Maybe there was just extra energy in the air on Ohio State's campus on Saturday as a result of the football team's record-breaking spring game attendance, or perhaps the emotions involved in honoring fallen teammate Zach Farmer gave a group of ballplayers a lift, but the Buckeye baseball team looked different on Saturday in an 11-3 win over Rutgers.
Farmer, whose parents threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the game, lost his battle with leukemia last August. The Ohio State baseball program has partnered with Be The Match the past three seasons to help register potential marrow donors and raise needed awareness for the disease. The Buckeyes have been wearing a ZF patch on their caps throughout this season.
Ohio State had lost four straight Big Ten games, and five of seven overall, coming into the game, and responded with the kind of urgency that could help it turn things around in 2016. The Buckeyes are now 3-5 in conference play and 22-12-1 overall.
Senior John Havird, who threw eight no-hit innings last weekend against Maryland, was locked in once again. The lefty is really settling in as a consistent part of the rotation, as he tossed seven innings of three-hit ball, allowing just two unearned runs and improving to 3-1 on the year.
Kyle Driscoll took the ball for the Scarlet Knights, but wasn't around very long. The 6-foot-7 right-hander allowed seven runs on nine hits in his 3.1 innings of work.
Nick Sergakis continued to make his case for All-American status, belting his seventh home run of the season and driving in two runs. Troy Kuhn and Tre Gantt also picked up two RBIs apiece to drive the offensive attack.
Troy Montgomery, Ronnie Dawson, and Jalen Washington all had multi-hit games as well, as only one member of the starting nine went hitless.
Unlike Friday night's lid lifter, Havird kept Rutgers off the board in the early going. Ohio State struck first in the bottom of the second when Kuhn's leadoff double paid dividends. A single by Craig Nennig moved Kuhn to third and two batters later Gantt laid down a squeeze bunt to bring him home on a crafty slide just under the outstretched glove of Scarlet Knight catcher R.J. Devish.
Washington followed with a solid single to left that scored Nennig for a 2-0 lead.
Rutgers tied it up in the top of the third, though Havird had little to do with it. Nennig slipped around the bag at second on what should have been an inning-ending double play, and what looked to be an inning-ending third strike was called a ball by the home plate umpire. It all concluded with a two-run single for Mike Carter.
The Buckeyes stormed right back, though, scoring twice in the bottom of the frame and reclaiming the lead at 4-2. Dawson led off with a single and Sergakis hit a high drive over the wall in left.
Driscoll was chased in the bottom of the fourth after an RBI single by Dawson that extended the lead to 5-2. Washington and Montgomery had both singled and Jacob Bosiokovic had put down a sacrifice bunt to move them over and set the table.
A balk by Scarlet Knights' reliever Dante Scafidi enabled Montgomery to score, and Dawson and Sergakis both came around on a single back up the middle by Kuhn to make it an 8-2 ballgame.
Montgomery's speed made it a 9-2 lead in the fifth with a little help from defensive miscues by Rutgers. The Buckeye center fielder sent a sharp grounder off Kevin Baxter that was booted by John Jennings, and put his head down to make it into second when the ball carromed away. Montgomery then stole third and scored when the throw from Devish ended up in left field.
Gantt drove in the tenth run of the day with a single in the bottom of the sixth that scored Brady Cherry. It was Ohio State's 13th hit on a day when the team needed to show some offensive explosion.
Rutgers scored an unearned run off Buckeye reliever Kyle Michalik in the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Luke Bowerbank, but it was too little, too late for the Knights.
Jake Brobst capped the day with a pinch hit RBI single to score Ryan Leffel and give Ohio State 11 runs on 17 hits for the afternoon.
The rubber match of the series will take place at 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday at Bill Davis Stadium, and will be streamed live on BTN Plus. With a win, Ohio State could salvage a series win ahead of hitting the road for a tough Big Ten matchup against Illinois next weekend.