To one who grew up in baseball's Golden Age, the thought of a postgame fireworks display after a baseball game played on an artificial surface which was broadcast live in prime time to a national audience on a conference-owned network may just as well be baseball played on the moon.
But that indeed was the setting as Ohio State used a throwback game, excelling with pitching and defense, en route to wipe away recent history, turning back No. 4 Louisville with a 2-0 win. Ohio State's first win over the Cardinals since 1992, redshirt freshman right-handed pitcher Adam Niemeyer led the way by throwing five innings of two-hit baseball, giving the host their first win over of top-five opponent since an 7-1 win at No. 2 Miami on march 24, 2009 and improving the Buckeyes to 24-9 on the season.
"That's elite college baseball right there, by both sides," Ohio State head coach Greg Beals said. "They pitched the ball extremely well, we pitched the ball extremely well and both teams made plays on defense. We had a good inning, got a leadoff hit, had a hit and run, and found a way to score two runs."
Ohio State's, and the game's, lone runs were plated in the bottom of the third, but a play made in the top of the second showed Ohio State was in top form, looking to halt a nine-game skid against Louisville.
With one out, Louisville sophomore catcher Will Smith pulled a hot shot down the third base line. Ranging to his left, Ohio State junior third baseman Nick Sergakis grabbed the screamer and from one knee threw out Smith, exciting the season-high crowd of 1,384, a sensational play which prohibited Louisville from dialing up an extra-base hit.
"I told them we put up a bunch of zeros against a really good team, but the zero I want to comment on is the one by the defense in errors," Beals said.
Beals couldn't take credit for Sergakis' play, it was by necessity, not plan, that he was manning the hot corner. Beals was forced to move Sergakis from second base as Ohio State is without the services of junior third baseman Troy Kuhn, who is out indefinitely with an ankle injury. But while Beals deferred credit to Sergakis, alluding to him being the type of player that can make the position change and end up on highlights throughout ESPN, the way Ohio State provided the runs to support the stellar defense and pitching was a reflection on managerial skill.
After suffering back-to-back losses to UNLV, the club's first consecutive defeats since Feb. 27-28, giving way to the team's first home weekend loss of the year, Beals was looking for a way to jump start his lineup, especially without the services of Kuhn, the team's cleanup hitter. The result of the lineup shuffling saw freshman Tre Gantt penciled into the lineup as DH with usual DH against a right-handed pitcher senior co-captain Connor Sabanosh making his first career start at first base.
In a game where the ball tends to find you, those two were instrumental in Ohio State manufacturing Tuesday's runs.
Leading off the bottom of the third inning against Louisville right-handed junior Anthony Kidston, Gantt lined a single up the middle. While Sergakis mans third base, sophomore L Grant Davis becomes to the team's nine-hole hitting second baseman, and he followed suit with a single up the middle. With speed to burn, Gantt went from first base to third on Davis' single. As the lineup turned over, a third consecutive single, this off the bat of sophomore center fielder Troy Montgomery, plated Gantt to score the game's first run.
"It creates some dynamics with Gantt's speed," Beals said of the new-look lineup. "I just felt with Kuhn being out of the lineup we needed a jolt. Gantt's electric on the basepathes, he scored from second base on a sacrifice fly at Rutgers. L Grant handles the bat well, he doesn't strikeout, he puts the ball in play, and we were able to utilize that."
A batter later the lead doubled when Kidston threw wide of Cardinal first baseman Brendan McKay, unable to throw out Sabanosh who laid a sacrifice bunt down the third base line, moving Davis to third before he scored on the errant throw. The Buckeyes would load the bases when senior Pat Porter was hit by a pinch to end Kidston's day, but Louisville freshman right-hander Lincoln Henzman retired the next three Buckeyes to halt Ohio State's run.
But on the overcast and crisp night, two runs were enough for the Buckeyes.
Making his first career start, Niemeyer didn't allow a Louisville runner to reach second base until there were two outs in the fifth inning, his final inning of work. His freshman season ending prematurely due to an injury which required Tommy John surgery, Niemeyer showed the promise of potential the Ohio State staff was high on as a three-sport star out of Minster, Ohio.
"Starting off the season, we knew he was healthy but concerned about the pitch count, how much he can do, how long can he go, so we controlled him," Beals said of Niemeyer who entered the game with 10 innings under his belt. "His last outing was really good and we thought to pull the reigns off and let him go and he did his job."
Citing an ability to get ahead in the count with his fastball, which sat between 87-89 MPH, occasionally reaching 91 MPH, then working in his changeup to keep hitters off balance, Niemeyer quieted a Louisville attack which entered the contest batting .273, scoring five runs a game powering the club to a 16-2 start in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The outing was his longest since March 7, 2014, the final outing of his debut season when he struck out eight batters in 4.1 scoreless innings in a road game at Oregon, another nationally-ranked team at the time.
"It's been a long process, that's for sure, but I tried to stay positive, Niemeyer said of his return to form. "The trainers here, Jason Good worked with me, knew was in good hands with the facilities here at Ohio State, the trainers, the coaches, they all took care of me. I knew when I came back I would have an opportunity to show what I could do and glad I got the chance."
After Niemeyer, who admitted to nerves throughout the day, held Louisville to two hits, one walk with three strikeouts, four Ohio State relieves, Kyle Michalik, Michael Horejsei, Jacob Post and Trace Dempsey pitched the final four innings, scattering a combined five hits with four strikeouts without a walk to seal the victory.
"It almost went to script, Beals said of his pitchers. "We knew Horejsei would pitch against the middle of the lineup at some point, and knew Michalik would get us 2-3-4 outs at the bottom of the order. Then once we gave it to Post he would pitch until the ninth then turn to Dempsey. The plan was just that."
In the plan of getting Ohio State back to a team of reckoning within the region, back included in the national discussion, the win over a club which had their number and has been to back-to-back College World Series speaks to where the program is Beals said.
"We got beat by them 20-0 (in 2012), and we've come a long way," the fifth-year head coach said. "Not just in wins and losses, but the depth. The fact Tre Gantt can come in today and get two hits, Niemeyer another great example of program development. Program development just isn't in the top shelf, but it's throughout the whole 35-man roster."
In a sign of their depth Davis led Ohio State's 12-hit attack with a 3-for-3 showing, anchoring the bottom of the lineup behind Gantt who went 2-for-3. Sophomore outfielders Troy Montgomery and Ronnie Dawson each picked up two hits as Ohio State improved to 15-4 at home.