For the second consecutive week, the Ohio State baseball team would look to rebound from a sweep at the hands of a conference opponent. Consecutive series sweeps at the hands of Indiana and Nebraska have put the Buckeyes in a considerable hole in the Big Ten standings, with the upcoming schedule no easier. This weekend's opponent, Penn State, traveled to Columbus sporting a six-game winning streak, a surprise to even the most knowledgable pundits.
Looking to start a winning streak of their own, the Buckeyes would sent Tanner Tully to the mound for the fifth time this season. The freshman was 3-1 on the season, usually as the Sunday starter in the rotation, but played in place of Ryan Riga, out with shoulder soreness. Meanwhile, Penn State would look to Tim Dunn, a usual bullpen arm, to continue the program's longest winning streak under head coach Rob Cooper. Before Friday night's game, Dunn's longest appearance this season was three innings in relief, only allowing one run in nine games.
Penn State would take an early lead on three-consecutive singles to open the contest. Although rattled, Tully would settle down to strike out the next batter before a ground-issue double play ended the inning. With a 1-0 lead, Dunn would sit down the Buckeyes' batters in order in the bottom of the first.
The visiting team would extend the lead in the top of the second, when consecutive singles, followed by a pair of throwing errors by Nick Sergakis and Josh Dezse would plate two more runs. Now trailing by three, the Buckeyes would struggle to string any hits together off of Dunn in their half of the inning. Ohio State would not put a runner in scoring position until the third, when Sergakis led off the inning with a single to right. A hit batter, followed by a double-play would move the runner to third, but a pop-out by Ronnie Dawson would end the scoring threat.
Penn State would add another run in the top of the fourth when Tully loaded the bases for James Coates. Although the batter fell into an 0-2 hole, a sacrifice fly pushed the lead to four. With the game getting away from them, the Buckeyes were unable to muster anything, outside of a single hit, through four frames.
Picking up in the top of the fifth, the Nittany Lions would threaten again. A single up the middle by Taylor Skerpon ends with him standing on second as the ground ball skirts under Dawson's glove in center. A stolen base put another run only feet away, but a infield fly ends the inning with Penn State still ahead by four.
Sergakis would lead off the bottom of the frame with a bunt single, only the second hit for the Buckeyes thus far. Two pitches later, he was standing on third thanks to his excellent base running. A stolen base on a past ball, followed by a gusty play to take third on an infield hit would pay dividends shortly thereafter when a single up the middle from Sabinosh gave the Buckeyes their first run of the game.
Tully looked as if he was going to breeze through the sixth inning, using only ten pitches to get what should have been three outs. However, the shortstop Sergakis was unable to throw out Penn State speedster Steve Snyder at first on a ground ball to end the frame. The Nittany Lions would take advantage of the hustle play, when a triple from Coates scored Snyder from third. Sergakis was then put in a similar position only two batters later, but this time was able to gun the runner at first to end the inning.
A leadoff single from Kuhn, followed by a double to the gap from Porter would score the leadoff runner from first, closing the gap to three in the bottom of the sixth. With a runner on second, Dezse hit a shallow pop fly to right field that could not be fielded properly by any of the three chasing Nittany Lions, putting runners on second and third with two outs. The next batter, Sergakis', would record his third hit of the game, scoring two and bringing the Buckeyes within one. The inning would end on controversial strikeout, but the damage had already been done.
Still on the mound in the eighth, his last inning of work, Tully would strike out the side, with teams alternating shutout innings until the final frame. With deficit only one, Sergakis would lead off the inning with a career-high fourth hit of the game, a single up the middle. Jake Brobst would move the tying run over to second with a bunt, as Connor Sabinosh stepped to the plate. Sabinosh was plunked on the leg, putting runners on first and second with one out and Dawson stepping in the box. A groundout to first would move the runners ahead, but a strikeout by Ryan Leffel would end any hope of a comeback.
With the loss, the Buckeyes fall to 19-15, 2-8 in conference play this season. Meanwhile, Penn State improves to 17-14, as well as 5-1 in the Big Ten. The three-game series will resume on Saturday at 4:05 pm, shortly after the football team's spring game concludes. The Buckeyes will call senior Greg Greve (3-2, 4.53) to the mound, while the Nittany Lions will respond with T.J. Jann. In the midst of a seven-game conference losing streak, Ohio State must turn the corner and crawl from the Big Ten cellar before a tournament bid falls by the wayside.