Ohio State baseball: Crucial series captured against Nebraska

Senior shortstop Kirby Pellant paces Ohio State with a .341 average. - Ohio State athletics

Entering the weekend three games behind co-leading Nebraska, taking two of three games against the Huskers in Lincoln puts the Buckeyes back in the thick of the conference title race. With more than two months into the season, Ohio State sits firmly in at-large consideration for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

With an overall record of 23-11, the Buckeyes have the 39th-best RPI. At 7-5 in Big Ten play, Ohio State sits 1.5 games back, residing fifth in a tightly compact Big Ten standings. On the conference and national level, Ohio State goals are attainable as the season enters the final third. Ohio State's weekend series against Nebraska kept the Bucks squarely in the middle of the action.

Game 32: 11-2, L

Everything that could go wrong for Ohio State did.

Junior right-handed pitcher Jaron Long was unable to complete five innings. Allowing nine runs, seven earned off 13 hits, the hits struck against the ace match the amount of outs recorded in 4.1 innings of work. Behind Long the Buckeyes weren't in top form either. Entering the weekend with the Big Ten's top fielding unit, a defensive club with a .978 fielding percentage, Ohio State committed three errors, ending a four-game errorless streak.

At the plate the Buckeye's lone runs came from solo homers courtesy of senior first baseman Brad Hallberg and his classmate to the right, senior second baseman Ryan Cypret. The two home runs came in the span of three at-bats as Hallberg's first home run of the season came with two outs in the top of the third before Cypret led off the fourth with his second four-bagger of the season.

Sophomore outfielder Pat Porter and freshman Jacob Bosiokovic each picked up a pair of hits, Porter banged out his third triple of the season while Bosiokovic added a walk to reach safely three times.

Erupting for six runs in the fifth inning, Nebraska chased Long from the game, dropping the 2012 All-Big Ten first-team selection to a 3-3 record alongside a 3.69 ERA.

Game 33: 6-5, (11) W

If the Buckeyes were feeling sorry for themselves after the series opening loss dropped them 5-5 in the Big Ten, sitting three games behind the Huskers, Saturday's resiliency sure didn't show it.

Senior right-handed pitcher Brad Goldberg joined Long in being unable to complete five innings, being credited with four Nebraska runs off seven hits in 4.2 innings as he walked three, plunked two and struck out three.

But the Buckeyes got the righty off the hook and turned in an inning that may change the fortunes of their season.

Trailing 4-1 going into the seventh inning, a hit by pitch, single and walked loaded the bases for Ohio State against Nebraska's top reliever. A Tim Wetzel fielder's choice exchanged an out for a run, leaving runners on the corner. Hallberg stepped to the plate and proceeded to single up the middle, scoring senior catcher Greg Solomon. With the score 4-3, following a ground out to first, Cypret hit an opposite-field single to right to score Hallberg and Wetzel.

Yet the Buckeyes would have to show more fight.

Ohio State sophomore Trace Dempsey was charged with his first blown save of the season as Nebraska scored an unearned run in the bottom of the ninth after a throwing error on Solomon saw a Nebraska pinch runner move all the way to third on a two-out stolen base attempt.

After a scoreless tenth, freshman Troy Kuhn pulled a two-out single through the left side of the infield before Wetzel drove him home with a game-winning double. Dempsey picked up his first decision of the season with a clean bottom of the 11th, capping three innings of relief, six for the Buckeye bullpen which allowed just one unearned run off two hits and one walk.

Game 34: 7-4, W

The brilliant Buckeye pitching carried into Sunday behind senior left-handed pitcher Brian King.

The southpaw silenced the Huskers for seven innings, posting zeros on the scoreboard in scattering three hits, walking a pair with three strikeouts.

Ohio State used single runs in the second, third and fifth to take a 3-0 lead through the games halfway point. Bosiokovic scored an unearned run to commence the scoring in the second. The freshman scored after leading off the inning with a single, moved over with a sacrifice bunt before scoring on a throwing error. An RBI-single from Porter doubled the Ohio State lead the next inning. A Cypret double was followed by a Kirby Pellant single in the fifth to extend the Buckeye advantage,

The Scarlet and Gray erupted for four runs off six hits in the top of the eighth for what would be much-needed insurance. Porter recorded a one out double and scored one batter later as Bosiokovic singled up the middle. The Bucks strung together four consecutive singles against three different Nebraska relievers to further the lead.

Nebraska added a run in the bottom of the eighth before making the game interesting in the ninth.

Sophomore left-handed pitcher Ryan Riga opened the inning by allowing four singles and hitting a batter to see two Nebraska runs cross the plate before an out was recorded. In relief of Riga, Dempsey recorded a line out before a sacrifice fly made the score 7-4, a walk would load the bases and bring Nebraska's winning run to the plate but Dempsey forced Husher second baseman Pat Kelly to foul out to Hallberg, giving him his 11th save of the season and Ohio State a critical weekend series.

Series notes

In their first trip to Lincoln, the Buckeyes closed the series with a 13-hit attack. Porter led four Buckeyes with multi-hit games, his leading 12th such game.

Ohio State improved to 22-3 on the season when scoring at least three runs and 19-2 when leading after six innings.

As Dempsey collected his 11th save of the season, the second-most in the nation, he has now not allowed an earned run in his last 19.1 innings of work.

Pellant upped his team-leading average in Big Ten play to .432.

The wins represented Ohio State sixth and seventh against an RPI top-100 club, as the Buckeyes moved up 21 spots in the RPI rankings.

Seven-up

With his seven innings of shutout baseball Sunday, King helped the Buckeyes take home a Big Ten-leading seventh weekly honor. King is the second Ohio State hurler to be named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week, joining classmate Goldberg (Feb. 18 & 25). Ohio State has received Player of the Week performances from sophomore catcher Aaron Gretz (Feb. 25) and the senior shortstop Pellant (March 25). Third basemen Bosiokovic (March 11) and Kuhn (Feb. 25) have been received top freshman billing.

Around the Big Ten

As Ohio State sits a one and a half game out of first place, the Buckeyes do not see the Hoosiers and Huskers atop the Big Ten standings, it is instead Michigan and Minnesota who lead the pack with respective 7-2 conference records. The Wolverines and Gophers collected weekend sweeps of the Nittany Lions in Ann Arbor and Wildcats in Evanston. With Michigan State's sweep of Indiana and the Buckeyes taking two of three from Nebraska, the two losing clubs sit one-half game back at 8-4. Ohio State checks in fifth with their 7-5 ledger, ahead of Illinois, who registered the Big Ten's fourth sweep as the Boilermakers fell in all three games in Champaign-Urbana, and Michigan State, both 5-4. The bottom of the Big Ten has Northwestern and Purdue each at 4-8, Iowa sits 2-7, with Penn State in last, yet to win a Big Ten game in nine attempts.

What's next

The Buckeyes play a pair of midweek games against in-state foes. Ohio State welcomes Akron to Bill Davis Stadium on Tuesday evening looking to continue their midweek dominance with a fifth consecutive shut out. After Freshman right-handed pitcher Jake Post (2-0, 4.82) takes the mound against the Zips, the Buckeyes travel down I-71 to take on the University of Cincinnati Wednesday. Senior right-handed pitcher Brett McKinney (3-3, 3.69) is schedule to take to the bump in the Queen City against the Bearcats. The first pitch for both contests are set for 6:35 p.m.

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