Ohio State baseball head coach Greg Beals brought his team into the first weekend home series of the season riding a four-game winning streak. A sweep of Western Kentucky last weekend and a home opener win against Northern Kentucky on Wednesday saw the Buckeyes outscore their opposition 20-8.
With the Big Ten opener just a week away in Columbus against Michigan State, Ohio State needed to build momentum on their home field. After the first month plus of the season, there is reason to believe the Buckeyes could be a factor in the conference this season.
"Over these five weeks we've figured out how we're going to play as a team," Beals said after Sunday's games.
The scarlet and gray managed to win their first home series of the season against a high-scoring Evansville squad despite some difficulties. A big day on Sunday turned out to be the difference.
"It was good to see the character of the team," Beals said. "You have to win home series."
Here's how the action went down in Columbus this weekend.
After Friday evening's opening game was rained out, the Buckeyes and Aces finally took to the field on Saturday afternoon at Bill Davis Stadium. In a game that saw a lot of scoring, a late-inning self-destruction by Ohio State gave Evansville a 10-9 win.
Troy Mongtomery gave the Buckeyes the lead in the bottom half of the first inning after singling to lead off the game. The scarlet and gray center fielder advanced to second on a groundout by designated hitter Connor Sabanosh, stole third, and scored on a sacrifice fly to right by second baseman Nick Sergakis.
Sophomore starter Tanner Tully surrendered the early lead in the next half inning, though, when third baseman Jonathan Ramon hit a 1-1 pitch over the wall in left to lead off for the Purple Aces. It was the first home run surrendered by Ohio State pitching this season.
Evansville took the lead in the top of the fourth off Tully thanks to some small ball. A leadoff walk by second baseman Boomer Synek and a single by Ramon were followed by a sacrifice bunt, an RBI groundout, and an RBI single back up the middle. Tully gave the Buckeyes six innings, allowing the three runs on seven hits, while walking one and striking out three in another no-decision.
Aces starter Connor Strain cruised through the second, third, and fourth innings after allowing the run in the first. Ohio State was able to touch the senior up for a run in the fifth with a little small ball of its own, and in the sixth with a long ball off the bat of right fielder Pat Porter. Strain left the game after six innings, allowing three runs.
When the teams went to their bullpens in the final three innings, the game took a turn towards the ridiculous. In all, Ohio State and Evansville combined to score 13 runs and commit three errors in the seventh and eighth.
Righty Jake Post relieved Tully in the top of the seventh. After a leadoff single by right fielder Korbin Williams and a sacrifice bunt by center fielder Jarod Perry, the wheels began to come off for the Buckeyes. A throwing error by third baseman Troy Kuhn put runners on the corners, and prompted Beals to pull Post. Lefty Michael Horejsei abruptly threw a wild pitch, scoring Williams and allowing shortstop Shain Showers to advance to second.
A single by left fielder Josh Jyawook and a walk by Synek loaded the bases. Another error on Kuhn, this time on a grounder by Ramon, brought Showers plateward, and singles by DH Max Foley and first baseman Eric McKibban scored two more and ended Horejsei's day.
Right-hander Kyle Michalik became the third Ohio State pitcher of the inning. The freshman allowed an RBI single by Williams and forced home a run when he hit Perry with the bases loaded before finally bringing the inning to a close. When the dust had settled, the Purple Aces led 9-3.
Evansville had its own adventure in the bottom half of the inning, though, as the Buckeyes scored five runs to make it a 9-8 ballgame. Righty Brent Jurceka relieved Strain, and once again, Montgomery got things started with a single. After a Sabanosh walk and a hit by pitch for Sergakis, the home squad had the bases loaded. Porter walked and Kuhn was hit by a pitch, which brought Montgomery and Sabanosh in and sent Jurceka to the showers.
Freshman righty Ryan Brady then walked catcher Aaron Gretz to score Sergakis and uncorked a wild pitch to bring Porter home. A sacrifice fly by shortstop Craig Nennig scored Kuhn for the fifth run of the inning.
In the eighth, the Aces got an insurance run off Michalik. A leadoff double by Jyawook, coupled with Kuhn's third error of the game, pushed the lead to 10-8.
Right-hander Conor Gilligan came on for the Aces in the bottom of the eighth, and Montgomery stayed hot, hitting his first home run of the season to lead the inning off. The Buckeye sophomore finished his day 3-for-4 with an RBI and four runs scored, but it would not be enough to propel Ohio State to victory.
Sophomore righty Patrick Schnieders worked around two walks in the bottom of the ninth for his second save of the season. Strain picked up the win, improving to 1-1 on the year. The loss officially went to Post, who dropped to 2-2, but Kuhn's rough day at the hot corner was the real culprit.
The first game of Sunday's doubleheader in Columbus brought with it a lineup change from Beals. Kuhn was sent to the bench after his three error performance on Saturday, with Sergakis being shifted to third and sophomore L. Grant Davis making his first start as a Buckeye at second.
"Troy Kuhn is a very good player, but he needed a game to watch," Beals said. "He needed a game to sit back, which helps simplify things."
Sophomore righty Travis Lakins, who was solid last week against Western Kentucky, took the ball for Ohio State. Evansville wasted no time in taking the lead, as a leadoff walk by Perry and a two-out triple by Synek gave them a 1-0 lead.
The Buckeyes tied the game off Aces starter Matt Rodgers with two outs in the third thanks to some timely hitting. Porter was hit by a pitch and stole second and came around to score on a Sergakis single. The scarlet and gray took the lead two innings later after Davis led things off with a double. A sacrifice bunt by Montgomery and an infield single by Sabanosh have Ohio State a 2-1 lead.
Rodgers went 4.1 innings, giving up the two runs on six hits.
Meanwhile, Lakins was cruising, allowing just three hits over the next six innings, shutting Evansville down. The final line for Lakins was one run on four hits, with seven strikeouts in seven innings of work in a no-decision. On the heels of last week's six inning, 10 strikeout performance, it appears the Franklin, Ohio native is starting to put things together after a rough start to the season.
Closer Trace Dempsey relieved Lakins in the eighth for a two-inning save situation. The senior got into trouble immediately, walking Showers and Jyawook to open the frame. An RBI double by Synek tied the game. After Ramon was hit by a pitch, Jyawook scored on a throwing error by Sergakis to give the Aces a 3-2 lead. It was the fourth error in two games for Ohio State at the hot corner.
The Buckeyes responded in the bottom of the eighth, though, tying the ballgame by executing at the plate. Sabanosh led things off with a double, and freshman Tre' Gantt pinch ran. Consecutive deep fly balls to center by Dawson and Porter sacrificed Gantt to third and then home for a 3-3 game.
After Dempsey set Evansville down in order in the top of the ninth, the stage was set for a dramatic finish, and Ohio State delivered. Gretz worked a walk to lead things off and was pinch run for by sophomore Jalen Washington. After Nennig laid down a sac bunt to move Washington into scoring position, the Buckeyes had two cracks at bringing the winning run around. Leffel smoked a liner into center field, but it was hit right at Perry, which brought Davis to the plate.
In his first start for the scarlet and gray, the former Arizona State commit from Newport Beach, California knocked a 2-0 pitch into right field, and Washington slid safely into home for the walk-off win.
Despite blowing the save, Dempsey picked up the win, moving to 3-0 on the season, and Ohio State improved to 9-5.
In the rubber match, the Buckeyes got off to fast start and never took their foot off the gas, thumping their way to a 12-2 victory.
Against Evansville freshman starter Brodie Harkness, Ohio State got two runs apiece in the second and third innings, jumping out to 4-run lead early. A one-out double down the left field line by Kuhn got things started in the bottom of the second. After a Leffel groundout, Nennig knocked a double of his own down the right field line to score Kuhn. After an infield hit by freshman DH Jordan McDonough, Nennig trotted home on a single by Montgomery through the right side of the infield.
The very next inning, Porter led off with his third home run of the season, a towering blast off the light tower in right field. After groundouts by Sergakis and Dawson, Kuhn, who sat out the first game, knocked his second homer of the season down the line in left, and the Buckeyes took a 4-0 lead.
Senior starter Ryan Riga, who has been the most consistent hurler among the team's weekend rotation through the first month of the season, was making quick work of the Aces. The southpaw mowed down the opposition, allowing just 3 hits through seven shutout innings of work.
"Ryan Riga has grown up," Beals said after game two. "His maturity, it's his senior year. He's a baseball player, and he loves being out on the field. It's like having a Friday guy going on Sunday."
Ohio State kept its foot on the throttle in the bottom of the sixth. Singles by Kuhn and Nennig put runners on the corners with one down. That's when McDonough laced a two-run double down the left field line, extending the Buckeye lead to 6-0. After a pop out by Montgomery and a hit by pitch for Sabanosh, Porter stayed hot, ripping an RBI double to right-center.
The rout was on after Sergakis was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for Dawson, and the sophomore knocked a three-run double to left-center to give Ohio State a 10-0 lead. The Buckeyes pushed the advantage out to 12-0 in the eighth on a two-run double by Kuhn, who went 4-for-5 with three RBIs and three runs scored in the game.
Freshman Seth Kinker threw a shutout eighth inning in relief of Riga, but sophomore Shea Murray gave away the clean sheet in the ninth, giving up two runs on three hits before striking out the final two batters to end the game.
"The story of the day is quality starts," Beals said. "Both starters went 7 innings, and gave up one run. Our starters were tough for 14 innings."
Ohio State's series win improved its record to 11-5 on the season with a two-game midweek home series against Rider this Tuesday and Wednesday in Columbus. Freshman Jacob Niggemeyer is scheduled to start on Tuesday, with junior John Havird on the bump on Wednesday. The action will get underway at Bill Davis Stadium at 5:05 p.m. ET on St. Patrick's Day.