Ohio State baseball has dealt with a lot of adversity in 2017. Injuries and weather have had the Buckeyes behind the eight-ball for much of the season, and that did not change in the first two games of the club’s Big Ten weekend series with Nebraska.
Friday’s game one of the series was suspended in the middle of the fourth inning due to severe weather, forcing the two teams to play what amounted to a doubleheader on Saturday at Bill Davis Stadium in Columbus, completing the first one and getting in game two as well.
While victory in the face of challenges has often eluded Ohio State this season, the team continued to show its resilience, coming from behind in thrilling fashion to win game one. Though the Huskers took game two by a score of 3-1, it still felt like a good day for the much-maligned Buckeyes.
The scarlet and gray now stand 5-9 in Big Ten play, and have a chance for a second conference series win of the season in Sunday’s rubber match.
The difference between Friday and Saturday was literally night and day for Ohio State in the series lidlifter. The Buckeyes used a six-run fifth inning after play resumed and got lights-out pitching from Connor Curlis to claim a 9-7 victory.
Freshman Dominic Canzone continued to be the most dangerous man in the Ohio State lineup, going 1-for-3 with four RBIs in the game. His bases-clearing double in the fifth gave the Buckeyes the lead, and they wouldn’t look back.
Senior co-captain Jalen Washington and sophomore Brady Cherry also helped fuel the attack. Washington had a 2-for-3 day, driving in a run and scoring three times, while Cherry had a pair of hits and three RBIs.
Curlis was on the bump when the game restarted, and the southpaw came up huge. He tossed four innings of one-run ball, allowing just a single hit and striking out three in earning his third win of the season. Junior Seth Kinker had a bumpy ninth inning, but preserved the lead to secure his fifth save.
Friday night starter Yianni Pavlopoulos was lost long before the rains arrived, sustaining what looked to be a right leg injury. Given the health issues Ohio State has dealt with on the mound this season, it was not a welcome sight.
Nebraska held a 5-2 lead when the delay came thanks in large part to a pair of runs batted in by Scott Schreiber, a first-team All-Big Ten selection a season ago who is making a push for conference player of the year this year. Pavlopoulos was charged with two runs in his one inning of work before exiting two batters into the second.
Sophomore Ryan Feltner was pressed into emergency relief duty, and had his struggles, giving up three runs on five hits in three innings before the game was shut down.
When play resumed, Nebraska sent right-hander Matt Waldron to the mound, replacing Jake Hohensee, who had yielded two runs in three innings of work. When the game was suspended, Hohensee had not yet allowed a hit. That changed in a hurry.
Ohio State sent 10 men to the plate in the bottom of the fifth against Waldron and scored six times to claim an 8-5 lead. The Buckeyes broke up the no-hit bid with a one-out single by Connor Pohl, which was followed by a single from Shea Murray. Two batters later, Tre’ Gantt walked to load the bases with two outs, and Washington followed him with an RBI single to right, cutting the deficit to 5-3.
With the bases still loaded, Canzone stepped up and ripped a double to the right-center gap which scored three. He would come plateward himself on a Cherry double, and Bo Coolen would single in Cherry as well to complete the assault.
The Huskers got one back in the seventh, with Schreiber doubling and ultimately scoring on a Pohl throwing error on a ground ball that should have ended the inning. But Ohio State answered in the home half of the frame, with Washington notching a leadoff triple and Cherry delivering another RBI base hit.
Nebraska made things interesting in the ninth against Kinker. The first three runners all reached base after being down in the count 0-2, and the Huskers took advantage, scoring a run and bringing the go-ahead run to the plate. But the Buckeye closer buckled down and closed things out for the upset victory.
The bat magic ran out on Ohio State in the day’s second contest, as Nebraska evened the series with a 3-1 win. The Buckeyes, for the most part, just couldn’t get the clutch hit with men on base, going 3-for-16 in those situations.
One of the few bright spots offensively for the scarlet and gray was Canzone extending his hitting streak to eight games. He’s now threatening the 10-game streak he had earlier in the season, which stands as the longest on the team.
Washington had another RBI and Murray and Jacob Barnwell each had a multi-hit effort as well.
The pitching performance of Curlis in game one was held over by Ohio State starter Jake Post in game two. The redshirt senior righty was on his game, but had one tough inning and took the loss. Post went six, giving up three runs on six hits, issuing one walk and striking out six.
Equally good was Nebraska right-hander Derek Burkamper, who matched Post zero for zero on the scoreboard. The senior threw 5.2 innings of shutout ball, scattering six hits, walking one, and striking out four, picking up the win.
The game was scoreless until the sixth, when the Huskers finally broke through. After two quick groundouts, Post allowed a pair of singles and a walk to load the bases, then uncorked a wild pitch, bringing home the game’s first run. Luis Alvarado followed with a double to the gap in left-center, bringing home two more and giving Nebraska a 3-0 advantage.
The Buckeyes threatened in the bottom of the sixth to no avail, and in the bottom of the seventh, when they finally cashed in. Murray led off with a single and pinch hitter Zach Ratcliff drew a walk before departing for a pinch runner. After Gantt laid down a sacrifice bunt to move both runners into scoring position, Washington came through once again, lining a single just out of reach of the leaping Nebraska shortstop into left to plate Murray.
But Huskers’ reliever Robbie Palkert was able to escape without further damage, striking out Canzone and getting Cherry to bounce back to the pitcher’s mound. A golden opportunity went by the wayside for Ohio State.
Relievers Kyle Michalik, Joe Stoll, and Thomas Waning combined to toss three scoreless innings out of the bullpen, but the Buckeyes couldn’t break through again at the plate. Nebraska closer Chad Luensmann retired the side in the bottom of the ninth for the save.
The final game of the series is slated for a 12:05 p.m. ET first pitch on Sunday.