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Ohio second baseman Aaron Levy tags Northern Illinois' Samuel Vega during a doubleheader on March 31, 2018. (FILE)

Baseball: Three takeaways from Ohio's series with Army

Ohio snapped a five-game losing steak Sunday afternoon at Bob Wren Stadium when it beat Army 1-0 for the Bobcats’ fourth win of the season. They went 1-2 against the Black Knights in their first home series of the season.

Here are three takeaways from the series:

Small ball is crucial

Ohio’s offense has rarely been able to put together long innings this year.

The Bobcats have an abysmal .194 team batting average and .254 slugging percentage through 17 games. They don’t reached base often, and when they do, it’s usually a single.

Coach Rob Smith knows he needs to squeeze as much production from those opportunities as possible, so Ohio has placed an emphasis on stolen bases and bunting to move runners into scoring position.

It worked for one run on Sunday, and it was enough to secure a 1-0 win and avoid a sweep. The Bobcats scored their only run in the third inning when Jack Longo singled and scored Michael Richardson from second base. Richardson stole second earlier in the inning.

“We’re doing anything we can to generate offense,“ Smith said.

Army clobbered Ohio for 11 runs Saturday and eight runs Friday, and the majority of the runs came against the Bobcats’ starters. Ohio has 15 stolen bases and has been caught stealing just three times. Eight players have already grabbed at least one stolen base, and the Bobcats are on pace to eclipse their 36 stolen bases from a year ago.

“We just got to stay locked in with it,“ Richardson said. “We’ve been struggling lately, but we know it’s going to come around, so we’re just sticking with it. It worked out today.”

Liberatore emerging as starter

Jack Liberatore is only a redshirt freshman, but he handled Army better than any Ohio pitcher in Sunday’s win. The right-hander tossed 6 1/3 innings, struck out six batters and allowed only three hits in his fifth start of the season to propel the Bobcats to their first shutout of the season.

Liberatore has stuck out among Ohio’s pitchers. He has a 2.88 ERA in 25 innings and has accrued two of the Bobcats’ four wins.

Ohio completely overhauled its starting pitching after it lost three seniors a year ago, but Liberatore has helped solidify the new staff and has carved out a role as a formidable Sunday starter.

“He’s been solid, man,“ Smith said. “He’s got a good presence and a good way about him. In days like now, when you really need someone to give you a lift, he's a good personality to do it.”

New turf at Bob Wren Stadium a success

Smith desperately wanted artificial turf to be installed at Bob Wren Stadium, and he finally received his wish before the season when the university installed a new playing surface last fall.

The $600,000 turf, funded by donations raised by the Ohio athletic department, held its first ever series this weekend, and Smith was thrilled with how the surface played.

“The turf is awesome,“ he said. “It’s been fantastic, and I couldn’t be more happy with it.”

The new surface, which covers the entire infield but stops short of the outfield, eliminated the infamous “Bob Wren Hop.” Ohio had its cleanest fielding series of the season and committed just two errors in three games — its lowest three-game total this year.

“It just makes for a more fun playing experience,“ Richardson said. “You know you’re going to get good hops, and it lets our pitchers let our defense work.”

What’s next

Ohio will play its final nonconference game at Bob Wren Stadium on Tuesday against Dayton. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.


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