Dan Hartleb and the Illini continue to have the Buckeyes' number.
On paper, the weekend set at Illinois wasn't too favorable for the Buckeyes. The Illini entered the series with an RPI of 71 and Ohio State was 6-12 against RPI top-100 teams. Illinois was 7-3 in ballgames played at Illinois Field while Ohio State was 4-7 in road contests.
Ohio State was unable to buck those trends, falling Friday, 9-1, and Saturday, 8-3, to drop the series before salvaging the series with a 10-4 win on Sunday. The Buckeyes return to Columbus 22-18 overall, with a 7-8 conference ledger that currently finds them seventh. Illinois improved to 22-17, 5-7.
Here's out look at the weekend that was for the Buckeye nine:
Friday: L, 9-1
Saturday: L, 8-3
Sunday: W, 10-4
Who stood out
Soph. OF Mike Carroll: four-for-11, four runs, two RBI, BB, double
Soph. 1B Josh Dezse: four-for-ten, four RBI, two BB, double
Sr. LHP Andrew Armstrong: two appearances, two innings, 0 H, 0 R
What went wrong
Eight-for-35 with runners in scoring position.
Two-for-29 with two outs.
21 strikeouts to 20 base-on-balls for OSU pitchers.
The Buckeyes entered the second half of the conference slate looking to make up ground on the leaders. With an even 6-6 record at the half way point, OSU entered the weekend four games behind leading Purdue but just a game-and-a-half behind second place Minnesota. Ohio State had played the top four teams in the conference and hoped a softer back end would allowed for a climb up the ladder.
Instead, in dropping two-of-three to the Illinois, Ohio State's road troubles remained as the Buckeyes find themselves in seventh-place, one spot outside of the top six placing needed to advance to the Big Ten Tournament.
Greg Beals had a man on the mound Friday that was as good as they come in series openers. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Jaron Long entered the contest 3-1 overall with a 2.27 ERA, a winner in three straight Friday Big Ten openers where he allowed just three runs in 26.0 combined innings in games against Michigan State, Minnesota, and Nebraska.
Long wasn't as sharp as he had previously been where entered Friday's game surrendering 56 hits with 44 strikeouts and just six base-on-balls in 63.1 innings pitched. The Illini struck the son of New York Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long for nine hits in six innings, drawing two walks against five strikeouts.
But Long did not receive much support for his defense.
All five Illinois runs against Long were unearned as Ohio State committed four errors on the evening. Their total in errors matched the amount of hits they tallied for the evening.
After Illinois jumped out to an 1-0 lead after three, the Buckeyes knotted the score in the fifth via small-ball with a pair of singles, a sacrifice bunt, and a sacrifice fly. The hosts quickly regained the lead in the bottom half of the inning.
Tight for the first two-thirds of the game, as the Buckeyes defense fell apart in the sixth, the Illini put the game out of reach. A three-run sixth for Illinois was the result of an error by Buckeye backstop Greg Solomon which allowed the Illini's third run to score, then the fourth and fifth the two ensuing batters.
Illinois proved in the next frame to be able to achieve something the Buckeyes struggled to do the entire weekend: collect hits with two outs. Off reliever Trace Dempsey, Illinois batters drew back-to-back two out walks before a single and three-run home run gave the game its final 9-1 score.
Ohio State did manage to improve on their hitting in the clutch on Saturday. In game one they were 0-11 with RISP and 0-9 with two outs before going going 3-8 and 2-11 respectively in game two. Despite the modest gains, the Buckeyes unfortunately fell apart in other areas.
Starter Brian King lasted just four innings, an outing where control was clearly an issue. Though the junior left-handed pitcher allowed just two hits, King would walk four and manage just one strikeout. For the game four OSU pitchers combined to strike out just three Illini against seven walks.
The fortunes from Friday appeared to have turned with the success the Buckeyes had in the fourth inning. Mike Carroll led the off the frame with a double that hugged the the right field line. A Patrick Porter single through the left side preceded sophomore Ryan Cypret's RBI-double that squeaked inside the left field line. Following an out, Kirby Pellant stroked an RBI triple down the right field line to cap the scoring plays and give Ohio State a 3-0 lead.
The fourth inning outburst would be the only extra base hits and runs accounted for by Ohio State on the evening. As the Bucks were stuck on three, the Illini chipped away at the Buckeye bullpen.
Junior right-handed pitcher Brett McKinney was ineffective in 1.2 innings of work, allowing three runs off four hits and a pair of walks. Tagged with the loss, McKinney, a former Sunday-starter, falls to 4-5 on the year.
After recording the final out of the sixth, junior right-handed submariner David Fathalikhani worked around two hits in the seventh before running into trouble in the eighth when the Blue and Orange picked up three runs off four hits to send Ohio State to the 8-3.
Needing a win, the Buckeyes found a way to leave Champaign-Urbana on Sunday with one.
Like Saturday, Ohio State strung together a quick start to jump out to an early lead.
In a four run third, a walk, single, and a hit by pitch loaded the bases without an out. Two RBI ground outs sandwiched a two-RBI-single for sophomore Josh Dezse to give the Buckeyes a 4-0 lead.
The Buckeyes added to the lead in the fourth where a catcher's interference call, a wild pitch, and two walks led to Ohio State loading the bases with one out and a run in. A third walk would plate the inning's second run before Dezse, the 2011 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, drove a two-run double to right center. Carroll capped the scoring in the fourth and for the afternoon with an RBI grounder to the first baseman as he scored Ohio State's tenth run after leading off the seventh with a single.
Ohio State still did not get an ideal performance for their starting pitcher, but John Kuchno did just enough. In 5.1 innings, the sophomore right-handed pitcher allowed four runs off six hits. Improving to 6-3, Kuchno walked six and struck out five. A relief corp of senior southpaw Andrew Armstrong, Dezse, and sophomore righty Greg Greve combined to no-hit Illinois over the 3.2 innings.
Ohio State returns to Columbus and hosts Bowling Green (16-23, 5-10 MAC-East) Wednesday evening at 6:35 p.m. at Bill Davis Stadium. The Buckeyes travel to Penn State (18-21, 6-6) for a three-game set when conference action resumes on Friday.