Following Ohio State's 12-2 series finale win over Evansville on Mar. 15, head coach Greg Beals called Sunday rubber matches black-and-blue affairs. After losing the series opener against the Missouri Valley Conference foe, 10-9, he challenged his team to come out fighting to sweep a Sunday doubleheader and win the weekend. The Buckeyes did just that.
Following Ohio State's midweek sweep against Rider, two days before the conference opening series against Michigan State, he again reached for the black-and-blue label when discussing the Big Ten, a conference expected to have numerous teams in position for an NCAA Tournament bid.
It's a good thing he can turn to a scintillating southpaw to win a fight.
Just as he did last week to clinch the series against Evansville, senior left-handed pitcher Ryan Riga powered the Buckeyes to the win, pitching eight innings of shutout baseball to lift host Ohio State to a 3-0 win over Michigan State, clinching the weekend series for the Buckeyes. The victory was closed by senior right-hander Trace Dempsey, the 30th of his career, breaking the previous school-record set by Jake Hale from 2006-2009. Ohio State improved to 14-6 on the season, 2-1 after one weekend in the Big Ten, Michigan State fell to 9-11, 1-2.
With Riga twirling as good as any pitcher in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes didn't need a lot of run support for the left-hander. In fact, five hits were good enough for the Buckeyes to win the day.
Stretching his hitting streak to 12 games, sophomore center fielder Troy Montgomery opened the home-half of the first with a leadoff single to left field of Michigan State starter Anthony Misiewicz. Moving to second base on an error on a one-out fielder's choice which allowed senior right fielder Pat Porter to reach base, Montgomery crossed home when he and Porter executed a double-steal, the throw from Spartan catcher Chad Roskelly sailing into center field as he tried to throw out Porter.
The lead in his pocket, Riga cruised through the Spartan lineup. The first four innings saw Riga scatter a lone single in each. In the fifth inning Michigan State seniors Blaise Salter and Mark Weist recorded back-to-back singles, but a 4-6-3 double play off the bat of Roskelly held the Spartans at bay.
Ohio State's doubled its lead in the fourth when sophomore left fielder Ronnie Dawson pulled his third home run of the season down the right field line. An insurance run was added in the sixth when Montgomery scored on a squeeze-bunt off the bat of junior third baseman Troy Kuhn, after he lead off the inning with a walk.
Montgomery's 1-for-3 game, with a walk and two runs scored paced Ohio State, with senior catcher Connor Sabanosh, junior first baseman Ryan Leffel and junior shortstop Craig Nennig each adding a hit. Misiewicz held the Bucks to three runs, two earned, off three hits in five innings pitched. Left-handed reliever Joe Mockbee pitched the sixth and seventh innings, allowing two hits, before southpaw closer Jeff Kinley held the Buckeyes scoreless in the eighth.
For Ohio State, Riga continued a dominating start to his final season in Columbus. Improving to 4-1, Riga's eight shutout innings is on the heels of going seven innings last week against Evansville, holding the Aces without a run. The week before Riga pitched five scoreless innings in relief as Ohio State swept an abbreviated series at Western Kentucky. In total the native of Fairfield, Ohio has pitched 20 consecutive scoreless innings. After 38.1 innings, Riga has a .94 ERA. Dempsey's 1-2-3 ninth earned him his fourth save of the season.
As a team, Ohio State held Michigan State to four earned runs on the weekend, picking up a conference-opening win against the Spartans for the second straight year.
The Buckeyes return to action on Tuesday with a game against Toledo (8-15). The first pitch against the Rockets is set for 5 p.m.