For Ohio State baseball, Sunday’s 5-4 win over Florida Gulf Coast had to bring on some flashbacks of blown leads past. Just two days removed from blowing a five-run lead in the ninth inning of game one on Friday, the Buckeyes very nearly followed the same script against the Eagles in the series finisher.
With a 5-1 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth, Ohio State closer Yianni Pavlopoulos yielded three runs and had the tying run at second base before sealing the Buckeye victory.
FGCU mounted its last-ditch effort to repeat Friday’s heroics with back-to-back-to-back doubles to lead off the inning against Pavlopoulos, cutting the deficit to two. A sacrifice fly two batters later brought made it a one-run game, but a pair of groundouts ended things.
Ohio State’s record now stands at 6-8 on the young season, and while there was much to be concerned about in the series against the 24th-ranked Eagles, the Buckeyes did show some resiliency. That can only help as the club continues to grow and eyes Big Ten play.
From a bullpen that had been much-maligned throughout the series, the Buckeyes did get two scoreless innings from Kyle Michalik and a scoreless inning of redemption from Seth Kinker before the scare from Pavlopoulos.
And unlike game two of the series, when the team managed just a run, Ohio State did generate some offense in this one. Bo Coolen hit a two-run home run, while Tre’ Gantt collected three hits and a pair of RBIs, and Jalen Washington drove in a run.
After two straight rough outings, Adam Niemeyer was pushed back to Sunday from his usual Friday spot in the rotation. The right-hander responded with what was easily his best outing since opening day, allowing just one run on three hits in five innings of work, walking two and striking out two, en route to his second win of the season. It was an encouraging sign.
FGCU was not nearly as sharp as in the first two games of the series, getting 6.1 innings out of lefty starter Josh Dye, who struck out six while allowing an uncharacteristic five runs, and managing just four hits before the wild final frame.
As was the case in Saturday’s game, Ohio State staked itself to the early lead in this one. Gantt led off with a single, extending his reached base streak to all 13 games thus far this season, and Washington tripled to the left-center gap to bring him around. Dye retired Noah McGowan and Zach Ratcliff after that and looked close to escaping with no further damage, but Coolen connected on his first home run in scarlet and gray to make it a three-run inning.
Niemeyer stranded a runner in the first inning and left the bases loaded in the second, tiptoeing around trouble. He was unable to avoid it in the third, though, as Corey Fehribach took him deep to right-center to put the Eagles on the board and cut the lead to 3-1.
The Buckeyes got that run back in the fifth thanks to a costly error by FGCU third baseman Richie Garcia. On a ground ball off the bat of Jacob Barnwell, Garcia’s throwing error allowed the Ohio State catcher to race around the bags all the way to third. He then beat a play at the plate when Gantt laid down a squeeze bunt, making it a 4-1 ballgame.
Meanwhile, Niemeyer continued to throw zeroes up on the board, allowing just one baserunner between the fourth and fifth innings before exiting the game for Michalik.
In the seventh, the Buckeyes chased Dye from the game thanks to a leadoff double by Shea Murray and a sacrifice bunt by Barnwell. Reliever Ryan Ahern entered and Gantt laid down another bunt, scoring Murray. He also advanced to second thanks to an error on the play at the plate to keep the pressure on.
Ahern faced just the one hitter before the Eagles went back to the bullpen, this time for Kenton Hering, who induced a groundout from Washington and struck out McGowan to end the threat.
The theatrics were just about to begin, but this time the boys from Columbus persevered.
Ohio State will remain in Florida for the next few days, continuing its spring break trip with the Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte. The Buckeyes will take on Lehigh on Tuesday afternoon, followed by a Wednesday morning tilt with Bucknell.