On senior day at Bill Davis Stadium in Columbus on Saturday, the Ohio State baseball team recognized five players (Jalen Washington, Shea Murray, Zach Ratcliff, Jake Post, and Joe Stoll) who were putting the finishing touches on their careers in scarlet and gray. The Buckeyes ended the year with a 4-3 loss to Indiana, but showed grit and tenacity to the last out.
In his final collegiate at-bat, Washington, the team’s co-captain the past two seasons, went out with a bang. His two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth closed the deficit to just one.
Ohio State put the tying run in scoring position later in the eighth, and again in the ninth, but as was so often the case this season, struggled to come up with a key hit when one was needed. The team went just 1-for-9 with men in scoring position.
Washington went 3-for-4 at the plate, scored a run, drove in two runs, and threw out a runner trying to steal behind the dish. Tre’ Gantt added a 2-for-4 day and scored a pair of runs and Brady Cherry had a two-hit game as well.
Seth Kinker was on the bump making his third start of the season despite being the Buckeyes’ closer, which speaks to the injuries the pitching staff has endured. He kept his squad within striking distance, allowing four runs on nine hits in 6.2 innings, but took the loss.
The Buckeyes concluded the 2017 campaign with a record of 22-34, 8-16 in Big Ten play, and the satisfaction, at the very least, of having survived a disappointing, at times tumultuous season on the field.
One need only look at the day’s starting lineup to understand the transitional nature of this season for the Buckeyes. Of the nine players, only three were in the same spot as opening day (Dominic Canzone in right field, Bo Coolen at first base, and Ratcliff as designated hitter). Washington, the opening day shortstop, was catching, Gantt had shifted from center field to left, and Cherry, who started the year at third base, found himself at second. Two true freshmen in Noah West and Connor Pohl played themselves into starting spots.
The Hoosiers came right out of the gates to take a 1-0 lead in the top of the first against Kinker. Tony Butler led off the game with a single and came all the way around to score on a double to the right-center gap by Logan Sowers.
Ohio State fought right back to tie the game in the home half of the first, though, getting a leadoff double from Gantt and bunt single by Washington to put runners on the corners. Canzone followed with a sacrifice fly to foul ground in left field, bringing home Gantt.
The early back and forth continued in the second, as a two-out single by Jeremy Houston scored Matt Gorski to give Indiana back the lead. The Buckeyes were threatening in the bottom half of the frame after a double by Murray, but the game was delayed due to lightning in the area.
That delay would last just over an hour, and when play resumed, Coolen walked, but West grounded into a fielder’s choice on a nice play by Houston at shortstop, stranding two runners.
Kinker and Indiana starter Cal Krueger both settled in after that, with zeroes being tossed up on the board on both sides in the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth innings. But in the seventh, the Hoosiers added an insurance run, as a Matt Lloyd double scored Houston to make it a 3-1 ballgame.
After Kinker got Sowers to pop up for the second out of the inning, Ohio State went to Stoll out of the bullpen. The southpaw uncorked a wild pitch that advanced Lloyd to third base, then another that allowed him to score and push IU’s advantage to 4-1. That extra run would come back to haunt them.
With nine outs left to record to win the day and the series, the Hoosiers went to the bullpen. Krueger had given them six innings of one-run ball and was replaced by lefty B.J. Sabol. Sabol set the Buckeyes down in order in the seventh, but made things interesting in the eighth, allowing a single to Gantt ahead of Washington’s homer.
Lloyd, who pulls double duty as Indiana’s closer came on after that. A Cherry double later in the eighth and an error allowing Murray aboard in the ninth put the tying run in scoring position twice, but Lloyd escaped both times.
There is no tomorrow for this Ohio State team, no trip to the Big Ten tournament to defend their title. The players, coaching staff, and fans are now left with questions and disappointments, of course, but should also feel a sense of pride that the Buckeyes never threw in the towel, never gave in to adversity, and never wavered from the culture of the program. That, along with glimpses of potential shown by the team’s young players, is a reason to have a little optimism that better days lay ahead in the future.