One spring day in 1989, first-year coach Joe Carbone stood and watched as West Virginia State, the Division II team Ohio was playing, blasted about 15 balls out of the park during pre-game batting practice.
Carbone turned to graduate assistant Mik Aoki and said, “We’re gonna have a hell of a time beating these guys. These guys can swing the bats.”
Aoki, now the head coach at Notre Dame, replied, “Nah, they’re batting practice hitters.”
In the first inning of that game, the Yellow Jackets hit three home runs off the Bobcats’ No. 1 pitcher and went on to win the game 15-14.
Carbone looks back fondly on that day 22 years ago because it started a yearly tradition for the Bobcats. The 23-year Bobcat coach is allowed to put one Division II team on Ohio’s schedule each year, and with the exception of a few rain outs, the Bobcats have played the Yellow Jackets every season since then.
"That’s West Virginia State,” Carbone said. “They have a bunch of hard-nosed, strong, tough kids. … Because after that first year when we saw how good they were, we went, ‘We want to play these guys.’”
As Aoki and Carbone discovered, underestimating the Yellow Jackets because they play in Division II can be a mistake.
“They go to the Division II College World Series almost every year,” Carbone said. “Their coach is a real good friend of mine. He’s an outstanding coach. He’s got the best players in West Virginia on his team.
“They could come in the (MAC) and compete and do well. They pitch well and play good defense. They’re not afraid to play anybody.”
The Bobcats have won three of four against the Yellow Jackets going back to 2005. The most recent time West Virginia State won was a 13-12 win in 2006.
As he does in most mid-week contests, Carbone will start several reserve players against West Virginia State. Shane Henkel, a freshman who’s pitched two innings all season, will start for Ohio.
“A lot of the guys that didn’t pitch a lot this weekend will get out there,” Carbone said.