Early this month, the Ohio State baseball team’s season was at a crossroads.
The Buckeyes were swept in a three-game series at Minnesota, with one of the losses coming in 18 innings and another on a bloop double in the eighth inning. Ohio State returned home barely above .500 overall (24-23) and more importantly 7-11 in the Big Ten. Earning one of the eight spots in the conference tournament seemed a long shot.
“We talked when we left Minnesota that this can’t define us, we still have opportunities, we still can control our own destiny,” coach Greg Beals said Wednesday. “We really tried to keep the guys in move-forward mode. Let’s get going and keep moving.”
The Buckeyes did. They have lost only twice in 13 games since. Last weekend, Ohio State won the conference tournament in Omaha over Nebraska as a No. 7 seed.
“It was pretty special to do that and something I won’t forget,” said closer Andrew Magno, who saved three tournament games and was named its most outstanding player.
Friday night, they will play Vanderbilt, the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, in their first game in the Nashville Regional. Indiana State and McNeese State play in the other game.
“We’ve played high-caliber teams before,” Magno said. “We’ve played (defending champion) Oregon State four times in the past two years. You can’t hype it up any more than it is. Any team can be beaten on a certain day. If we handle our business, it should turn out well for us.”
Magno, a junior from Dublin Scioto, is one of the Buckeyes' few veteran pitchers. Beals said 83 percent of the innings pitched this season have been by newcomers. But those freshmen have grown up and have propelled Ohio State to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years.
Magno and right fielder Dominic Canzone were freshmen in 2017 when the Buckeyes went 22-34.
“The first year I was here, we were awful,” said Canzone, who leads the team with a .351 batting average and is tied for the team lead in home runs with 15. “We went through some serious growing pains. To be where we are right now is really a dream come true.”
Not that the Buckeyes are satisfied. If OSU can survive the Nashville Regional, it would advance to a Super Regional for the first time since 2003. The next step would be a return to Omaha for the College World Series. Ohio State hasn’t done that since 1967.
“That dream came true,” Canzone said of celebrating the Big Ten title in Omaha, “but we’ve got a lot more work to do and we’re trying to get back there.”