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Ohio right-handed pitcher Tom Colletti pitches during the Ohio vs. Bowling Green game April 10 at Bob Wren Stadium. Ohio lost 4-2. 

Baseball: Ohio set to host struggling NIU pitching staff to open MAC season

Ohio hosts struggling Northern Illinois Friday. 

Redshirt senior Manny De Jesus had picked out his spot, and he wasn’t leaving it.

Throughout the last hour of Thursday's practice, De Jesus could be seen doing one of two things: practicing bunting drills with a pitching machine or feeding balls into that same machine for anyone else who came to join him. Even as rain started to trickle down and teammates began to unravel the tarp, De Jesus maintained his post behind home plate.

On Friday, De Jesus will lead off for Ohio (9-11) as he has in about every game for the past two seasons. This time, though, he’ll be the Bobcats’ first at bat against a Mid-American Conference opponent since the team won the MAC Tournament last May.

For De Jesus, there’s no such thing as being too prepared.

“MAC play brings out the energy in our team,” De Jesus said. “We’ll be ready for it. I think our lineup is better than last year’s. We had more power but less speed last year, but now I think we have a good mix of both. We just have to work at getting more guys on base so we can score more runs.”

Ohio will begin its first MAC series of the season Friday against Northern Illinois (4-16) at Bob Wren Stadium. The Bobcats haven't played the Huskies in a series since 2013, and haven’t won a series against them since 2012.

Ohio comes into the series having alternated wins and losses over its past six games, the most recent of which was an 8-5 loss against Youngstown State on Wednesday

Senior Jake Miller is in line to get the start on the mound Friday for Ohio after being the No. 1 starter for each of the last three series. Miller has made a total of six appearances this season and holds a 2-3 record and 5.06 ERA.

Ohio rolls into the weekend with a couple of the conference’s hottest hitters sitting in the center of its order. Cody Gaertner enters the game with a 17-game hit streak, while John Adryan’s five homers tie him for third in the conference.

“I’m just staying short to the ball and staying within myself,” Gaertner said. “I’m not paying much attention to the streak; I think I’ve been here long enough where I don’t let that stuff get to me. It’s gonna be a different year this year, getting hunted by everyone else in the conference after we won the tournament last year, but we have to keep doing what we’re doing.”

The Bobcats heating up their offense can’t be good news to its first MAC opponent. Northern Illinois enters the weekend with a 8.56 team ERA, well over a run worse than anyone else in the conference.

“It just comes down to guys understanding that, if you’re facing a pitching staff that is having troubles, you can’t get yourself out,” coach Rob Smith said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re not swinging at bad early pitches and giving them easy outs."

De Jesus, the typically sure swinging leadoff man, echoed Smith's philosophy.

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“I’ll probably be more patient and try to get on base,” De Jesus said. “If the guy’s wild, I’ll try to take a few pitches, see what he’s got and get him out of the game early and get to the bullpen. If we’ve got to sit and wait for something to crush, we’ll do that.”


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