Baseball was played on Saturday at Bill Davis Stadium in Columbus, and while the doubleheader between Ohio State and Minnesota mattered insofar as it was part of the Big Ten schedule, the games took a backseat to honoring members of both programs that lost their lives to leukemia.
Buckeye pitcher Zach Farmer, who passed away in August 2015, and Gopher pitching coach Todd Oakes, who lost his battle last May, both fell victim to the horrific disease, and still serve as inspiration to their programs and a reminder to all of us fans that some things are bigger than wins and losses. The nonprofit organization Be The Match, which finds bone marrow donor volunteers for those afflicted with leukemia, was in attendance, Farmer’s father threw out the ceremonial first pitch, and both clubs wore orange wristbands in remembrance of their fallen comrades.
I wrote about Farmer’s passing for Land-Grant Holy Land back then, but I believe my former colleague Chris Webb captured who the young man was and what he meant to people on and off the field in a way I couldn’t. I hope you’ll take a minute to read it.
All of that said, there were games played, though Ohio State would likely prefer to forget them. The Buckeyes’ spiral towards a lost season continued, with the Gophers completing the weekend sweep.
On a day with the wind blowing out at Nick Swisher Field, Minnesota and Ohio State combined to hit five home runs in the first game of the doubleheader. The Gophers came out on top, 15-5, securing a series win in the first weekend of conference play. The Buckeyes were once again plagued by their trifecta of achilles heels: defensive miscues, ineffective pitching, and an offense that couldn’t string much together.
Ohio State managed just five hits in the ballgame as it suffered its fifth loss in the last six games.
Connor McDevitt and Jordan Smith both smacked three-run home runs for the Gophers, as they collected 17 hits and went 8-for-12 with runners in scoring position. Smith finished with four runs batted in, while McDevitt notched three, and Toby Hanson and Jordan Kozicky each had two.
Brett Schulze did what he needed to do on the mound to win, tossing five innings of five-run ball despite yielding just three hits. Relievers Nick Lackney and Tim Shannon combined to throw four shutout innings to close things out.
On a bright note for the Buckeyes, Noah West continued his strong play since being inserted into the lineup. The freshman second baseman went 1-for-2, hit his first collegiate home run, and extended his hitting streak to six games. Tyler Cowles and Jacob Barnwell also went deep, but the bats were held largely silent outside of that.
Sophomore Connor Curlis, making his first weekend start after two superb midweek outings, cruised through the first three innings. But sloppy defense and a loss of command in the fourth were his undoing. In all, Curlis went four innings, allowing seven runs on nine hits, striking out three and walking one as he took the loss.
Bullpen arm Reece Calvert let up seven runs of his own in 3.2 innings pitched, and Austin Woodby, not to be left out, gave up a run in his 1.1 innings of work as well.
Ohio State managed a run each against Schulze in both the first and third innings to take the early lead. Noah McGowan had an RBI groundout to score Tre’ Gantt in the first, and West followed followed in the third with a homer to left, making it a 2-0 game.
Curlis ran into trouble in the fourth, though. After a leadoff walk, two throwing errors on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Hanson brought Alex Boxwell all the way around to score, and Smith then roped a double off the wall to tie the game. After a one-out walk, McDevitt launched a three-run homer over the wall in dead center field, giving the Gophers a big, crooked number in the inning and a 5-2 lead.
But the Buckeyes bounced right back in the bottom of the frame, getting two of those runs back. Brady Cherry worked a two-out walk and Cowles crushed a hanging breaking ball out to left, his third longball of the season, cutting the deficit to one.
Curlis couldn’t slow down the Minnesota bats, though, and after two straight singles to open the fifth, was pulled in favor of Calvert. Calvert, who has struggled mightily in his first season with Ohio State, gave up a three-run home run to Smith. It was an 8-4 Gopher lead as the bullpen once again let the scarlet and gray down.
Barnwell hit the first home run of his career, a solo shot, with two down in the fifth, cutting the lead to 8-5. But it was indicative of the team’s performance that it was just the third hit mustered all game to that point.
A couple of quiet innings passed before Minnesota torched Ohio State pitching for another seven runs in the top of the eighth, putting any doubts about the game out of mind. McDevitt led off with a single against Calvert, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, and came around to score on on an RBI single by Terrin Vavra.
After a Boxwell single put runners on the corners, Hanson delivered a two-run double to the right-center gap. He would come plateward thanks to an error by shortstop Jalen Washington.
But the misery did not end there for Buckeye fans. Calvert walked Smith before being relieved by Woodby, whose second pitch was knocked into the gap in right-center by Kozicky, good for a two-run triple. Kozicky would then score on a passed ball by Barnwell before the inning mercifully came to a close with the Gophers on top by the winning margin.
Ryan Feltner was tabbed by Ohio State head coach Greg Beals to start the second game of the double dip and try to avoid the sweep. Minnesota had other designs, though, racking up another 13 hits and withstanding a late comeback attempt to claim a 6-5 victory. The Gophers got their conference schedule started just the way they wanted to.
Feltner was only able to give Beals 4.2 innings of work, allowing four runs on 10 hits, walking three and striking out two before giving way to the bullpen. The sophomore’s record fell to 0-4 on the year, as his team plummeted to 9-14.
His counterpart for the Gophers, Toby Anderson, gave his club some length, pitching into the seventh. In 6.2 innings of work, the right-hander allowed four runs, only two of which were earned, to pick up the win.
Boxwell homered and drove in a pair for Minnesota, which saw all but one player in the lineup record at least one hit.
Another freshman was a bright spot for the Buckeyes, as Dominic Canzone drove in a career-high three runs as part of a 2-for-3 performance at the plate. Washington went 2-for-4 with a triple and an RBI, and Cherry had a pair of doubles, the only other members of the lineup with multi-hit games.
As in the lidlifter, Ohio State staked itself to an early lead, scoring a run in the second off Anderson. Zach Ratcliff reached on an error by Kozicky at third and Cherry doubled to give the Buckeyes a pair in scoring position with nobody out. Cowles then lifted a fly ball to center field that was deep enough to bring Ratcliff home for the 1-0 lead. Cherry moved to third, but was stranded by a pair of groundouts.
It didn’t take the Gophers long to strike back, though, as they tied the game on a Boxwell sacrifice fly that scored Vavra in the top of the third.
Four straight hits to begin the fourth pushed Minnesota ahead once again. Matt Stemper led things off against Feltner with a double and Smith singled. Kozicky then doubled down the line in left, scoring Stemper, though Smith was thrown out at the plate on the relay. Kozicky scored on a McDevitt single back up the middle to make it a 3-1 ballgame.
Ohio State trimmed the lead to one in the bottom of the frame thanks another Kozicky error allowing Ratcliff to reach base. The Buckeye designated hitter moved up to second on a wild pitch, then came around to score on a single by Dominic Canzone.
But the Gopher onslaught kept up its pace in the top of five, as Boxwell led off the inning with an opposite field solo home run to push the lead back to two.
Once again, Ohio State managed a response, though, as Gantt singled with one out in the bottom of the fifth and advanced to second on a Barnwell sacrifice bunt. Washington delivered an RBI single back up the box to pull the Buckeyes to within 4-3.
That was as close as things would get the rest of the game for Ohio State. Minnesota put up another pair of runs in the sixth, one on an Eduardo Estrada RBI single that plated McDevitt and the other on a wild pitch by reliever Yianni Pavlopoulos that allowed Estrada to score.
The Buckeyes used a leadoff walk by Cherry in the bottom of the inning to score a run thanks to Canzone’s second RBI single, and made it a 6-5 game in the bottom of the eighth when he drove in his third run with a sacrifice fly that scored Ratcliff.
But Cherry was stranded at third representing the tying run in that frame, and the Gophers’ Brian Glowicki shut the door in the ninth.
Needless to say, this isn’t how Ohio State envisioned this weekend unfolding, but the reality is that this is a team with perhaps too many holes to be consistently competitive in the the conference. Less than a year removed from the elation of a championship and an NCAA tournament bid, the Buckeyes are clearly in danger of sinking to the bottom of the Big Ten barrel.
The homestand will continue this week with the Ohio University Bobcats visiting on Tuesday evening and Purdue in town for the next Big Ten matchup on Friday.