Ohio State Big Ten championship hopes come down to season finale

Indiana had no answer for Brian King before everything went wrong. - Ohio State Athletics

A furious rally from No. 15 Indiana dashed Ohio State's hopes of securing a Big Ten championship in front of Bill Davis Stadium's 2257 spectators Friday night. But immediately following the 7-2 extra-inning defeat the Buckeyes attention turned to Saturday's season finale, one with a championship still in the balance.

"I'm already over it."

Straight-faced, the four words were the first from the mouth of Ohio State sophomore closer Trace Dempsey. Seeking his 18th save, a school and Big Ten record-tying count, it would have been his biggest yet as Ohio State sat three outs from a series victory over Indiana, the closure of a game which would have provided the baseball program its 16th Big Ten championship.

Facing Indiana sophomore designated hitter Scott Donley, Dempsey had four consecutive two-strike offerings spoiled as Donley repeatedly got just enough of each pitch to place it in foul territory. A 2-2 fastball was stoked back up the middle in front of IU senior shortstop Michael Basil ripping a run-scoring double down the third baseline. Following a steal of third, Basil scored on Nick Ramos' sacrifice fly to center, tying the contest 2-2 leaving the Buckeyes and it's season-high crowd in a dazed.

Dempsey entered the contest with a 0.27 ERA riding 30-consecutive innings of not ceding an earned run. Leading the Big Ten, sitting third in the nation with 17 saves, conference foes had yet to tally a run against the right-hander.

In an instant that all changed and with good vibrations on their side, Indiana claimed its first Big Ten title since 1949 following a five-run tenth inning, highlighted by a Ramos grand slam.

While the Crimson and Cream exited Nick Swisher Field in jubilation, Ohio State skipper Greg Beals gathered his club in left field and a simple point, put it behind you, we have a chance for a Big Ten title tomorrow.

And if the Scarlet and Gray follow the example set by their closer this season, Dempsey will have another shot at a title-yielding save.

On March 29 against Michigan State, Dempsey threw back-to-back wild pitches allowing two Spartans to run in a bitter 10-8 defeat.

On April 13 against Nebraska, albeit an unearned run, the Cornhusker scored the game-tying run in the bottom of the ninth against Dempsey.

After each contest Dempsey's persona was consistent. It happened. Get over it. Give me the ball tomorrow.

Following the outing against Michigan State, Dempsey had five outings where the opposition could muster only a combined three hits. When Dempsey took the mound following the contest against Nebraska, the Huntington, West Virginia native went four innings over three outings without surrendering a hit, going 7.2 innings in six games before an unearned run was tallied off him.

When the Buckeyes have needed him there, he has responded. When as a team the Buckeyes have been crushed and disheartened they have responded.

On March 30, they took down the Spartans.

On April 14, they beat Nebraska.

On April 20, they defeated Illinois following a 9-2 defeat.

On May 5, they topped Northwestern following an 8-0 pasting.

On May 8, they knocked off Georgia Tech on the heels of a 9-2 loss.

Ohio State is not as talented as Indiana. Line the two clubs up side-by-side, from the No. 1 player to the No. 35 player, the Hoosiers field a better club. But with the resiliency the Buckeyes have shown all season, with only one more game against Indiana standing in the way of Ohio State joining the Hoosiers as conference champions, it'd be hard to bet against them. From starting the season with news their two-way talent, the clubs best professional prospect in a decade would be out two months, possibly all season (which ultimately occurred), in Josh Dezse, to overcoming adversity, the Buckeyes have found a way to get it down.

The setting was there for a great night. A beautiful evening with the temperature settling round 80 degrees under clear skies, a season-best crowd, the long-set promotion of fireworks, a nationally-televised game on BTN and of course a Big Ten title on the line.

Indiana ruined the evening, but not the dream.

Be it Beals, Dempsey, or senior Brian King, who was brilliant in 6.2 innings where the Hoosiers were unable to score a run, striking out four, scattering four hits with no walks, to a man they spoke at was is at stake Saturday. No their were not smiles and grins or exuberance in the eyes following a championship-winning game, there was a bitter taste in their mouths, but their faces wore no signs of resignation. A subdued post-game environment but not a surrendering sentiment.

Ohio State has junior right-handed pitcher Jaron Long set to take the bump. Friday's head coach, closer and starter spoke to the confidence they have in Long, a 2012 All-Big Ten First-team pitcher coming off a masterful one-run, no-walk, nine-strikeout performance against No. 6 Oregon. With a championship on the line in the season finale, he and this situation, as an Ohio State baseball backer is what you want.

Dempsey's finals words were "I want the ball tomorrow."

It stung but as he and the team showed all season, they know how to take a punch, to get off the canvas and come through. If they do so Saturday, they too will be crowned champions.

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