Two outs away from clinching the Big Ten Championship, as well as their first NCAA Tournament berth in four seasons, the Ohio State baseball team watched as the Indiana Hoosiers dashed their hopes and dreams. The two programs entered the final weekend of the 2013 season with identical conference records, facing a best-of-three series, with the winner to be crowned champion.
The Buckeyes came away victorious on that Friday, only to see all-conference closer Trace Dempsey blow a save the following night. Ohio State would lose in extra innings, setting up a winner-take-all rubber match on Sunday. Heartbroken from Saturday's result, a lackluster appearance from the Buckeyes yielded the Hoosiers their first conference championship in 63 years.
With revenge on the mind, this year's edition of the Buckeyes looked to prove they are among the Big Ten's elite. In order to do so, however, the Buckeyes must reverse recent history, as they have lost six of their last seven to the Hoosiers.
Coming into the season with lofty expectations after reaching the College World Series, Indiana's overall record is misleading. After a tough first month of the season on the road, highlighted by a four-game shellacking at the hands of a surprise Texas Tech squad, the Hoosiers have begun to right the ship. Before falling to Indiana State, a common opponent for both squads, earlier in the week, the Hoosiers took two of three from Michigan, as well as a one-game set with nationally-ranked Louisville.
Despite a disastrous outing against the Red Raiders to open the season, Indiana starter Joey DeNato has pieced together a spectacular senior campaign. The left-hander from San Diego was 4-1 on the season, with a team-leading 2.22 ERA in six starts this season.
The Buckeyes, meanwhile, winners of eight of their last nine games, would rely upon left-hander Ryan Riga for the first game of the series. Undefeated on the season, Riga struck out five batters over 6 1/3 innings in his last outing. However, the junior was credited with a no decision, as Ohio State was able to overcome his five earned runs against Michigan State, eventually losing in extra innings to the Spartans.
It wasn't until the third inning that the Hoosiers were able to break through against Riga, as a two-out RBI single by outfielder Scott Donley gave Indiana a lead they would hold for the remainder of the game. The Hoosiers would add to their lead in the top of the fifth inning, when shortstop Sam Travis' two-out bloop single dropped just outside of Josh Dezse's reach at first, scoring a runner from second.
The Buckeyes would answer back against DeNato in the bottom of the sixth, when singles by second baseman Troy Kuhn and shortstop Ryan Leffel put runners on the corners for Dezse, who lined a RBI single to left, cutting the deficit to one.
Flirting with the longest outing of his career, Riga picked up the ball for the seventh inning. However, the visiting team took advantage of his tiring arm and extended the lead to three with a sequence that featured three singles, an intentional walk, and a balk. It wasn't until he gave up a solo shot to right field that Riga was pulled from the game. With the Buckeyes trailing 5-1, Riga was in line for his first loss of the season, pitching a career-high 7 1/3 innings, but allowing five runs on 13 hits.
Tyler Giannonatti would relieve Riga of his duties, only to allow a triple to the first batter he faced. An RBI groundout would plate the runner from third, giving the Hoosiers another insurance run in the eight frame. Like his counterpart, DeNato would be relieved in the eight inning by Luke Harrison. The right-hander tossed a scoreless inning before running into trouble in the ninth.
With their rally caps on, the Buckeyes sandwiched a walk between two singles to load the bases. Catcher Connor Sabinosh would score from third when outfielder Tim Wetzel grounded into a fielder's choice, cutting the lead to four. With two outs and the bases still loaded, the Hoosiers called upon pitcher Scott Effross to close the game out. The game looked as if it would come to a close when second baseman Troy Kuhn hit a ground ball to short, but a wide throw to first allowed two runners to score. The lead was only two, however, Kuhn was thrown out trying to advance to second for the final out of the game.
With Friday night's loss, the Buckeyes fall to 16-8 on the season, as well as 2-2 in conference play. Meanwhile, Indiana improves to 13-10, 3-1 in the Big Ten. The three-game series was scheduled to continue on Saturday, but has been postponed due to inclement weather. The teams will play a doubleheader on Sunday, with first pitch scheduled for 1:05 pm. Ohio State coach Greg Beals has his starting rotation set and will send senior right-hander Greg Greve (3-1, 4.50 ERA) to the mound for the first game, while Indiana's Tracy Smith will call upon left-hander Kyle Hart (3-1, 3.01 ERA). In the finale, the Buckeyes will trot out freshman Tanner Tully (3-0, 0.96 ERA), while the Hooisers will respond with right-hander Christian Morris (0-2, 2.55 ERA). For the second weekend in a row, the Buckeyes face an uphill battle as they hope to win the season series.