After dropping series to Michigan State and Minnesota, it appeared as if Ohio State's pursuit of a Big Ten championship would be fruitless this season. While only nine of 24 conference games were played, Ohio State sat 5-4 with series remaining against Nebraska, Illinois and Indiana, three expected contenders for the conference championship. Facing the toughest slate in the Big Ten, the Bucks had their back to the wall.
After taking series against the Cornhuskers and Illini, a pair of three-game sets that were eerily similar, a blowout loss on Friday, an extra-inning win on Saturday, a 7-run output in the rubber match, Ohio State sits a game behind Minnesota.
Game 36: 9-2, L
It was another rocky start for Ohio State junior right-handed pitcher Jaron Long. The conference's lone returning 2012 All-Big Ten First-team pitcher was touched up for seven runs off 10 hits in 5.2 innings. Long fell one strikeout shy of his career-best, but the seven punchouts weren't enough to counter the nine Illinois runs in the middle innings.
Through three innings it appeared a pitcher's duel was in store as each team managed only two baserunners. The game's fast pace came to a halt when four Illinois hits produced four runs. The Illini tacked on a run in the fifth before another four-run outburst sent Long to the bench.
Ohio State responded with a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning. Senior center fielder Joe Ciamacco reached on an E6 before a Ryan Cypret single and Kirby Pellant walk loaded the bases. Pat Porter drew a second consecutive walk to plate the first Buckeye run. Freshman Jacob Bosiokovic followed with a one-out single to make the score 9-2. That would be how the game ended as a strikeout and pop up left the bases loaded. Neither team pushed across a run over the final three innings.
Following the contest in which his club only managed two hits, third-year head coach Greg Beals did not hide his displeasure in his club.
Game 37: 7-6, (10) W
Right off the bat Saturday appeared another long day at the yard was on tap for the Bucks.
Illinois scored three runs in the opening frame, making Ohio State starter Brad Goldberg pay for the two walks he issued to start the contest. Ohio State quickly responded with an RBI-single from Pellant scoring Ciamacco to make it a two-run deficit after one.
The deficit would be erased in the second as senior first baseman Brad Hallberg stroked an RBI-double to right following singles from senior catcher Greg Solomon and junior left fielder Tim Wetzel. A Ciamacco fielder's choice would knot the game 3-3. A third consecutive run-producing inning was came in the third when sophomore right fielder Pat Porter pulled his third home runs of the season over the right field wall to give Ohio State it's first lead of the series at 4-3.
The lead was short-lived as the Orange and Blue evened it in the fourth, regaining the lead 5-4 after their at-bat in the fifth. Before an out was recorded, Goldberg was relieved by Ryan Riga. The fifth-year senior's day was over after four complete innings, five Illinois runs off nine hits and three walks were charged against him as he struck out four. Sophomore left-handed pitcher Ryan Riga enter the contest with a runner on second and proceeded to strikeout the next three batters to keep OSU in the contest.
The see-saw affair continued when Ohio State grabbed the lead with a pair of runs in the home-half of the fifth. After Ciamacco reached by way of an error to open the inning, he stole his second base before Pellant recorded his third hit. Pellant too stole second, providing the Bucks with a pair of runners in scoring position. The hometown team capitalized as Ported skied a sac fly to center in front of Bosiokovic's run-scoring single up the middle to make it a 6-5 affair.
A hit batter, single and walk loaded the bases for Illinois off Ohio State reliever David Fathalikhani. A fielder's choice would tie the contest but junior right-handed pitcher Greg Greve kept the visitors off the board for the remainder of the inning and the next.
The afternoon's next run would be the game-winner, in the bottom of the 10th Hallberg's second double would be a walk-off, scoring Solomon who led off the inning with a hit by pitch. Following Greve's two scoreless innings of relief would be sophomore right-hander Trace Dempsey with two scoreless frames to collect the win.
Pellant led the Buckeyes at the plate with a 4-for-5 effort. Porter and Hallberg each 3-for-4 afternoons.
Game 38: 7-3, W
The Buckeyes would again need to battle from behind if they were to win the weekend. Illinois scored a pair of opening-inning runs off senior left-handed pitcher Brian King.
But the Buckeyes would not chip away, there would not be a back-and-forth nature to this contests. Ohio State erupted for six runs in the bottom of the second on their way to an easy series finale.
The game-changing inning opened with a Porter opposite-field double. Back-to-back singles by Bosiokovic and sophomore Aaron Gretz preceded two outs. Hallberg singled in the innings third run before Ciamacco was hit by a pitch. Cypret's second home run of the season would double OSU's offensive output and the end the scoring.
Illinois added a run in the third and the Buckeyes responded with a lone tally in the fifth as the pitching staffs settled down. King improved to 6-4 on the season, receiving the win in a 6.2-inning outing, scattering eight hits in allowing three runs. Senior right-handed pitcher Brett McKinney faced five batters in 1.1 innings, allowed one hit, struck out the other four hitters. Dempsey finished his Big Ten-leading 21st contest.
With three scoreless innings of relief work, Dempsey has not allowed an earned run in 23.1 consecutive innings.
Pellant and Porter provided punch out of the three-hole and clean-up spot combing to go 10-for-23.
The Buckeye bullpen showed well pitching 11.2 innings allowing three runs with 13 strikeouts.
Ciamacco stole three bases to make him a perfect 17-for-17 on the season.
Ohio State's RPI is 40 after going 2-1 against an RPI top-50 club, improving to 6-7 against such teams. Baseball America has Ohio State projected to be in the NCAA Tournament while SEBaseball has the Buckeyes one of the first teams out.
Around the Big Ten
The Buckeyes did not receive any favors from Mother Nature this weekend. On top of less-than-ideal baseball weather in Columbus, heavy snow throughout Minnesota saw the cancellation of the Michigan State-Minnesota series. With the series win Ohio State was unable to gain ground on Minnesota as their .778 winning percentage (7-2), leads the Big Ten.
In how the standings look, Nebraska sits atop following a road sweep of Purdue which pushes their conference mark to 11-4. But the Cornhuskers would not be conference champs as their winning percentage, .733 is inferior to the Gophers. Indiana was the Big Ten team with a bye, sweeping Butler as their conference mark held steady at 8-4. The Hoosiers were joined in third by Michigan as Northwestern took two of three, the delayed-series opener took place in Wrigley Field on Saturday.
Next is Ohio State at 9-6, followed by Michigan State at 5-4, Illinois at 6-6 and Northwestern at 6-9. Penn State picked up its first two Big Ten victories taking the series against Iowa as the bottom is congested with the Hawkeyes at 3-9, Purdue at 4-11 and Penn State at 2-10.
The Buckeyes did not have a mid-week game scheduled as finals week begins on the Columbus campus. The Scarlet and Gray are next in action Friday at 6:35 as they open a three-game set against Penn State.