On a beautiful evening at Bill Davis, in a big game in front of a big crowd with even bigger national attention, the Ohio State baseball team saw its seven-game winning streak snapped in a rout, 8-1, at the hands of Illinois. The win was Illinois' 19th in a row, and pushed the sixth-ranked team in the country to a 38-6-1 record on the year.
"Great team win," head coach Dan Hartleb said after the game. "Kevin Duchene was outstanding, and one through nine, each guy got a hit."
The Buckeyes, who fell to 12-4 in conference play, now find themselves 2.5 games behind Illinois in the Big Ten standings, and in need of a short memory with a quick turnaround to game two of the series on Saturday.
"We got beat by good pitching and they also had timely hitting," Buckeye skipper Greg Beals said. "It was just one of those nights, and we need to be able to bounce back tomorrow."
With every national publication in attendance in Columbus, the Illini showed why they are in serious contention for a national seed this season, jumping on Ohio State pitching with a relentless lineup and shutting down the Buckeye bats.
Illinois starter Kevin Duchene, who entered the game 7-1 with a 0.74 ERA, was dominant, throwing his four-pitch array for strikes on both sides of the plate, changing speeds, showing low-90s velocity on his fastball, and featuring a sharp breaking ball. The former Big Ten Freshman of the Year went eight innings, giving up just the one run on three hits, striking out seven. Duchene faced the minimum in all but two of his innings.
"Duchene was as advertised," Beals said.
Ohio State's Tanner Tully, himself a former conference Freshman of the Year, did not fare as well. The sophomore southpaw gave up eight runs, all earned, on ten hits in five innings of work. With the loss, Tully fell to 4-3 on the season.
The Illini jumped out to a two-run lead right off the bat thanks to three consecutive two-out hits. Second baseman Reid Roper singled, catcher Jason Goldstein doubled, and both came around to score on a single by right fielder Casey Fletcher, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week.
Two more Illinois runs crossed the plate with two outs in the second. A triple by shortstop Adam Walton plated center fielder Will Krug, and Walton pushed the lead to 4-0 on a single by left fielder Ryan Nagle. It was more than enough support for Duchene.
The Buckeyes got on the board in the home half of the fifth with a little two out magic of their own. Freshman designated hitter Jordan McDonough picked up the team's second hit of the night with a single to right and came around to score when shortstop Craig Nennig tripled going the other way down the right field line.
A four-run sixth was the Illini answer, chasing Tully from the game and crushing any hope of a Buckeye comeback. Illinois loaded the bases with nobody out on singles by DH Pat McInerney, first baseman David Kerian, and Krug. Roper's younger brother, Reid, who plays the hot corner for Hartleb, delivered a two-run single, ending Tully's day.
Redshirt freshman Adam Niemeyer came on in relief and, after getting a pop out on the infield by Walton, gave up a two-run double to Nagle to increase the deficit to 8-1.
Game two of the series will get started at 3:05 p.m. ET on Saturday. Sophomore Travis Lakins (3-2, 3.31 ERA) will get the start for Ohio State, while senior Drasen Johnson (6-2, 2.11) will be on the hill for Illinois.