Coach Rob Smith knows that he'll need patience with his new-look infield, which returned just one starting player, Rudy Rott, from Ohio's 2017 stellar defensive season. The Bobcats finished No. 12 in the nation with a .980 fielding percentage and only committed 44 errors in 2017.

Rott, a junior first baseman, will no longer be accompanied with three other veterans across the diamond in 2018, and each of the players who have collected the bulk of Ohio's innings are undergoing a transition from last season.

At third base is Tony Giannini, a senior who had only played outfield in his first three years with the Bobcats and didn't even know he would play third base until just before Ohio's 2017 fall season came to a close.

At shortstop, Trevor Hafner, a sophomore transfer from Sinclair Community College, is still adjusting to his new digs and acclimating to the Division I level of play.

The duo of Aaron Levy and Treyben Funderberg have split time at second base. The two freshmen are getting used to their starting roles on the team — Levy has played in seven games, while Funderberg has appeared in three.

And then there's Rott, who has played in every one of Ohio's 119 games the past two seasons and has comfortably set into the Bobcats' first base role. Rott has committed just seven errors and has accrued an impressive .312 batting average in his college career.

"We knew there was going to be a little bit of a transition," Rott said. "I think we're getting more comfortable with everyone who's moving in and out of those positions. So I think just confidence is key. Being able to push the guys and not settle for anything less than the expectations we have of being a top defensive team in the conference."

The infield began the season on a rough note in its first series against Rider in Lexington, South Carolina from Feb. 16-18. In the four games played, the Bobcats' infielders committed seven errors — four by Giannini, one by Hafner and two by Levy.

The errors were one of the reasons why Ohio split the series, but the early struggles were expected from Smith. The sixth-year coach believes that time will help piece together a form that looked similar with the consistent 2017 infield that helped carry the Bobcats to a Mid-American Conference tournament title.

Smith saw immediate improvement, however, just a week later in Ohio's next four-game series against Maine in Emerson, Georgia. The Bobcats' infield committed zero errors and showed no signs of its struggles to open the season.

Sure, it was only four games, but it was still a welcoming sign for Smith.

"It was a vast improvement," he said. "That first weekend, we had to work through some of that, but I think we saw some real improvement."

Rott chalked some of the infield's opening series miscues to "a little jitters," but Ohio also switched from playing on a natural grass infield in South Carolina to a turf infield in Georgia. The latter's surface tends to play truer to fielders, and Rott believes that it helped the infield bounce back from its rough start.

The Bobcats, who have grass at their home field in Bob Wren Stadium, also occasionally practice inside Walter Fieldhouse and the university's field hockey field, which both have turf surfaces.

"I think a lot of that first weekend was nerves, but turf definitely helps a little bit," Rott said. "I think that just builds confidence."

The Bobcats will have a chance to prove Rott's sentiments again this weekend. Ohio has a four-game series against Nebraska Omaha from March 2-4 in Cartersville, Georgia, which has turf.

"We're a good fielding team," Rott said. "It feels more natural at this point in the year. That might have a little bit to do with it, but guys are getting comfortable, too."

@anthonyp_2

ap012215@ohio.edu

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