After taking what head coach Greg Beals called "a whipping" from Illinois on Friday evening, the Ohio State baseball team turned in a much better effort on Saturday afternoon at Bill Davis Stadium, but came up short. The Illini outlasted the Buckeyes, 6-5, picking up their 20th straight victory thanks to some untimely defensive miscues.
"Today hurts a little more because I didn't think we got beat," head coach Greg Beals said. "We didn't play clean defense. The difference today was two unearned runs."
Illinois improved to 39-6-1 on the season, and at 15-1 maintained their perch atop the Big Ten standings. The series win keeps the team rolling and further proves the Illini to be among the country's elite.
"I think we've done a good job putting ourselves in a position to be considered for a national seed," head coach Dan Hartleb said after the game.
The Buckeyes drew first blood, scoring once in each of the first two innings. In the home half of the first, senior Pat Porter doubled with two outs, and after a walk to junior Troy Kuhn, came home when Illini second baseman Reid Roper couldn't handle a ground ball off the bat of sophomore Ronnie Dawson.
In the second, Ohio State used its patented small ball approach to push across another run. A leadoff single by senior Aaron Gretz was followed by sacrifices by junior Craig Nennig and freshman Tre' Gantt. Gretz scored on a two-out RBI single by sophomore Troy Montgomery.
Illinois stormed back in the fifth, though, claiming a 3-2 lead against Buckeye starter Travis Lakins. Pat McInerney led things off with a single to center and advanced to third when first baseman Connor Sabanosh failed to field a grounder off the bat of David Kerian cleanly. Will Krug then laid down a bunt that Lakins couldn't handle, scoring McInerney and putting two on with nobody out.
A sacrifice bunt by Ryne Roper put both runners into scoring position, and leadoff man Adam Walton brought them both plateward with a single to center.
Unlike Friday's game, though, the Buckeyes had an answer, scoring twice in the bottom half of the inning to reclaim the lead. Gantt started things off with a single back up the middle off Illinois righty Drasen Johnson. He came around to score when Montgomery laced a double to left-center one batter later. Johnson induced ground outs by Sabanosh and Porter and walked Kuhn before Dawson delivered a two-out RBI single to back up the middle.
The lead did not last long for Ohio State, though, as the Illini tacked on three more in the top of the sixth. Lakins walked Casey Fletcher to open the frame and gave up singles to Kerian and Krug to knot the game at four. The RBI single by Krug ended the day for the Buckeye right-hander, who was relieved by freshman Seth Kinker.
Kinker gave up a single to the younger Roper to score Kerian, and a sacrifice fly to Walton to bring Krug home, and the Illini had a 6-4 lead.
Montgomery got the scarlet and gray back within a run in the seventh, leading the inning off with a walk, stealing his Big Ten-leading 27th base of the year, and scoring on a ground out by Porter. But it would not be enough.
Illinois went to closer and projected first-round MLB draft pick Tyler Jay to finish the seventh, and the lefty finished the game for the unorthodox 2.1 inning save. Though Ohio State managed to hit some balls hard off Jay, who hit 97 on the gun and showed a devastating slider, the Lemont, Illinois native gave up just one hit en route to his ninth save of the season.
Johnson, who gave up four runs, three earned, on seven hits in his 6.1 innings of work, improved to 7-2 for the Illini. Lakins fell to 3-3 for the Buckeyes, surrendering six runs, four earned, on six hits, while striking out six.
Ohio State will try to avoid the sweep on Sunday in Columbus, while Illinois will look to keep its winning streak alive. Senior Ryan Riga (5-2, 1.87 ERA) will get be on the bump for the Buckeyes against Illini senior John Kravetz (4-0, 2.92). First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET.