The New York Yankees faced a tight spot on July 9 at Progressive Field in Cleveland. Their newly acquired starting pitcher, Brandon McCarthy, had gutted his way through 6.2 innings, lacking his best stuff but still holding the Indians to four runs, just one of those earned. Locked in a 4-4 tie, manager Joe Girardi turned to his bullpen, knowing it had no margin for error.The first pitcher out of the pen was Matt Thornton. Instead of battling Indians hitters with an assortment of southpaw soft stuff, Thornton fired two straight fastballs to All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley, the second one resulting in a harmless, inning-ending groundout. The radar gun flashed a reading on Thornton’s heater: 97 mph.The next Yankees pitcher to toe the rubber was Dellin Betances. A 26-year-old rookie, Betances had taken the long route to establish himself in the big leagues. At 6’8” and 260 pounds, he was once a promising starter prospect, but struggled mightily to make use of his huge frame. Converted to relief last season, Betances simplified his repertoire, leaning on his blazing fastball and nasty slurve. The result was a breakout season in a repeat stint at Triple-A, followed by a job in this year’s Yankees bullpen. On this night against the Indians, Betances needed only 10 pitches to retire the side in the eighth inning. The four fastballs he threw in that frame averaged a tick below 99 mph.As the night wore on, a battalion of flamethrowers kept emerging out of the Yankees bullpen. Adam Warren tossed 1.1 scoreless innings, firing 12 fastballs that averaged 95 mph. After David Huff (94 mph) struggled with three batters, Shawn Kelley (94 mph) bailed him out with 1.2 scoreless. The Yankees finally scored a run in the top of the 14th, prompting David Robertson to take the mound. New York’s closer needed 14 pitches to set down the Indians in the bottom of the inning, clinching a 5-4 win for the Yanks. Unlike many of his relief-mates, Robertson almost never throws a four-seam fastball, the kind of straight heat that tends to register the highest radar gun readings. Instead, he throws the cutter, a pitch that bores in on left-handed batters, inducing countless weak groundouts and often chopping their bats into tiny splinters. That night against the Indians, Robertson’s cutter velocity peaked at 95 mph, averaging “only” 93 — a necessary trade-off to get the kind of movement that can cause sleepless nights for its helpless victims.The Yankees are hardly alone in their employment of multiple cheese-huckers. Teams are trotting out pitchers who routinely throw mid-90s fastballs, with gusts up to the high 90s, and occasionally 100 mph or better. Most of those fireballers work out of the bullpen, and they’re needed more now than ever before. In a chicken-and-egg scenario, starters’ inability to go deep into games has created heightened demand for fresh and electric arms out of the bullpen.Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com, we can track the upward trend in reliever use over the past 50 years:The broader trend that goes back half a century is clear. In 1964 (four years after the save rule first came to baseball), teams used an average of 2.58 pitchers per game, including the starter; today, they’re using 3.92 pitchers per game. In ’64, relievers tossed an average of 2.64 innings per game; today, they’re throwing an eyelash more than three innings per game. Starters are getting yanked much earlier now than they did during Willie Mays’s heyday, and relievers are shouldering a greater percentage of the pitching load. But what’s most striking is how much bigger the jump is in the number of pitchers used per game as compared to number of relief innings thrown per game.Bullpens weren’t always like this. In 1960, sportswriter Jerome Holtzman introduced the save statistic to baseball. Holtzman wanted a way to better recognize the impressive contributions of pitchers like Joe Page and Hoyt Wilhelm, relief aces who came out of the bullpen to replace tiring starters, often throwing multiple innings at a time. Over the ensuing 25 to 30 years, bullpens slowly evolved, to the point where managers started to ease back on the role of multi-inning stoppers.The person often credited with the next wave of changes is Tony La Russa. The former White Sox, A’s and Cardinals manager figured he could squeeze more value out of his bullpen by placing a greater emphasis on putting specific relievers in a spot where they’d have the best chance to succeed. If you want to know why a contemporary manager may use three different relievers in a single inning in the name of getting the lefty-on-lefty and righty-on-righty matchups he wants, you can give a lot of the credit (or blame, if you’re not a huge fan of three and a half-hour games) to La Russa.Still, today’s managers might not be so willing to change pitchers so frequently1La Russa gained the greatest notoriety for his pitching changes while in Oakland, when he helped turn situational lefties like Rick Honeycutt into valuable late-inning weapons. But we can’t put all of this on La Russa: Managers use slightly more than one extra pitcher per game, on average, since 1989, La Russa’s one World Series-winning season with the A’s. if they didn’t have all those guys waiting in the bullpen who can throw 95-100 mph at will. So, using FanGraphs fastball velocity data, we set out to answer the question: What percentage of relief pitchers throw 95 mph or better today, as compared to past seasons?Though reliable velocity data only goes back to 2002, that’s still a big spike in a relatively short amount of time: We’re only two-thirds of the way through this season, and already we’ve seen nearly twice as many innings thrown by relievers who average 95 mph or higher on their fastballs than we did just 12 years ago.OK, so we know that managers are using more relievers, and that more of them throw hard. But what matters is whether bullpens are performing better.To measure this phenomenon, we ran another Baseball-Reference query and found that the average bullpen’s OPS+ allowed2That is, on-base plus slugging percentage allowed, re-scaled so that the MLB average is always 100. has dropped dramatically over the past 45 years, from 103 (3 percent worse than the overall league average, a number that includes starters and relievers) in 1969 to 94 (6 percent better than average) this season. The performance disparity between relief pitchers and starters really began to accelerate in the mid- to late 1990s, as the post-La Russa bullpen era fully took hold.Note how the shaded area of the chart is wider than it used to be. As recently as 1988, the OPS+ allowed by starters and relievers was almost equal; now, relief pitchers are consistently hurling much sharper innings than starters. It’s a change that also goes hand in hand with the aforementioned increase in relievers deployed per game. Managers have gotten wise to the fact that more innings should go to the more effective subgroup of pitchers, and that they’re even more effective when called upon in waves to throw aspirin pills past helpless batters.This data gives us a good idea of the “what.” Figuring out why relievers are getting so much faster and so much better is trickier, because it’s more subjective. It’s possible that teams are doing a better job of recognizing which pitchers should be converted into relievers and which ones should remain starters. In the same way the Yankees figured out that Betances was much better suited to relief work, the Cincinnati Reds resisted the temptation to make Aroldis Chapman a starter and let him unleash his electrifying fastball in the closer role instead. Chapman alone might be skewing our data set somewhat, given the frequency with which he launches blinding fastballs, and the incredible results he produces. According to the excellent site Baseball Savant, Chapman has thrown a staggering 257 fastballs that have topped 100 mph this year; every other pitcher in the majors has combined to throw 103 of them.Earlier this year, in an an article about the recent increase in Tommy John surgeries, I discussed why we might be seeing more pitchers assaulting radar guns than ever before. One frequently cited theory holds that kids are specializing in one sport at an earlier age, so once they lock in on baseball they’re building arm strength and pitch velocity more quickly, but also making themselves more susceptible to future injury. That so many can throw so fast, and so many hit the disabled list, makes relievers fungible (with a few exceptions like Betances and Chapman). As a result, managers choose a few relievers from a phalanx of fireballers, then go get a few more if some of them break down.In other words, the pitchers might be on the mound for fewer and fewer pitches, but the trend of harder throwers looks like it’s here to stay.
After wrapping up my “Kickers Are Forever” article on Tuesday, I wandered to Media Day in Phoenix, site of a sporting event this Sunday, and found Seattle Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka, who — unlike a certain beastly teammate — was willing to answer a few questions.Here’s how it went down, starting with what they were talking about just before I arrived:Another reporter: Can you imagine Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo kicking field goals in the Super Bowl? Do you think they would be good?Steven Hauschka: Yeah, I think Ronaldo would be really good at it. They both would. It’s a little different but I’m sure within a few minutes they could be kicking 50-yard field goals, no problem.Benjamin Morris: Do you know how to bend a soccer ball?SH: Yeah.BM: What’s the longest field goal you’ve ever made in practice?SH: 67 [yards].BM: How often do you think you convert a field goal of 60 yards?SH: In Arizona, I don’t know. Half the time or more.BM: Why do you think kickers are so good these days?SH: Because we grew up kicking. I started kicking at 3 years old. I think it’s just, we’re more athletic. I mean, not me in particular, but some of the guys out there in the league are just really good athletes who switched to kicking because they couldn’t make it as a quarterback or something.BM: Do you think soccer has improved it a lot?SH: Yeah, yeah I do. Most of the guys started playing soccer that ended up as kickers.BM: Do you think punters have gotten better as much as field goal kickers have gotten better?SH: I think some of the punters have gotten really good, but as a whole I don’t think they’re at the level of the field-goal kickers. I think there’s more put into the field goal at a younger age. I don’t think kids start learning to punt until a little later. Whereas field goal kicking, I think guys are starting pretty young.BM: What are the odds that an average NFL player, non-kicker, could make a 25 yard field goal?SH: Um, low. Twenty-five percent.BM: Do you think there’s such a thing as clutch?SH: I think if you’re a 90 percent kicker, the best you can do under the most important situation is be a 90 percent kicker. I think if you’re trying to stretch any more than that … that’s not realistic. Obviously the clutch guys make it when it matters, but there’s still that chance.BM: If you miss a kick, do you feel bad about it? Or do you feel like, if you’re 90 percent, you’re going to miss one in 10 kicks?SH: Yeah, that’s the goal: to understand that it’s going to happen every once in a while because no one is perfect. The goal is consistently to play at a high level.Some thoughts:That last one may read like a fairly bland answer, but his tone reminded me of how a lot of professional poker players ideally feel about losing: that losing is part of the process. But in reality that ideal is very hard to meet.He obviously has a very high opinion of soccer, saying an average NFL player (who has presumably been handling footballs his whole life) could make a short field goal only 25 percent of the time, but top soccer players could make 50-yarders with only minutes of practice. The introduction of the soccer-style kick and the influx of former soccer players into gridiron kicking ranks are both likely contributors to kickers’ otherworldly improvement.His answer about “clutchness” seemed to suggest that trying too hard to be clutch could be counter-productive relative to just trying to kick the ball. That fits with one of my pet theories of clutch, which is that, rather than being some kind of superhuman ability, clutch just means being completely normal in circumstances when others might crack.Here’s hoping that kicking plays a big role in Sunday’s game!
VIDEO: Ohio State’s chances are better than most No. 1 comes with its own special circumstances: SMU was given the NCAA’s “death penalty” in 1987, canceling an entire season and severely damaging the school’s football program for years after. Other cases involve a new coach coming in with disastrous results, such as when Southern Miss fell from 12-2 to 0-12 in a single season after replacing Larry Fedora with Ellis Johnson. But Helfrich oversaw the high and the low — even if the high was built from the foundation laid by Chip Kelly during his four seasons in Eugene. Now the Ducks must find a new coach for only the fifth time in four decades, and rebuild the pieces of what was a great program until very recently. Share on Facebook It wasn’t surprising that the Oregon Ducks fired head football coach Mark Helfrich on Tuesday night, given Oregon’s 4-8 overall record, its 2-7 mark within the Pac-12 and the fact that the team lost eight of its final 10 games to close the season. Even by the standards of a school that rarely changes coaches, this was a fireable type of season. What was surprising, however, was how quickly things unraveled for the Ducks. Exactly 700 days — and 26 games — ago, Oregon was coming off a 59-20 shellacking of the then-undefeated, defending-champion Florida State Seminoles, and the Ducks were 7-point favorites in the national title game against Ohio State.Then the wheels fell off. What followed was the fourth-biggest decline — at least, according to the Elo rating system we like to use here at FiveThirtyEight — for any school over a 26-game span since the AP poll ushered in college football’s modern era in 1936:1For the purposes of the chart, the 26 games had to occur over no more than four seasons, to filter out teams that went on long hiatuses from Division I-A before returning many years later.
Kansas City>9997-2 2. Miami 34, Buffalo 31 (Week 16) 10. New Orleans 31, Tampa Bay 24 (Week 16) Philadelphia56%72%+16 AFFECTED TEAMBEFORE GAMEAFTER GAMECHANGE The game to watch for Week 16 was one of the best of the year. Buffalo came back from a 21-7 deficit, but the Dolphins hit a 55-yard field goal at the end of the fourth quarter to send the game into OT. Buffalo immediately drove 58 yards to Miami’s 17-yard line before moving backward 10 yards on two running plays and missing a 45-yarder. The Dolphins eventually won it on a chip shot field goal, sending their playoff chances skyrocketing to 92 percent at the expense of Denver and Baltimore. Philadelphia3835-3 Tennessee4542-3 Houston8682-5 Indianapolis2311-12 Houston7987+7 9. Philadelphia 34, Pittsburgh 3 (Week 3) Based on the Cowboys’ terrible performance last season, our NFL predictions projected them to go 7-9 in 2016. And it took a little while for our model to figure out that Dallas was for real. This Week 6 drubbing of Green Bay improved the Cowboys’ record to 5-1 and sent their playoff chances shooting up 22 points to 78 percent; the suddenly struggling Packers saw an equivalent drop. Game had 116.6 total “swing” points; only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome are shown Detroit7380+7 Miami4145+3 Tennessee16%44%+28 1. N.Y. Giants 19, Washington 10 (Week 17) Game had 76.0 total “swing” points; only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome are shown Houston5855-3 Tennessee11%25%+14 Washington580-58 Miami55%92%+38 Detroit72100+28 AFFECTED TEAMBEFORE GAMEAFTER GAMECHANGE PLAYOFF CHANCES Indianapolis344-30 Indianapolis3934-5 AFFECTED TEAMBEFORE GAMEAFTER GAMECHANGE PLAYOFF CHANCES 3. Tennessee 13, Denver 10 (Week 14) Game had 66.3 total “swing” points; only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome are shown AFFECTED TEAMBEFORE GAMEAFTER GAMECHANGE Houston44%74%+30 Dallas2623-3 PLAYOFF CHANCES Cincinnati159-7 AFFECTED TEAMBEFORE GAMEAFTER GAMECHANGE Green Bay6269+6 Game had 59.7 total “swing” points; only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome are shown PLAYOFF CHANCES Buffalo712+5 Green Bay5434-20 Game had 57.2 total “swing” points; only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome are shown Dallas56%78%+22 Baltimore3841+3 Indianapolis73-4 Houston7957-22 Denver7348-24 Game had 65.0 total “swing” points; only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome are shown Baltimore2814-14 Tampa Bay29<1-28 4. Houston 22, Indianapolis 17 (Week 14) Let’s take a moment to acknowledge Tennessee’s season. The Titans were one of the NFL’s worst teams in 2015 but rallied to go 9-7 this season, with a 5-2 record against eventual playoff teams. Their peak came in back-to-back wins against Denver (Week 14) and Kansas City (Week 15), giving them a serious shot at an AFC South title. Unfortunately, it was all for naught — the bad version of the Titans came out in Week 16 and lost 38-17 to the Jaguars, allowing the Texans to clinch the division. Tennessee’s victory over Denver did make a big difference for Miami, which eventually took the second AFC wild card spot. Green Bay70%100%+30 Houston5144-7 Pittsburgh9388-5 After Green Bay’s late-season surge to make the playoffs (and the collapse of Washington and Tampa Bay), the Packers’ midseason foibles are all but forgotten. But they really almost blew it, going on a four-game losing streak that started at the end of October during which the Green Bay defense allowed 38 points per game and the team’s chances of making the playoffs dropped (at 4-6) to just 6 percent. This Week 9 loss to the Colts — the second loss in the streak — was one of the most damaging for Green Bay while simultaneously reviving Indianapolis’s hopes. N.Y. Giants4850+2 7. Pittsburgh 28, Indianapolis 7 (Week 12) PLAYOFF CHANCES Detroit4650+4 AFFECTED TEAMBEFORE GAMEAFTER GAMECHANGE The most important game of the year came in Week 17, even though one of the teams — the New York Giants — had absolutely nothing to play for. Washington’s loss ended its playoff hopes and rendered the highly anticipated Green Bay-Detroit evening matchup mostly moot by guaranteeing playoff spots for both the Packers and Lions. AFFECTED TEAMBEFORE GAMEAFTER GAMECHANGE Pittsburgh was an early favorite to make the playoffs, with a 62 percent preseason chance of advancing to the postseason that improved to 90 percent after a 4-1 start. But then the Steelers lost four straight, dropping down to 16th in our rankings, which are based on Elo ratings (a measure of team strength based on game results that we use quite a bit around here). They would go on to beat the Browns in Week 11, but this road victory against the Colts was when Pittsburgh really righted the ship. The Steelers closed the season with five more wins, easily making it to the postseason; they enter as the fourth-ranked team by Elo. Minnesota6164+3 Miami1626+11 Baltimore3224-8 The second ultimately meaningless late-season Titans victory that briefly shook the AFC South playoff race. Better luck next year, Tennessee! Washington2831+3 Game had 58.9 total “swing” points; only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome are shown Pittsburgh55%71%+16 Denver4139-2 5. Tennessee 19, Kansas City 17 (Week 15) Washington1815-3 PLAYOFF CHANCES Green Bay7249-22 After a tedious Week 17, the NFL playoff picture is finally set. Every week since Week 12, we’ve looked at which games could have the biggest impact on postseason chances throughout the league. Now, instead of dealing with hypotheticals, we can look backward to see which results from the entire 2016 regular season actually affected the playoff race the most.This is pretty easy to measure. Our NFL predictions update after every game, so the most important games are simply the ones that caused the largest net change in playoff probabilities. For example, when Buffalo beat Los Angeles in Week 5, the Bills’ playoff chances immediately improved from 50 percent to 64 percent (+14) while the Rams’ dropped from 49 percent to 34 percent (-14, with rounding). That’s a net change of 28 points. If we add to that number the impact the Bill’s victory had on Arizona, Seattle, New England and Oakland and its minor impacts on every other team in the league, we get an overall playoff swing of 57 points for that game.1The playoff swing totals in this article are lower than what we had listed in previous weeks. That’s because the scale has changed a bit, now that we’re measuring based on one actual game outcome instead of two potential game outcomes. An example: Going into their Week 17 matchup against New York, Washington had a 58 percent chance of making the playoffs. It would be eliminated with a loss and would more or less clinch with a win, so the team’s total potential range of outcomes, which we called its swing, was zero to 100 percent, or 100 percentage points. But Washington lost that game, so its actual, non-potential swing was from 58 percent to zero, or 58 percentage points.By this measure, the 10 biggest games of the regular season are below. Note that some of these results didn’t actually “matter” in the end. Going back to the example above: Buffalo didn’t make the postseason. But that game did make a significant impact on the playoff race at the time, so it was still important to the arc of the season. PLAYOFF CHANCES Pittsburgh6870+2 6. Indianapolis 31, Green Bay 26 (Week 9) AFFECTED TEAMBEFORE GAMEAFTER GAMECHANGE Game had 58.7 total “swing” points; only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome are shown Baltimore5154+3 PLAYOFF CHANCES AFFECTED TEAMBEFORE GAMEAFTER GAMECHANGE N.Y. Giants3429-4 Pittsburgh8067-13 PLAYOFF CHANCES Game had 58.5 total “swing” points; only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome are shown Game had 75.9 total “swing” points; only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome are shown PLAYOFF CHANCES AFFECTED TEAMBEFORE GAMEAFTER GAMECHANGE Washington37%51%+14 Indianapolis11%21%+10 8. Dallas 30, Green Bay 16 (Week 6) The Texans ended the regular season with a 9-7 record, a -49 point differential and just the saddest kind of quarterback controversy (the kind where both quarterbacks are bad). So how did they find themselves in the playoffs, with room to spare? Houston’s secret weapon was a 5-1 record against its AFC South opponents, spoiled only by its final meaningless game against the Titans. Whenever Houston’s lead in its terrible division was challenged, the team rose to the occasion, getting a particularly large boost to its playoffs chances in this narrow victory over the Colts. Denver177-10 Remember Philadelphia? After a 3-0 start, capped by this shellacking of the highly rated Pittsburgh Steelers, the Eagles saw their playoff chances rise to over 70 percent. After a bye in Week 4, it was all downhill. Philadelphia went 2-9 over their next 11 games and were eliminated from playoff contention in Week 15. Going into Week 15, the 8-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a 54 percent chance of making the playoffs but blew it with back-to-back narrow losses to the Cowboys and Saints. Although this game didn’t technically eliminate Tampa Bay from playoff contention — the team had a very outside chance of making the playoffs in Week 17, if seven games broke their way — it more or less ended the Bucs’ playoff hopes.Check out our latest NFL predictions.
More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Welcome to The Lab, FiveThirtyEight’s basketball podcast. On Monday’s show (June 11, 2018), Neil, Kyle and Chris debrief after the 2018 NBA Finals, in which the Golden State Warriors again prevailed over the Cleveland Cavaliers. They talk about why this Warriors dynasty feels different, where the Warriors rank relative to other dynasties, and how this loss affects LeBron James’s legacy. They also couldn’t resist discussing what LeBron should do next.The Lab is taking a break now that the season is over, but stay tuned to the feed for updates! Embed Code By Neil Paine, Chris Herring and Kyle Wagner
For an article on FiveThirtyEight today, Mike Lopez and Noah Davis charted the relationship between spending and win percentage for every baseball season since 1985. They found that the relationship between money and winning in baseball is as strong now as it’s been any time in the free-agency era. Below you’ll see that relationship for each team in the majors. Each season is one dot in the figure, and the colored line is a smoothed curve fit through the points. Essentially, the higher the curve, the more the team’s money was well-spent. The gray line is an aggregation of all the data points across the entire league, and that line shows a pattern: More money generally means more wins.Read more: Don’t Be Fooled By Baseball’s Small-Budget Success Stories »
Welcome to Significant Digits, a daily digest of the telling numbers tucked inside the news. Regular host Walt Hickey is still on vacation, and NCAA basketball is still happening. As a result, I’m still here with another all-March Madness SigDig. Enjoy! 0.015 rating pointsThere are close matchups, and then there are close matchups. Tonight’s Notre Dame-Wisconsin tilt belongs in that second category, with the teams separated by just 0.015 points in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. It’s basically as close to a coin flip as you can get — our prediction model lists the game as exactly 50-50 for both teams. [Kenpom.com]19 percentage pointsIn a Sweet 16 field largely devoid of Cinderella candidates, 10th-seeded Syracuse will have to do. According to the FiveThirtyEight model, they started the tourney with a 1 percent chance of making the Final Four; now that probability is 19 percentage points higher, the biggest gain of any team left standing. [FiveThirtyEight]1995 seasonThe University of Virginia will be looking to make its first Elite 8 appearance since the 1995 tournament when it takes on Iowa State Friday evening. By most measures — including winning percentage, the AP poll and the Simple Rating System — this year’s Cavaliers are better than the 1995 version, but they’ll have to win to prove it — the bracket doesn’t lie. [Sports-Reference.com]3,950 winsNorth Carolina and Indiana are two of the most storied programs in the history of college basketball, having combined for 3,950 victories in 5,728 games since 1901, and they’ll face each other in Friday’s late game. With a 73 percent chance of winning, UNC has the edge to take win No. 3,951, according to our model. [Sports-Reference.com]118 winsThe University of Connecticut women’s basketball team has been completely unstoppable with Breanna Stewart leading the way these past few seasons. They’ve won 118 of their last 119 games — all by double-digits, and all but 18 by 20 or more points. UConn looks to extend their run against Mississippi State Saturday morning. [FiveThirtyEight]If you haven’t already, you really need to sign up for the Significant Digits newsletter — be the first to learn about the numbers behind the news.And if you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey — or to @Neil_Paine, I guess, if you feel like it.
OSU junior forward Danny Jensen (9) tries to keep the ball away from Cleveland State sophomore forward Kareem Banton (20) on Oct. 21 at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. OSU won 1-0. Credit: Christopher Slack / Lantern PhotographerJunior forward Christian Soldat was the hero of the night for the second time in five matches, as the Buckeyes pulled through for a 1-0 victory against Cleveland State.The OSU men’s soccer team extended its winning streak to eight and improved its record to 9-4-2 overall, while the Vikings fell to 6-7-1 on the season.The last-second goal was a déjà vu feeling for Soldat, who had another game-winner against Bowling Green when he scored with three seconds left on the clock in regulation.Soldat added 10 seconds to that clock on Wednesday night’s hero, as he sent in the winner with 13 seconds left. With the match scoreless and the clock running down, Soldat said the Buckeyes began to feel a sense of urgency.“We know the clock is winding down and we hear that there’s one minute left and we have to push everybody forward,” Soldat said.Despite the grabbing the win over CSU and keeping the program-record winning streak, the Buckeyes struggled to come out with the victory.Wednesday night was the first time the Buckeyes and the Vikings met and it showed in the game, as both teams struggled to figure out the other.The best look of the first half for either team came when Soldat attempted a shot in the 28th minute, but he could not execute.The game remained scoreless going into halftime and the Buckeyes knew they had to make adjustments if they were going to keep their streak alive.“If we can pick up our defensive pressure a little bit in the second half, I think we’ll do better,” OSU coach John Bluem said in an interview with Big Ten Network heading into halftime.Even with the halftime adjustments, the second half of the game was looking like the first half for much of the duration, as neither team could get a point on the board.The game seemed like it was going into overtime, until Soldat came up with the goal when junior forward Danny Jensen danced around a swarm of Viking defenders and tapped the ball in front of the net, where Soldat was in perfect position to put it home.“We have Danny Jensen putting his whole body on the line, sliding, winning the ball at the end line,” Soldat said describing the play. “He gets up and looks up and plants the ball straight in to (redshirt freshman forward Jacob) Duska. Duska gets his shot blocked and it just falls right to me to put in.”Senior goalkeeper Chris Froschauer only needed to make one save to preserve his seventh clean sheet of the season, including his fourth consecutive. The Union, Kentucky, native received Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors in each of the last three weeks for his strong play of late.Overall, shots were 12-4 in favor of the Scarlet and Gray, while OSU held a 5-2 lead in corners.Looking to get the winning streak to nine, the Buckeyes will prepare to travel to Piscataway, New Jersey, to face Rutgers at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Ohio State senior guard Kelsey Mitchell backs a defender down during the Big Ten tournament championship game against Maryland on March 4, 2018 in Indianapolis. Credit: Alyssia Graves: Assistant Sports DirectorKelsey Mitchell always deserved a standing ovation from an Ohio State crowd when her illustrious career came to a close. The three-time Big Ten Player of the Year entered college a year after the Buckeyes went 17-18 and proceeded to lead them to four straight 24-plus win seasons. The greatest scorer in Ohio State history, Mitchell has made more field goals than anyone in program history and more 3-pointers than anyone in NCAA history. She has earned countless ovations for her dozens of accomplishments.So it was no surprise when the crowd at St. John Arena rose to its feet Monday night to send off one of the most accomplished players to ever don a scarlet and gray jersey. However, she wanted anything but the standing ovation St. John Arena gave her with 41 seconds remaining in her team’s game against Central Michigan Monday night. This time, it meant only one thing: Her career was over. When she was asked what passing former Missouri State guard Jackie Stiles and becoming the second all-time leading scorer in NCAA history with 3,402 career points, with tears in her eyes, Mitchell only had one thought.“We lost,” she said. “That’s all I can say.”It wasn’t supposed to end like this.The Buckeyes got blitzed from the beginning of the second quarter to the end of the game, eventually falling 95-78. They allowed Central Michigan to bounce back from a six-point first-quarter deficit with a dominant 25-6 second quarter. The Chippewas hit 14-of-27 3-pointers and 25-of-27 free throws during the game. The reverberations of St. John Arena made the several-hundred-person Central Michigan fan section sound like the Chippewas brought the whole university to the stands. The typically lethal offense that usually buoys the Buckeyes was nowhere to be found. Mitchell began the game 4-for-15 and finished with more shot attempts (29) than points (28). In the third quarter, Ohio State finally started to look like it was putting it together offensively, but was no match for the Chippewas’ 7-for-8 third-quarter 3-point performance.Ohio State senior guard Kelsey Mitchell waits for an inbound pass in the NCAA tournament game against Central Michigan on Mar. 19 in St. John Arena. Credit: Colin Hass-Hill | Sports EditorTry as she might, Mitchell could not pull her team back in the game.“We knew that they can shoot the ball, but we didn’t know that they wouldn’t miss,” she said. “You got it within 15, 14, then they said no, we’re going back up 21. And then we missed shots, so it didn’t make it any better.”As Mitchell stood in the corner of the locker room about 50 minutes after subbing out to congratulatory cheers and applause, she began to confront what had happened.“I’m letting it hit me right now,” she said. “We’ve been through so much. It just hurts you. The way you go out and that sensation I had about two weeks ago. So you think you can not only stay on that high horse, but play with the much confidence and play with that much focus.”Just two weeks ago in the locker room at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Mitchell was all smiles. The Buckeyes had just knocked off Maryland in the Big Ten title game. Mitchell was leaning back in a chair with big bags of ice on her knees, resting after playing her third game in three days. In her view, just 10 feet away, sat the conference championship trophy, which her team raised at center court just an hour prior.That is the kind of celebration expected of the second-leading scorer in NCAA history, not one signaling the end of a career after a Round of 32 matchup against a No. 11 seed. Kelsey Plum, Stiles and Brittney Griner, the trio of players who accompany Mitchell in the top-four career scoring ranks, each made the Final Four once.This season was supposed to be Mitchell’s shot.With the Final Four being held in Columbus in a couple weeks, the storybook was sitting on the table, just waiting to be written. Mitchell and the Buckeyes had been bounced in the Sweet 16 the past two seasons, but a veteran-laden squad hoped to march through the Spokane Regional and make the program’s second-ever Final Four with a likely matchup against top-ranked Connecticut.“I think in the back of everybody’s mind, if you’re a part of our program, sees that moment and want to be back here for the Final Four,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think you’re a competitor if you’re not at least thinking about it in the back of your mind.”Instead of the fairy-tale ending, Mitchell’s career abruptly concluded. She quickly had to come to grips with the end of her career, something she always knew would come, but never wanted. Ohio State senior guard Kelsey Mitchell takes a shot during the third quarter of the Buckeyes’ victory against Penn State on Jan. 31. Credit: James King | Sports DirectorThat meant considering how her 139 games, 4,996 minutes, 1,120 made shots, 497 made 3s, 665 made free throws, 545 assists, 463 rebounds, 214 steals and 3,402 points will be viewed for years to come.Rather than as one of the all-time greatest scorers, Mitchell said she hopes people think of her as someone who built Ohio State into a prolific program.“I want to be remembered for making this program for younger kids that want to come here one of the best in the nation,” Mitchell said. “It’s not only South Carolina, it’s not only UConn. Ohio State is a part of that conversation too. I think we’ve showed people that [there’s] value here.”Just as she had earlier in the night when she refused to consider the accomplishment of becoming the second-leading scorer, Mitchell refused to focus on her individual accolades. Instead, all she said she wants to be remembered for is being a program building block. That has defined Mitchell. Unfortunately for her, so too has her team’s NCAA tournament struggles. This year was supposed to be different. It wasn’t.It will take time for Mitchell, who is notoriously hard on herself, to get over the disappointing season-ending loss. But as one of the greatest scorers in college basketball history who helped put Ohio State on the map and helped win two regular-season Big Ten titles and one conference tournament championship, she has much to be proud of.Every time she attends an Ohio State basketball game again, she will get another standing ovation. But those will not be in response to a historic career coming to a surprising end.They will simply be celebrating the greatest scorer — and arguably the greatest player — to ever lace up sneakers and take the court in Columbus.
Ohio State redshirt junior goalkeeper Parker Siegfried saves a shot attempt in Friday’s game against No. 8 Michigan State. Ohio State lost to No. 8 Michigan State. Credit: Colin Gay | Sports EditorThe Ohio State men’s soccer team (1-13-2, 0-6-1 Big Ten) will conclude the 2018 regular season when it travels to Wisconsin (8-5-2, 5-2 Big Ten) on Sunday afternoon.The Buckeyes enter the season finale on an eight-game losing streak, in which the team has only managed to find the back of the net four times. On the other side of the pitch, Wisconsin enters the match coming off of back-to-back victories over Michigan and Northwestern, trying to secure the second seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. The Big Ten Tournament, which will kick off next Sunday, will see Ohio State enter as the ninth and lowest seed in the tournament. Indiana has earned the No. 1 seed, clinching its first Big Ten title since 2010 after defeating Ohio State in Columbus on Wednesday night. The Badgers offense is driven mainly by a pair of talented freshmen forwards from Illinois, Andrew Akindele with three goals and four assists and Noah Melick with four goals and one assist. Wisconsin’s second-leading goal scorer is redshirt senior forward Isaac Schlenker, who has three goals on the year.In order for Ohio State to find the win column, its forward group, led by the team’s leading scorer, redshirt freshman forward Devyn Etling, and the team’s leader in shots taken, senior forward Michael Prosuk must have an impact on Sunday afternoon.“We have to keep moving forward, one thing I give these guys credit for is they battle. They battle, and they battle and they battle. Against Wisconsin we’ve got to find some goals,” Maisonneuve said. “Again, if we defend like we did [against Indiana], we’ll be successful, we just have to find some goals.”In goal for Ohio State, redshirt junior Parker Siegfried is coming off a brilliant performance against No. 2 Indiana on Wednesday. Siegfried secured a season-high seven saves as his play between the pipes kept Ohio State alive all night. “The good thing about this, although we didn’t get the result we wanted, I think we’re going to kind of have a lot of confidence rolling into Wisconsin on Sunday,” Siegfried said. His backline, which had a strong outing against Indiana must have a repeat performance to give Siegfried some support. After the match against Indiana on Wednesday, Siegfried said that relishing their role as an underdog helped them against the Hoosiers and he said he thinks it will help them against Wisconsin in the finale. “I just think accepting that underdog mentality and kind of running with it is huge for us,” Siegfried said. “And I think we did that [Wednesday night] and we gave it to them a little bit so I don’t think Indiana wants to play us here again in the Big Ten quarterfinals after that. If Indiana doesn’t want to play you, then Wisconsin probably doesn’t want to play you.”Between the pipes for Wisconsin is junior goalkeeper Dean Cowdroy has a 0.93 goals against average alongside a .776 save percentage. Siegfried, has a 1.89 goals against average and a .644 save percentage for Ohio State through its 16 matches this season. Ohio State and Wisconsin are scheduled to kick off at 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.