Facing elimination from the conference tournament, the America East’s defending champs took it one game at a time in the loser’s bracket. Binghamton dropped its first game to a Hartford team led by pitcher Sean Newcomb – who was selected 15th overall in the most recent MLB draft – but trampled Maine in its first elimination game to stay alive. The Bearcats (25-27) were to face Hartford (31-23) again, and they had to select an arm from their injury-riddled pitching staff to lead them.
Rising senior Greg Ostner, who had proven himself the team’s most reliable relief pitcher with a team-high four saves, hadn’t started once in the 2014 season. But between a depleted roster and, more importantly, his improvement, the right-hander was the pitcher of choice with the season’s end on the line.
“Greg had been throwing the ball as well as anyone the last half of the season,” head coach Tim Sinicki said of the decision. “So we just felt like in what was really the most important game of our season at the point, why not go with the guy who is available and who has thrown the most effectively over the latter part of the season?”
Sinicki told Ostner there were no expectations, that he should just pitch, take it one throw at a time and he could come out when he was ready.
That didn’t happen. Ostner stayed in all nine innings. He threw just 105 pitches in what was a complete-game shutout against the team that had routed him only two days earlier.
“When you’re jacked up like that in a conference tournament, if you don’t win that day, there’s no next game, so you have to give it whatever you got,” Ostner said.
With his team’s offense exploding for five runs in the first and adding three more throughout the remaining innings, Ostner easily grew comfortable on the mound. In the game, he scattered six hits, struck out four and walked one. Of his 105 pitches, 72 were strikes. He retired the side in order in three innings. When his team needed him, Ostner delivered.
“I can’t tell you we knew he was going to throw a complete-game shutout for us, but we were confident he would give us a great effort,” Sinicki said. “He’s just that type of young man.”
What enabled Ostner to pitch so efficiently was a combination of his own hard work and the trust he invested in his defense. Improving his location, off-speed pitches and fastballs after correcting an issue with the way his left arm was working, Ostner was in prime condition to get ahead of hitters and pound the strike zone.
“I like to attack the strike zone as much as I can, and a lot of times that leads into pitching contact,” Ostner said. “Coach [Sinicki] always says you have eight other guys out there that are trying to make outs for you, so I relied a lot on them and everybody all year.”
With Binghamton sporting a defense ranked among the top 20 percent of those in Division I, the plan worked. On two occasions against Hartford, one of which came in the ninth, runners got as close as they would to scoring position – second base. Ostner and the field contrived to preserve their shutout.
“I actually talked to our center fielder, Bill Bereszniewicz, and he pulled the outfield in so they could play shallow just in case of a blew pitch, so that they would be able catch it,” Ostner said of Hartford’s ninth-inning opportunity. “The last out of the game was a blew hit to shallow center, and I thought that would be the one that would score runs, but [Bereszniewicz] was right there to catch it.”
That 8-0 win over Hartford and two succeeding wins over Stony Brook gave BU the America East crown and accompanying NCAA berth. It also gave Ostner his second start of the season.
This time, he faced No. 19 Nebraska, but the pressure was of the same variety: The Bearcats had fallen to No. 7 Oklahoma State in their Stillwater Regional opener, and if they couldn’t beat Nebraska, their season was over.
“That was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to go out there with all my friends and family back home watching on ESPN3. I knew there were cameras all around, but I just told myself to focus how I usually would, pitch my own game, and try to block all that out,” Ostner said.
After a four-run first inning for the Huskers, Ostner buckled down on the mound, allowing only five hits through the next seven innings. The Bearcats built a 6-5 lead they carried into the ninth.
But in their half, the Huskers drew Ostner’s only walk of the game and singled, finding a gap between second base and right field. Ostner stepped off the mound with runners on first and third, and from there, Nebraska drove in three before stifling Binghamton’s opportunity in the bottom of the inning to end the game, 8-6.
“We had them up against the ropes and almost put them down,” Ostner said, “but it was definitely a fun experience.”
Ostner finished the season with a 3-2 record and a 2.81 ERA with 57.2 innings pitched. He allowed 21 runs off 59 hits and struck out 23 through 21 appearances, only two of which were starts. If all goes according to plan, that won’t be the case next season.
“I work hard to try to be a starter. Ever since freshman year, I always said I’ll accept my role and take whatever is best for the team, depending on whatever’s possible,” Ostner said. “But my end-all goal was to try to become a starter by the time I graduated.”
With performances like his when Binghamton needed it most, Ostner proved that he’s as potent a pitcher as any. Sinicki said he talked with Ostner about the possibility of starting next spring, but the head coach has no conclusive rotation yet.
“I try not to predict too far in advance,” Sinicki said, “but certainly [Ostner] will be in our mix next year as we try to formulate a rotation for the season.”
The rising senior will not be idle as he awaits the upcoming season – like 11 other Binghamton players, he’s busy playing ball in a summer league, pitching for the Valley Baseball League’s Woodstock River Bandits.
“The summer is all about getting ready for the spring, getting ready for the fall, just to perfect your craft and try to get that anyway you can,” Ostner said. “And I’ll be a starter down here in Virginia, so that’s definitely going to help me compete for a starting role and try to get ready for next spring to go for another consecutive title.”