After first pitch was delayed an hour and thirty minutes because of rain in Omaha, Ohio State found themselves quickly in a hole. A two-run first was the first of three two-run innings by Illinois as the Illini knocked off Ohio State 6-5, defeating the Buckeyes in the first elimination game of the Big Ten Tournament. The loss ends Ohio State's season at 30-28 on the year.
"A disappointing day, a disappointing loss, but only in the fact of the loss," said Ohio State head coach Greg Beals. "Our guys fought hard, we pitched well, played well, had a few errors."
Before a game-changing error, the Illini bats needed no assistance in putting runs on the board.
A single up the middle by Illinois shortstop Adam Walton started a 15-hit game for the Illini. Advancing to second on a wild pitch, Walton scored on a two-out double to center by fellow sophomore Jason Goldstein. Goldstein scored one at-bat, crossing home on a single by junior second baseman Reid Roper.
"They hit us in vulnerable innings," Beals said. "Traditional vulnerable innings for a pitcher are innings one, five and nine. They got us in one and five for two-spots in those innings."
Roughed up in a three-hit first, Ohio State starter Ryan Riga settled and held Illinois off the scoreboard for the next three innings.
But the Illini were tack on two more runs as Illini stepped to the plate for a third at-bat against the junior left-hander.
A leadoff bunt single down the third baseline allowed Illinois center fielder Will Krug to reach first. Two singles followed, Walton giving the Illini two runners aboard before first baseman David Kerian drive in Krug with a run-scoring hit. Riga recorded two outs on one pitch when Goldstein grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, but the ground ball to he right side allowed Walton to cross home. Riga ended the inning one batter later, inducing a 4-3 putout off the bat of Reid Roper.
"When it to a four (runs for Illinois) I got our guys up before our at-bat in the fifth and told them it's not going down this way," Beals said.
Beals re-affirmed a need to stay on the fastball and drive the ball the other way in an effort to get quality at-bats and claw their way back into the contest. The approach was echoed by Buckeye second baseman Nick Sergakis.
"Today he threw a lot of fastballs, we're Buckeyes we like to hunt fastballs," Sergakis said. "It came down to getting the pitches we wanted to hit, laying off curveballs. It was the same mentality we as a team have tried to implement all year."
As Ohio State saw more at-bats from Duchene, the Buckeyes found success in the middle innings.
Following Beals' talk, junior catcher Connor Sabanosh led off the fifth inning with a single to right field. A one-out error by Illinois third baseman Ryne Roper allowed Ohio State shortstop Craig Nennig to reach with one out, putting two Buckeyes on base. Nennig was erased on a 5-4 fielder's choice, but the grounder from Tim Wetzel allowed Sabanosh to move to third. A two-out RBI-single from Sergakis plated Sabanosh and gave Ohio State it's first run since the six-run fourth against Nebraska in the opener.
Unlike the game against the Huskers, Ohio State scored in consecutive innings.
Ohio State evened the score in the sixth behind the heart of its lineup. Drawing a one-out walk, junior first baseman Josh Dezse moved to third on a double to right-center from sophomore right fielder Jacob Bosiokovic. Following a ground out to third, Illinois breathed extra life into the Buckeyes, a grounder off the bat of Ohio State's Troy Montgomery resulting in an E6, an error on the throw across the diamond by Walton. Allowing Dezse and Bosiokovic to score, the error extended the Buckeye sixth and allowed Craig Nennig to single through the left side, scoring Montgomery and resetting the game at 4-4.
But where Illinois provided Ohio State with free bases and extra outs, the Buckeyes returned the favor to three-seed Illini in their next at-bat.
Following a single on the seventh's first pitch by Kelly Norris-Jones, Krug picked up another bunt single. In an attempt to put the go-ahead run 90 feet away, Walton was called to sacrifice. After corralling the roller, Riga tried to throw to third and force the leading runner out. But the throw was off, going up the third baseline allowing Norris-Jones and Krug to score.
"The bunt play was a costly error, trying to do too much in that situation," Beals said. "That ball was bunted into a place where you have to throw to first. But give our guys credit trying to make a big play in a big situation, it just didn't work out."
After the run-scoring throwing error, Riga was relieved by sophomore right-hander Jake Post who record two strikeouts after a sac bunt to end the seventh.
Keeping it two-run game provided Ohio State the opportunity of keeping the contest within striking distance.
The Buckeyes found themselves one hit away from regaining the lead in the home-half of the seventh.
Doubling down the left field line, Sergakis opened the seventh in scoring position. Following a wild pitch from Duchene striking the batting helmet of freshman DH Ronnie Dawson, Buckeye third baseman Troy Kuhn loaded the bases with a bunt that die in front of his Illinois counter-part.
The bases loaded and Dezse up, the third-team all-Big Ten performer skied a fly ball into right field, deep enough to score Sergakis. Bosiokovic striking out against Nick Blackburn who relieved Duchene after hitting Dawson, the Illini right-hander walked Sabanosh to re-load the bases. A second call to the bullpen by Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb saw left-hander closer Tyler Jay enter do-or-die game in the seventh against Montgomery. The Buckeyes left the bases loaded as Jay struck out the Ohio State center fielder.
A pair of two-out singles off Post in the eighth forced Beals to call on freshman left-hander Travis Lakins from the Buckeye bullpen. Lakins record the first of three strikeouts to end the threat.
But the Buckeyes were unable to find any success against the low-90s fastball of Jay. A 1-2-3 innings in the eighth and ninth allowed the Illinois closer to pick up his 10th save without allowing a hit in 2.1 innings, ending the Ohio State season with the team's 10th one-run loss.
"I'm proud of what they did as a team this year," Beals said at the conclusion of his fourth season. "With out young club, the number of guys coming back, the experience and adversity we went through this year is going sharpen these guys."
Sophomores Sergakis and Bosiokovic each picked up two hits and a double to lead Ohio State at the plate. Riga finished with a six-plus inning performance, allowing six runs off five hits, striking out eight with one walk. Post pitched 1.2 innings of scoreless baseball, allowing two hits. Duchene, the 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, held Ohio State to one earned run, five total off six hits.