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Ohio University first baseman redshirt junior, Taylor Emody, is tagged out at first by a Western Michigan University player. Ohio University defeated Western Michigan University 5-3 at Bob Wren Stadium on Friday, March 28, 2014. 

Coach feels ‘optimistic’ about this weekend’s start to season

Ohio will be counting on health and experience to lead a rebound from worst season in program history.

“Something is about to happen.”

That’s the statement Ohio coach Rob Smith shared when referring to the upcoming baseball season, which gets underway this weekend with three games at North Carolina-Asheville. And that’s not just the optimism of a coach on a team that hasn’t finished with a winning record since the 2009 season — rather, it has been the motto of the entire team since fall.

“There’s a great positive feel about this team,” Smith said. “Our chemistry is at a very high level and we’re very optimistic about what we can do. Everyone’s looking forward to getting the season started this weekend.”

Any kind of positive step would be welcomed with open arms by the Bobcats, who are coming off the worst season in program history. Ohio finished 2014 with an abysmal 11-40, including separate losing streaks of nine and 12 games, and a 7-20 record in the Mid-American Conference.

The season’s shortcomings were not without reason, however. Four probable starters were lost for the season before the first game was even played, and the injuries didn’t stop coming for Ohio. Throw in an inexperienced pitching staff and an offense that struggled to find power, and things went south quickly.

But things are already looking better in 2015. The team will enter this weekend with no significant injuries, an experienced lineup and a strong group of young starting pitchers.

The brightest spot on the team is its offense, which returns key players such as redshirt senior and leadoff hitter Garrett Black, junior catcher Cody Gaertner, and senior outfielder Tyler Wells. The biggest returning name, however, could possibly be sophomore outfielder Mitch Longo, whose .346 batting average led the team last season.

“(Longo)’s certainly a very talented, dynamic player,” Smith said. “I’m sure he has really high expectations for himself, and we know he’s a big piece to our team. So, he’s a guy we need to keep healthy and allow him to be the player that he is.”

While the offense brings back the experience necessary to pack a punch, the pitchers are still a young group. Ohio returns its full starting pitching trio from a year ago, as Jake Roehn and Jake Rudnicki begin their sophomore campaigns and Connor Sitz begins his junior season.

It also returns a pair of innings-eaters in Jake Miller and Gerry Salisbury, who each saw a spark of potential in starting roles in 2014, but lacked the consistency to cement a permanent spot.

Perhaps the most crucial piece of development on this team will be in its bullpen, where an inability to throw strikes and miss bats often spun games out of control in the 7th and 8th innings. Much of that, however, could be a symptom of many first-year players getting their feet wet in a Bobcats uniform. The team went from having a staff of just 10 pure pitchers in 2013 to having 15 guys make in-game appearances in 2014. It will enter 2015 with 19 pitchers.

With proven teams like Miami and Kent State still looming in the MAC schedule, along with contenders Ball State and Central Michigan, it would be unwise to expect a full turnaround in such a short period of time out of the Bobcats. But a quick look at some of the guys returning to the field in 2015 can make any fan optimistic.

One may even think something good may be about to happen.


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