Dempsey named All-American
HUNTINGTON — Two years ago, former Huntington High pitcher Trace Dempsey jumped at the opportunity to play baseball at Ohio State.
This week, Dempsey jumped into some big-time company in Buckeyes’ baseball history.
Dempsey became the 39th player in Ohio State baseball history to earn All-American honors Wednesday when he was named to the All-American third team of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
It was the 53rd overall All-American honor for Ohio State baseball players, which Dempsey didn’t take lightly.
“It’s such an honor,” he said Friday morning. “I have hundreds of people to thank. It starts with coaches having faith to put me in these situations and my teammates. We had a top 10 fielding percentage throughout the season.
“When I pitched, I knew if I kept it on the ground we were getting outs. That does a lot for a pitcher’s confidence.”
Dempsey finished his sophomore season with a 3-0 record and 1.02 earned run average while leading the Big Ten Conference with 17 saves and 31 relief appearances. His 17 saves were one shy of Jake Hale’s Big Ten and Ohio State record 18 set in 2009.
The right-hander described the nomination as being a bit surreal. He even said it didn’t really hit him until he checked his Twitter account Thursday morning and saw a unique Tweet.
It was from Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith who tweeted ‘Congrats to our closer! Great season! #GoBucks’ before including a link to the story on Dempsey’s All-American status.
“It was probably cooler than getting the award,” Dempsey said. “That’s the athletic director at The Ohio State University. That’s big-time. I was humbled.”
Dempsey’s nomination as an All-American closer is quite the turnaround from his days at Huntington High.
As a senior for the Highlanders, he was a starting pitcher who ended with all-state first team honors for the second time after going 7-1 with a 1.02 earned run average.
As a freshman at Ohio State in the 2012 season he was more of a situational pitcher, finishing 3-1 in 19 appearances that included a pair of starts.
Ohio State had a need for a closer this year when John Dezse was lost because of a back injury. Buckeyes head coach Greg Beals decided to try Dempsey in the role with others waiting in line.
He never gave them the opportunity.
Dempsey said the biggest change for his new role was the mental approach he took.
“It wasn’t necessarily being dominant, but being resilient and dealing with situations,” Dempsey said. “I was just stronger mentally and would walk myself through situations. When things got tense, I would breathe and just slow the game down.”
Dempsey credited former Ohio State assistant Josh Newman with helping his mental approach. Newman, a Wheelersburg, Ohio, native, is a former big-leaguer. Newman recently accepted the position as Marshall University’s pitching coach and associate head coach.
The situation that could best show Dempsey’s resiliency came against Nebraska in a Big Ten conference game on April 14. He had blown a save opportunity the previous night before pitching three innings and earning the road win over the Cornhuskers.
The next day, Dempsey came in facing a bases-loaded, no-out situation with the tying run staring back at him. He got out of the situation allowing just a sacrifice fly to give the Buckeyes a 7-4 win and a win in the series.
After the game, Dempsey had a surprise talk with a member of the opposition.
“I just remember Darin Erstad told me ‘Keep it up, son. You are going to have a bright future,’” Dempsey said. “He’s Nebraska’s coach, but he’s a former major-leaguer and was an All-Star. That meant a lot to me.”
Dempsey was also named Friday as an AVCA/Rawlings All-Midwest Region first team selection.
Ohio State finished the 2013 season 35-23 and wasn’t chosen for the NCAA Tournament, leaving a bit of unfinished business to tend to.
“Excitement would be the best word to describe it,” Dempsey said. “I’m eager to get back with the coaching staff and the new players. We know what we can do and we know where we want to be. I’m really, really excited for next season.”
Currently, Dempsey is playing for the Bourne Braves of the prestigious Cape Cod League on a full contract, which guarantees he will be with the team for the duration of the summer.