do to win it.
“There are a lot of things that give us a chance,” Beals said. “We played against national competition and we played the No. 1 team in the conference close and didn’t get it done. But we were close enough to know we can get it done. We’ve also done this tournament thing the last two years.”
The Buckeyes, who left on Monday for Minneapolis, are quietly confident.
“We don’t need an at-large bid if we win the tournament,” catcher Greg Solomon said. “The great thing is we don’t have to rely on other teams. We just have to play the way we know how to play.”