A year ago, Noah McGowan was a typical Ohio State player in that playing Division I baseball for the first time might have been too much.
After transferring from McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, McGowan batted .214 in 39 games for an Ohio State team that finished 22-34 and failed to qualify for the Big Ten tournament with an 8-16 conference record.
This season, however, McGowan is in the conversation for conference player of the year. In the Big Ten, he ranks: seventh in batting average (.376); second in hits (67); tied for second in RBI (50); tied for third in total bases (111); and fourth in runs (43).
“Last year was a lot for me,” said McGowan, a senior utility player. “I was pressing at the plate and trying to do too much. I tried to put up X amount of numbers instead of just playing the game. This year, I’m relaxing at the plate and just trying to hit my pitch.”
Ohio State (31-16, 11-7) has blossomed behind players such as McGowan entering a three-game series against Purdue (29-16, 13-4) beginning at 6:35 p.m. Friday at Bill Davis Stadium. The Boilermakers have won a nation’s best 13 straight games and are one game behind Big Ten leaders Minnesota and Michigan. The Buckeyes are tied for third with Illinois.
Coach Greg Beals said the team’s improvement isn’t difficult to pin down.
“The guys grew up,” he said. “There are a lot of the same guys in the lineup who played regularly last year. We’ve grown physically, we’ve grown in experience and grown in comfort and competition. After that (Big Ten) championship season in 2016, we lost nine seniors and six guys to the draft.”
The team’s RPI rose to 37, and in all probability winning the final two series and a couple games in the conference tournament would bring a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“What we’ve been talking about is that we’re in position,” Beals said. “We need to keep getting better and pushing forward and to play as good, clean baseball as we possibly can. Clean is our base-running, our defense, the quality of our at-bats and throwing strikes.”
The Buckeyes have four other .300 hitters besides McGowan: second baseman Kobie Foppe (.333), first baseman Conner Pohl (.322) and outfielders Dominic Canzone and Tyler Cowles of Grove City (.320 each).
Closer Seth Kinker, a senior, is a candidate for Big Ten pitcher of the year with a 6-1 record, 11 saves and a 1.29 ERA. The numbers that pop out are four walks and 48 2/3 innings pitched.
Kinker said team pride has made a big comeback.
“We represent something on our chests every day,” he said. “We’re a university that everyone targets, good or bad. Last year, we were not good at all, but people still targeted us because we are Ohio State. That taught us a little from having the bad taste in our months.”
Another key was Beals moving freshman backup catcher Dillon Dingler to center field and making Noah West of Westerville Central and Foppe the everyday shortstop and second baseman, respectively. West had been recovering from knee surgery.
“We made the switch after we lost the series in Iowa,” Beals said of the games in early April. “We needed a jolt, and Noah is our best defensive infielder. It has been a critical move for us.”