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Buckeye seniors lead nation's hottest team
by Paul Kennedy, December 4th, 2007 8AM



The hottest men's team in the last month has been Ohio State, unbeaten in its last 13 games.

A trio of senior stars -- Xavier Balc, Eric Brunner and Casey Latchem, all home-grown players -- have carried the Buckeyes on their march to the quarterfinals, where they will host Bradley on Sunday.

The influence of the seniors is not surprising. After overlooked for the 2006 NCAA Tournament -- the Buckeyes would say they were robbed -- the seniors weren't about to miss out this year.

Ohio State won the Big Ten Tournament, then waited two and a half weeks before opening play in the NCAA Tournament.

The Buckeyes edged Louisville, 1-0, in their first game and then shocked defending champion UC Santa Barbara, 4-3, on Sunday when fellow senior Eric Edwards came off the bench to score the key second goal and help set up the golden goal.

Here's a look at Buckeyes' big three:

XAVIER BALC. The forward from Hudson is only the second Ohio State player win Big Ten Player of the Year honors, joining Justin Cook, the recipient in 2004 when Ohio State made the Sweet 16.

Entering his senior season, Balc already owned the OSU assist record with 21 career assists, but he has added to his record with 13 assists in 2007.

Going into the NCAA Tournament, Balc had scored or assisted on nine of the Buckeyes' previous 10 goals -- including goals in 1-0 wins over Michigan and Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament.

“Without Xavier,"says Coach John Bluem, "we’d have a lot of 0-0 ties."

ERIC BRUNNER. How's this for a career game: In the 4-3 win over UCSB, the 6-foot-4 Brunner scored the first and third Buckeye goals on free kicks through the Gaucho wall from 30 yards and 20 yards out and cleared a potential game-winning UCSB goal off the line with four minutes left in the game when a shot by Jon Curry hit him in the throat.

“Everyone was physically and emotionally drained,"said Brunner, a product of Dublin.  "This is one of the greatest games that I’ve ever played in”

Like Balc, Brunner was a unanimous selection on the all-Big Ten team.

CASEY LATCHEM. Latchem, who hails from Perrysburg, was phenomenal at the Big Ten Tournament, where he shared MVP honors with Balc after posting shutouts in all three games and coming up with several point-blank saves.

In the NCAA Tournament opener against, Latchem held off Louisville for his 13th shutout of the season.

“Casey has been an absolute wall for us," Bluem after the Louisville game.

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