Ohio State baseball had a golden opportunity staring it right in the eyes on Sunday. After splitting two games with Nebraska the day before and looking every bit the Huskers’ equals, the Buckeyes had a chance to notch an upset series victory against one of the Big Ten’s best teams.
As has been the case so often this season, though, Ohio State found itself behind big early and didn’t quite have the offense to fight back, ultimately falling 11-9 despite a feverish late comeback attempt.
Trailing 11-1 in the bottom of the eighth, the Buckeyes scored eight runs, trimming the deficit to two. Against lefty Nate Fisher, an RBI double by Jalen Washington scored Noah West, and Brady Cherry roped a single back up the middle to bring Washington home. Two batters later, a single by Bo Coolen scored Cherry and Dominic Canzone, and prompted the Huskers to bring in their closer, Chad Luensmann.
Shea Murray greeted him with a two-run double, scoring Coolen and Jacob Barnwell, and Washington followed that with another hit, this time a two-run single, making it an 11-9 ballgame.
But the huge deficit was just too much to overcome. Luis Alvarado worked around a leadoff single by Cherry to toss a scoreless ninth and secure the save.
Ohio State now stands 5-10 in conference play, and with just nine games left on the Big Ten schedule, has seen its conference tournament hopes diminish to nearly nothing.
Cherry had a big day at the plate, going 4-for-5 with a pair of runs batted in, while Washington had a pair of hits and three RBIs of his own. Canzone also extended his hitting streak to nine games as every Buckeye starter had at least one hit.
Had the Ohio State bats gotten going earlier, or the pitching staff been able to hold Nebraska’s offense down early, it could have been a much different outcome.
Reece Calvert, who had looked much more comfortable his last two starts after massive struggles early in the season, got pounded. Nebraska scored five runs against the big right-hander in 1.2 innings. Calvert allowed three hits, walked two, and hit a pair of batters as the Huskers buried the scarlet and gray under a barrage of runs early.
Nebraska scored three runs off Calvert in the first and two more in the second. Ben Miller accounted for three of those with a two-run single and a bases loaded hit by pitch.
Seth Kinker came out of the bullpen to relieve Calvert and settled things down. The junior side-armer put up zeroes in the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth innings.
Meanwhile, the Huskers sent lefty Jake Meyers to the bump, and he cruised through the Ohio State lineup. Pulling double duty as the leadoff man, Meyers tossed seven innings of one-run ball, scattering six hits, and went 1-for-3 at the plate with a pair of runs scored.
The Buckeyes finally broke through in the bottom of the sixth thanks to a Cherry triple over the center fielder’s head, scoring Tre’ Gantt and making it a 5-1 ballgame. But things would unravel in the next inning.
Joe Stoll relieved Kinker in the seventh and walked the first two batters he faced, throwing only two strikes and forcing Ohio State to go to the bullpen yet again. Kyle Michalik entered and couldn’t keep Nebraska from scoring. An error at short by Washington loaded the bases, and a hit by pitch brought a run home for the second time in the game.
Jake Schleppenbach followed that with a single to right-center that brought two more runs home and pushed the Huskers’ advantage to 8-1. Thomas Waning would relieve Michalik and yield a two-run double to Scott Schreiber.
Schleppenbach added an RBI double in the eighth against Waning, and the rout was seemingly on. The Buckeyes didn’t give up, which is a moral victory of sorts, but moral victories mean nothing in the standings.
Things only get tougher from here on out for Ohio State. Consensus national top-ten Texas Tech will visit Columbus this week for a pair of midweek games on Tuesday and Wednesday before the Buckeyes hit the road to play nationally-ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor next weekend.