Hopes of a second Big Ten tournament title in three seasons ended for Ohio State baseball on Saturday in Omaha. The Buckeyes were eliminated by top-seeded Minnesota, 8-1, due in large part to one sloppy inning.
Minnesota came in as one of the hottest teams in all of college baseball, ranked 11th in the country by both Baseball America and D1 Baseball, a squad with seven All-Big Ten honorees, including three on the first-team. This is a strong, balanced club that will almost assuredly be hosting an NCAA regional.
The Gophers had some struggles getting hits with runners on base early in the contest, but their long lineup proved too much, wearing down Ohio State and using a six-run sixth inning to cruise to victory. Buckeye pitchers gave up four hits and walked four in that inning, with an error also contributing to the troubles.
Ohio State entered the game sitting at No. 34 in the country in RPI, which should put the team comfortably into an NCAA regional. The Buckeyes jumped six spots after their win against Michigan on Friday, and two places total in the past week. The loss to the Gophers should not result in too large of a hit to that positioning.
With the three members of the weekend rotation having already been spent, head coach Greg Beals turned to redshirt senior swingman Yianni Pavlopoulos on the bump. The righty made his fifth start of the year, and 17th appearance overall. The last time the Homer Glen, Illinois, product stepped onto the mound at TD Ameritrade Park, he picked up the win in relief as the Buckeyes captured the tournament title in 2016.
This time Pavlopoulos walked a fine line, fighting command issues but escaping several jams. The traffic on the bases caught up to him, though, as he departed with the bases loaded and nobody out in the fourth inning. One of those runners would come around to score, giving Pavlopoulos a line of one run allowed in 3-plus innings of work, yielding five hits and walking three while striking out a pair in a no decision.
Minnesota countered with right-hander Patrick Fredricksen on the mound, the Big Ten’s Pitcher and Freshman of the Year. The 6-foot-6 Gig Harbor, Washington, native, who went 8-0 with a 1.80 earned run average during the regular season, performed as advertised, giving up just one run on two hits, with two walks, a hit batsman, and one strikeout while tossing six innings for the win.
Ohio State left fielder Tyler Cowles continued his quest for All-Tournament team accolades, hitting a home run and walking twice. For the tourney as whole, the senior went 5-for-13 at the plate, with three doubles, one longball, three walks, and six runs batted in.
The recurring theme for Ohio State this week has been grabbing the early lead, and today’s game was no different. With two down in the bottom of the first, Cowles pulled his hands in on a hanging breaking ball on the inner half of the plate and launched a long drive down the left field line. The ball connected with the foul pole, and the Buckeyes jumped out to a 1-0 advantage.
Unfortunately for the Scarlet and Gray, though, it would be all the scoring the team would muster.
As mentioned, the Gophers put constant pressure on Ohio State’s pitching and defense, and finally broke through in the fourth. After Pavlopoulos loaded the bases with nobody out, a sacrifice fly by Toby Hanson tied the game. Freshman Griffan Smith snuffed out the threat without further damage, getting another fly ball out and a strikeout to end the inning.
Fredricksen settled in after the first inning homer, stifling the Buckeyes’ bats by allowing just four baserunners the rest of the way. Pitching to contact and utilizing his sinker-slider mix to keep the ball predominantly on the ground, he needed a mere 77 pitches to get through six frames.
In the sixth, Minnesota blew things open. After stranding nine runners through the first five innings, a walk to Jordan Kozicky and a triple by Hanson over the head of Dillon Dingler in center field made it a 2-1 ballgame. Luke Petteren followed with a single to plate Hanson and end Smith’s appearance after two innings of work.
Kyle Michalik relieved and couldn’t stop the bleeding. A fielder’s choice and a pair of walks loaded the bases, and a single by Cole McDevitt plated two more runs, making it a 5-1 Gopher advantage. Beals was forced to go back to the bullpen, but Andrew Magno came on and issued a walk to reload the bases, and after yet another pitching change, Curtiss Irving yielded a two-run single to Kozicky.
Alex Boxwell was thrown out at third by Cowles on the play, but the damage was done. A thirty-one minute, six-run inning made it 7-1 and effectively ended Ohio State’s chances.
The Gophers added another run in the seventh on an RBI groundout by Terrin Vavra, rounding out the 8-1 win, as Jackson Rose and Jeff Fasching shut the door with three scoreless innings combined out of the bullpen. Minnesota, which has now won eight in a row and 12 of its last 13, advanced to the tournament final on Sunday with its 40th win of 2018.
Ohio State will now await its NCAA tournament fate. The field of 64 will be announced on Monday at 12 p.m. ET live on ESPNU.