After taking two of three from Penn State over the weekend, the Ohio State baseball team was looking to build upon the momentum from their first series win in almost a month. The Buckeyes hoped to continue their small, but significant winning streak in two midweek contests with non-conference opponents, West Virginia and Ball State.
If a warm weekend, with high temperatures reaching the 70s, helped awaken the Buckeyes' bats in the series with the Nittany Lions, the cold in Morgantown out them right back to sleep. Ohio State recorded 19 runs on 27 hits in the three-game set with Penn State, but only managed a single run on eight hits against West Virginia. Mired in a tough stretch of their own, the Mountaineers enter Tuesday's contest with a loss in seven-consecutive games. A complete game from your ace will change that.
After tough outings against TCU and Oklahoma State, starting pitcher Ross Vance hoped to recapture some of his magic from the season before, when he went 8-3 with a 2.00 ERA at Dodge City Community College. In his first-career start, the sophomore left-hander used the snow and wind to his advantage on Tuesday, striking out 14 Buckeyes over the course of nine innings.
Despite the conditions, however, the Buckeyes were able to jump out to am early lead. A leadoff walk by Pat Porter, followed by back-to-back singles loaded the bases against Vance, who proceeded to drill Jacob Bosiokovic in the back. The Buckeyes would not put a runner in scoring position for the remainder of the game.
West Virginia would answer in the bottom of the inning, when a two-run home run off of Ohio State starter Zach Farmer would put the Mountaineers ahead for good. Farmer served up a fastball to designated hitter Max Nogay, who crushed the ball over the left field fence.
Farmer, credited with his fourth loss of the season, would give up another pair of runs in the third inning. A two-out walk, followed by a single would put runners on first and second before Farmer's pitch went to the backstop. Another single would score both runners, stretching the West Virginia lead to three.
From there, both pitchers tossed shutout frames until Farmer was replaced by Michael Koltak in the bottom of the eighth. Farmer struck out a season-high nine batters, but gave up four runs on seven hits in the loss. Meanwhile, the freshman from Upper Arlington would pitch two shutout innings of his own, but the Buckeyes were unable to rally late in the game.
Vance's complete-game victory improved his record to 1-0 on the season.
The Buckeyes returned home the follow day to face a confident Ball State squad on Wednesday. Winners of seven of their last ten and sitting in second place in the Mid-American Conference, the Cardinals have been making some noise under former Michigan head coach Rich Maloney.
The Fighting David Letterman's were among the nations leaders in many offensive categories, including runs per game, and were excited with the prospect of Ohio State's struggling pitching staff. Likewise, the Buckeyes had hoped to reignite the flame on their own offense against the Cardinals' hurlers, who have combined for a paltry 5.60 team ERA.
As expected, there were plenty of fireworks in Wednesday's matchup. The Buckeyes would jump out to an early lead when Troy Kuhn blasted his team-leading fifth home run of the season. With freshman Ronnie Dawson standing on first, Kuhn's shot over the left field fence put the home team ahead, 2-0.
Using his pitchers by committee on Wednesday, Ohio State head coach Greg Beals would pull his starter Curtiss Irving after two scoreless innings. Although it may seem strange, the two innings was the usual reliever's longest outing of the season. The Buckeyes would receive another scoreless inning from reliever Yianni Pavlopolous before Ball State would get on the board in the fourth frame.
Consecutive base hits by the Cardinals would plate a run against reliever Michael Horejsei, cutting the lead to 2-1, before a two-run home run to left gave the Cardinals the lead. Beals would call upon Koltak, who pitched two innings of scoreless ball the night before, but he proceeded to load the bases before giving up a sacrifice fly to tack on another run for the visiting squad.
Ohio State would threaten in the bottom of the fourth, as a home run-saving grab would preserve the three run lead. After Troy Montgomery reached on a bunt single to leadoff the inning, Josh Dezse blasted one towards left-center field. The center fielder made a spectacular grab, however, robbing Dezse of his fourth home run in four games. Still, the Buckeyes looked as if they were going to make a game of it, but Nick Sergakis struck out and Dawson flied out with the bases loaded.
Ball State would add three insurance runs in sixth frame, when Tyler Giannonatti allowed a single and two walks, as well as tossed three wild pitches in order for the Cardinals to open up an 8-2 lead. The Buckeyes would battle back in the bottom of the inning, scoring four runs and cutting the lead to two, but it would not be enough. A leadoff walk and two singles loaded the bases for Dawson lined a two-run shot to right, and a sacrifice fly and a single would tack on two more. However, Ohio State would fail to take advantage of another bases loaded opportunity when Maloney called upon his bullpen.
Horejsei took the loss for the Buckeyes, his first on the season, after giving up the two-run shot in the fourth inning. Meanwhile, Nestor Bautista was credited with the win after escaping a bases loaded jam he inherited in the sixth.
With the losses, Ohio State drops to 21-17 on the season. After such high hopes, Beals' squad must rebound if they want to make the conference tournament, let alone the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes finish their quick homestand with a three-game weekend set against Murray State. The Buckeyes will don their camouflage uniforms on Friday on Military Appreciation Night. First pitch is set for 6:35 pm at Nick Swisher Field Bill Davis Stadium. Stay tuned as Land-Grant Holy Land's own Ben Martens has a preview of the weekend.