Baseball: Buckeyes begin Big Ten play

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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As far as dress rehearsals go, Ohio State baseball coach Greg Beals thought his players hit their lines correctly most of the time during the nonconference schedule.

The Buckeyes defeated Connecticut, Auburn and Oklahoma and took down national power Oregon once in a three-game series. They enter the opening weekend of Big Ten play on a five-game winning streak.

“I think we’re definitely ready,” Beals said. “We put ourselves in the fire with the trip to Oregon. We’ve played in some pretty good tournaments preseason. We’re a work in progress, but we’re as ready as can be with Sparty coming in.”

Ohio State (13-6) was scheduled to play its first three-game Big Ten series against Michigan State (9-8) at McLane Stadium in East Lansing, but there was a foot of snow on the field on Tuesday, so the games were moved to Columbus.

Beals and Spartans coach Jake Boss Jr. agree the series at Bill Davis Stadium that begins at 6:05 tonight should be called a neutral site for RPI purposes, but the NCAA has yet to rule. The Buckeyes will bat first in each game.

“Our scouting reports will be tighter because we know them from the past,” Beals said. “The players know this is conference play. I don’t think a whole lot of pep talks are needed.”

The coaching staff told the players that they are gearing for a bid to the NCAA tournament despite their youth. Two freshmen and four sophomores have played considerably.

Freshman outfielder Ronnie Dawson of Licking Heights has started 17 games. He leads the team in batting average (.379), slugging percentage (.515) and on-base percentage (.431), and is second in RBI with 12.

Beals expected Dawson to hit college pitching, but not right away because he did not play in high-profile summer leagues in high school and devoted a lot of time to football.

“One thing about Ronnie is he is confident in his game and is serious,” Beals said. “But he plays relaxed.”

Dawson got a hit in his second at-bat and has just kept going.

“I thought I’d be nervous playing college baseball, but it was just another game,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d play much at first, but I got an opportunity and just took advantage of it. I just go up there and hit.”

The Big Ten, he said, is another opportunity for the Buckeyes and himself to establish an identity.

“The older players say every game in the Big Ten counts,” Dawson said. “I do think we’re ready. We’ve worked hard for this.”

mznidar@dispatch.com

@markznidar

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