Every conference game the Ohio State baseball team plays from here on out is the most important game of the season. Each is a must-win. That may sound dramatic, but entering the weekend at 1-5 in the Big Ten, any hopes the Buckeyes have of defending their conference tournament title depend on playing near-flawless baseball the rest of the way.
Unfortunately, the scarlet and gray did not play to that script on Saturday afternoon, falling on the road to Penn State by a score of 6-2. Ohio State is now 1-6 in the Big Ten, and will need a doubleheader sweep on Sunday to win the series.
The Buckeyes were once again plagued by an anemic offensive effort, mustering just four hits and going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. It’s an all too familiar story for the club in 2017.
A lone bright spot was freshman Dominic Canzone, who hit his first career home run and extended his hitting streak to seven games.
Sal Biasi came out firing early for the Nittany Lions, striking out the first four batters he faced, and never faltered from there. The right-hander went 6.2 innings, yielding just an unearned run on three hits, walking three and striking out nine.
Ohio State starter Yianni Pavlopoulos had a strong first inning as well, but trouble commanding the bottom of the strike zone plagued him as it has all season. He gave up back-to-back singles to start off the second, then compounded his difficulties with an offline throw to first on a sacrifice bunt attempt by the Lions’ Ryan Sloniger. Christian Helsel scored the first run of the game on the play as a result.
An infield hit scored a second run and a walk then loaded the bases with nobody out. But Pavlopoulos buckled down and retired three straight to escape without any further damage being done.
The struggles would continue in the third, though, as Helsel and Braxton Giavedoni each collected their second hit of the game to lead things off. Sloniger brought them both home with a triple to the left-center gap, making it a 4-0 Penn State advantage.
The Buckeyes were the beneficiaries of a miscue themselves in finally getting on the board in the top of the fourth. Nittany Lions’ center fielder Jordan Bowersox dropped a ball at the wall in right-center off the bat of Noah McGowan, resulting in a three-base error. McGowan came plateward on a groundout by Dominic Canzone two batters later.
Pavlopoulos would exit the game with one down in the sixth, giving way to Curtiss Irving after yielding five runs, four earned, on seven hits. He struck out a season-high seven while walking only one, but took the loss in the ballgame.
Irving couldn’t shut the door on the Penn State bats in the frame. Bowersox delivered a two-out single with runners on the corners to score Alex Malinsky, and a pickoff attempt gone awry plated Logan Goodnight, and Ohio State was suddenly staring at a five-run deficit.
Biasi gave way to the bullpen in the seventh, and the combination of Taylor Lehman and Nick Distasio shut the door on any comeback efforts the Buckeyes may have been entertaining, save for Canzone’s dinger in the bottom of the ninth.
To salvage the weekend, Ohio State will need to sweep Sunday’s doubleheader. Game one gets underway at 11:00 a.m. ET from picturesque Medlar Field, with game two starting around 3:00. The second tilt will be available to stream live on BTN2Go.