After Friday night’s series-opening loss to Iowa, Ohio State head coach Greg Beals lamented a host of wounds the team inflicted upon itself. “You would think we would be beyond this at this point in the season, and we should be,” Beals told Press Pros Magazine. “But I think what’s happening with our ballclub is that (the mistakes and failures) are building instead of getting better. It’s compounding. We’re playing with the fear of failure instead of just trying to win, putting ourselves in a position to win.”
On a sun-drenched Saturday at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City, the Buckeyes put that fear of failure squarely out of mind for five and a half innings before the old familiar issues crept back up.
With a commanding 8-1 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, two crucial Brady Cherry errors leading to five unearned runs, six runs total, let Iowa back into the game. It was more of the same for an Ohio State team that has too often this season beat themselves.
The club hung tough, though, and a Shea Murray solo home run, Tre’ Gantt RBI double, and Connor Pohl two-run homer sparked a four-run ninth inning to help deliver a 12-7 victory over the hosting Hawkeyes.
Ohio State improved to 7-13 in Big Ten play, and now has an opportunity on Sunday to win its second conference series of the season and first since early April.
Murray was 3-for-4 on the day, driving in two and scoring two, and the homer was perhaps his biggest hit of the whole season. Gantt went 4-for-5, reaching base safely five times, scoring twice and driving in two as well.
Beals handed the ball to sophomore Connor Curlis, perhaps the team’s most vital arm this season alongside Seth Kinker because of his versatility. In his seventh start and 19th appearance, the southpaw gave his team what was needed, yielding four runs, just one earned, on six hits in six innings of work, striking out four while walking just two. Curlis earned his team-high fourth win of the year.
Kinker tossed the final 2.1 innings to earn his sixth save of the season.
Sophomore second baseman Noah West drove in three runs and Cherry, Zach Ratcliff, and Jacob Barnwell also added RBIs, as the scarlet and gray racked up 19 hits and went 6-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
The degree of difficulty in getting the W was well beyond where it should have been, but a win is a win, and showed perseverance the team has largely lacked in 2017.
As was the case in Friday night’s lidlifter, Ohio State put a run on the board first in this one. Gantt worked a one-out walk against Iowa starter Ryan Erickson, then came all the way around to score when Cherry doubled down the right field line.
Unlike game one, though, the Buckeyes expanded on their lead. After Curlis completed his third shutout inning to begin the ballgame, a Ratcliff single, Barnwell hit by pitch, and Bo Coolen walk loaded the bases with one out. Murray delivered a run-scoring single to right and West sent a shot off the right-center wall to plate two more, giving Ohio State a 4-0 advantage.
The squad wasn’t done, either. After Jalen Washington struck out, Gantt delivered his second hit of the ballgame, bringing Murray plateward and pushing the lead out to five. Erickson’s day was done after that inning, comprising five runs on seven hits in four innings of work in the losing effort.
The momentum was clearly in the Buckeyes’ favor, but in the bottom half of the inning, Adams stole some of it back, crushing a 2-0 fastball for a deep leadoff homer to left.
Ohio State got that run back in the top of the fifth, with the bottom of the order once again coming through. Ratcliff and Coolen each singled and Barnwell walked, loading the bases with two outs against Hawkeye reliever Drake Robison. West then put together a quality at-bat that concluded with another free pass, forcing Ratcliff home to make it 6-1.
Another two runs came home in the sixth, the third straight scoring inning for the Buckeyes. Gantt’s third hit of the day led things off and was followed by a single from Dominic Canzone, and Cherry bunted the pair into scoring position. An infield single by Ratcliff and a double off the bat of Barnwell that short-hopped the wall in right-center got them home extending the lead to seven.
Curlis kept churning through the Iowa lineup until the bottom of the sixth, when things started to unravel. A throwing error by Cherry at third on a play that should have ended the inning led to the Hawkeyes getting back in the game. A three-run homer by Matt Hoeg cut the lead to 8-4.
The Ohio State bullpen was charged with preserving the lead over the past three innings, but it wasn’t easy. Another Cherry throwing error led to a pair of runs off Kyle Michalik in the seventh, trimming the Buckeye advantage to just two.
It got worse, as Adam Niemeyer and Kinker both had to be brought of the bullpen before the frame was over. An RBI double by Grant Judkins made it an 8-7 game before Kinker got an inning-ending groundout.
Murray’s solo home run leading off the ninth gave Ohio State a two-run pad, and the Gantt RBI double and Pohl two-run dinger proved more than enough insurance for Kinker, who set down the heart of the Iowa order in the ninth to close things out.
The rubber match of the series is scheduled to get underway at 2:05 p.m. ET on Sunday.