Around the Oval on Wednesday, March 12th

By John Brandon on March 12, 2014 at 4:15p
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It's spring break at Ohio State this week. But while many of the students are at home relaxing, it's championship week for several Buckeye sports teams. The hockey team finished the regular season strong and is ready for the Big Ten tournament.

The women's basketball team exceeded expectations in the conference tournament, while a pair of Buckeye wrestler captured Big Ten Championships. Meanwhile, the top-ranked tennis team dropped their first match of the season and the baseball Buckeyes knocked off a top-10 opponent.

Women's Basketball

A rather disappointing first season for head coach Kevin McGuff finished on a high note, as the Lady Buckeyes exceeded expectations in the Big Ten tournament. 8th-seeded Ohio State knocked off 9th-seeded Northwestern (86-77) and upset top-seeded Penn State (99-82) before falling to 5th-seeded Iowa, 77-73 in the semi-finals.

The Lady Buckeyes trailed the Hawkeyes 73-65 with 4:34 remaining, but went on an 8-0 run to tie the game before Iowa's Theairra Taylor scored the eventual game-winning basket with 1:32 left. Ohio State's final chance came up empty, with Martina Ellerbe missing the potential game-winning 3-pointer with 10 seconds left.

"I'm really proud of our players for the effort they put forth today and through this whole tournament.

"I think we took significant steps in just consistently playing hard and imposing our will on the game. Also, I think you saw a little more glimpses of how we want to be from a style standpoint. We were very aggressive, we were up-tempo, and those are all things that, the direction we want to move towards and the type of kids we're recruiting."

- Head Women's Basketball Coach Kevin McGuff

The season may have not gone according to plan, but the future is bright for coach McGuff's program. McGuff brings the No. 7 ranked recruiting class (according to ESPN) to Columbus this fall, headlined by 5-star point guard Kelsey Mitchell from Cincinnati - the third ranked prospect in the nation. The team also returns seven players, including their top two scorers - Alston and Ferguson. 

The Lady Buckeyes learn their post-season fate on Monday (3/17), although an NCAA tournament bid seems very unlikely.

Baseball

The Baseball Buckeyes went 1-3 this week, wrapping up their 14-game road trip to begin the season. The Buckeyes had the tough task this week of playing four games against top-10 opponents on the road. They played a three-game series against No. 9 Oregon and then one game against No. 7 Oregon State.

After dropping the opener to Oregon 8-2, Ohio State bounced back to even the series on Saturday with a 5-0 win. Junior left-handed pitcher Ryan Riga carried Ohio State on the mound, throwing a complete game shutout with 10 strikeouts. The Buckeyes broke the scoreless tie in the sixth inning when Ryan Leffel doubled to score Ronnie Dawson.

The score remained 1-0 until the top of the ninth, when Ohio State poured on four insurance runs to secure the victory. Prior to this season Riga, a junior, had started only one game in his career.  He's been phenomenal as a starter thus far this season - he's 2-0 with a 2.49 ERA and is averaging over six strikeouts per nine innings. Pitching was the question mark going into the season, and Riga has stepped up in a big way to answer those questions.

The third game did not go nearly as well for the Buckeye pitchers, who gave up 14 earned runs in a 20-5 trouncing by the Ducks. Even All-American relief pitcher Trace Dempsey was rattled, giving up five runs in only one inning.

Last night, the Buckeyes concluded their Oregon road trip with a 4-3 loss to No. 7 Oregon State. Trailing 4-3 in the 8th, Ohio State got a leadoff triple from Pat Porter, but the next three batters went down on shallow flyouts. Ohio State's final chance came in the ninth, when Jake Brobst started things off with a leadoff walk. Brobst was caught stealing and the Buckeyes couldn't force extra innings.

The Buckeyes (8-6) return to Columbus for their first home games of the season this weekend, when they host Sienna for a three-game series.

Tennis

The men's tennis team dropped their first match of the season this week, to No. 4 Oklahoma, but remain No. 1 in the latest rankings.

In doubles action, the team of Peter Kobelt and Kevin Metka returned to their winning ways, knocking off 46th-ranked Dane Webb and Andrew Harris of Oklahoma. However, Oklahoma took the other two doubles matches to earn the point.

The singles matches featured a couple big-time matchups that went unfinished. No. 9 Peter Kobelt was leading No. 3 Axel Alvarez of Oklahoma and Ohio State's Herkko Pollanen was leading No. 2 Guillermo Alcora, but Oklahoma reached the necessary four points and the matches were called.

Ralf Steinbach defeated Peerakit Siributwong of Oklahoma (6-4, 6-2) in Ohio State's lone singles victory. Chris Diaz, Kevin Metka and Hunter Callahan all lost for the Buckeyes, en route to the team's first loss of the season.

The loss snapped a 17-game winning streak for the Buckeyes, however Ohio State remains No. 1 in the latest team rankings, with Oklahoma just behind them at No. 2.

The Buckeyes return to action this afternoon, as they are currently in Georgia, facing the 16th-ranked Bulldogs in their lone match of the week. Ohio State returns to Columbus next Friday, when they host Michigan.

Wrestling

The Big Ten wrestling tournament was this past weekend and the Buckeyes had a strong showing. Two Buckeyes won Big Ten championships, while Ohio State finished fourth in the overall team competition.

In the 141-pound weight class, it was junior Logan Stieber who captured the Big Ten title, defeating top-seeded Zain Retherford of Penn State, avenging his only loss of the season. Winning the 133-pound class in 2012 and 2013, Stieber is now one of two Buckeye wrestlers to win three league championships. Next year, he could very well become the first to win four championships.

Stieber heads into the NCAA championships with a 25-1 record, and is ranked No. 2 nationally in the 141-pound class.

Joining Stieber on the podium was senior Nick Heflin, who captured his first conference title in the 197-pound class. The road to victory for Heflin was not easy - he defeated three nationally ranked opponents en route to the championship. No. 13 Alex Polizzi of Northwestern, No. 5 Scott Schiller of Minnesota and No. 4 Morgan McIntosh of Penn State all fell to Heflin, who heads into the NCAA championships with a 24-1 record and the No. 3 ranking in the 197-pound class.

In addition to Stieber and Heflin, five other Buckeyes earned NCAA berths. Kenny Courts (184 pounds), Nick Roberts (125), Johnni DiJulius (133), Mark Martin (174) and Nick Tavanello (heavyweight) all earned automatic NCAA berths with top-eight finishes at the Big Ten Championships.

The team competition was really a preview of the upcoming NCAA Championships, as No. 1 Penn State edged No. 2 Iowa and No. 3 Minnesota. The 11th-ranked Buckeyes finished fourth. Up next is the aforementioned NCAA Championships, which take place March 20-22 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

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