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OSU finds a closer in Dempsey

Mar. 25, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Ohio State University has long been known for its athletic prowess nationally.

Just look at the last year, for example.

Under head coach Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes finished with a perfect season in 2012 and the Ohio State men's basketball team punched its ticket into the Sweet 16 on Sunday with a victory over Iowa State.

Names like Braxton Miller (Ohio State quarterback) and Aaron Craft (Ohio State point guard) are quickly becoming household names across the country due to their prolific reputations in leading the Buckeyes.

While Miller and Craft are considered the best nationally at their positions in their respective sports, there is another Buckeye with a local flavor that is making waves on the national scale for his performance in baseball.

That name? Trace Dempsey.

As of Sunday, the NCAA statistics had Dempsey, Ohio State's closer, tied for second nationally with seven saves.

For the former Huntington High standout, it's a dream come true.

"I'm walking around a prestigious campus with next year's Heisman trophy winner, three first-round draft picks in basketball, so I've not done anything compared to those guys," Dempsey said. "But it's fun and exciting to know I'm up on that list."

The 6-1, 180-pound sophomore is one of few underclassmen to be in a critical role for the senior-dominated Buckeyes, who are 15-6 on the season and 3-0 in the Big Ten after a weekend sweep at Purdue.

Dempsey said part of the most exciting aspect for him about his sophomore season is that those older players have embraced him as their closer.

"There's a lot of guys who we could put out there as a closer and Coach Beals lets that be known," Dempsey said. "I'm 7-for-7 so he's content right now, and I'd say I've earned the respect of the guys. They want me out there in the ninth. They told me that if they can get the ball to me, they feel like we have the win. That really helps to know they have that confidence in me, even though I'm a sophomore on a senior-heavy team."

In his final season at Huntington High, Dempsey was among the state's best with a 7-1 record and 1.02 earned run average with 101 strikeouts in just 52 innings of work.

Dempsey said part of the blessing for him was having several coaches around him at the high school level who knew the game and knew what it took to make it at the next level.

Those coaches included Huntington High pitching coach Jeff Maynard and Huntington Hounds coaches Jon Adkins and Tim Adkins, both of whom are also major league scouts.

It was suggested to Dempsey to try a different arm slot for the release of his pitch.

What was found was gold.

Dempsey's new-found arm slot led him to a 3-1 record as a freshman, which included 5.2 innings of shutout baseball in his first career start against Oklahoma State.

However, with the new arm slot, coaches saw a chance for Dempsey's skills to be utilized in a different role -- one that took shape with the Chillicothe Paints.

Dempsey embraced the closer role with the Paints and was named a Prospect League All-Star for his success in the summer.

He has carried that experience into this season to go a perfect 7-for-7 in save opportunities this year for the Buckeyes while boasting of a team-best 0.69 earned run average. In 11 appearances (13 innings pitched), he has allowed just one run and seven hits on the season while walking four and striking out 14 batters.

Dempsey said his mental approach has become just as important as his arm slot.

"In that closing mentality, it sort of has to be a gritty role and you have to have that confidence in yourself," Dempsey said. "Think about it -- a team is losing and they have three more chances to get back into it. It's their last shot before a loss. It's the three hardest outs to get."

Not much has been able to get to Dempsey this season.

Not the pressure of closing and certainly not the opposing fans, who try everything possible to get at him while he's on the mound.

Dempsey credited baseball fans for doing their homework, saying they all know he's from West Virginia when he goes on the road.

"We'll go out and people will start chanting 'Buckwild' or say things about Jesco White or something," Dempsey said. "What people don't realize is that I'm one of those people that if you try and rattle me, I just go harder."

Dempsey said it also serves as a wake-up call.

No one expects a West Virginian to be one of the most lethal weapons for a baseball team at THE Ohio State University.

The last time that happened was a guy named Nick Swisher, the namesakes of Ohio State's baseball field now.

And a sophomore? Forget about it.

This group is a talented bunch of seniors with high expectations. There's no way a sophomore is going to be one of the key cogs.

Honestly, it's all part of the norm for Dempsey, who is quickly making a living out of quieting the naysayers.

In each baseball scenario, there have been those who doubted Dempsey.

They doubted him when he chose to go to Ohio State, saying he'd never toe the rubber.

And when he changed his arm slot, they said he'd lose velocity and command.

Dempsey just takes it all in with a smile on his face and a baseball in his right hand.

He's waiting for the next doubter to step up to the plate.

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