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Ohio State baseball falls apart late, drops NCAA tournament opener

The Buckeyes bullpen had a day to forget as they fell to South Carolina, 8-3.

Ohio State baseball

Just a day after being named a second-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, Ohio State relief ace Seth Kinker experienced what was perhaps the worst inning of his career in scarlet and gray. Trying to protect a 2-0 lead in the seventh inning, the right-hander surrendered five runs before he could retire the side against South Carolina, as the No. 3 seed Buckeyes fell 8-3 in their opening NCAA tournament game in Greenville.

Coming into the day, Kinker had allowed just 10 earned runs all season. But a three-run homer by center fielder Danny Blair and a two-run single by second baseman Justin Row started the rout, as the second-seeded Gamecocks scored all eight of their runs in their final two at-bats to grab the victory.

Ohio State squandered several scoring opportunities throughout the game, leaving 11 runners on base and stranding the bases loaded twice. The disappointing performance by the team overshadowed freshman Dillon Dingler’s best game of the season. The catcher-turned-center fielder went 2-for-4 with a home run, a double, and two runs batted in.

Starter Connor Curlis did his job on the bump and then some for Ohio State, tossing six shutout innings. The southpaw yielded just four hits and two walks while striking out four earning a no-decision.

On a sunny, humid 90-degree afternoon at Clark-LeClair Stadium, Ohio State made South Carolina starter Adam Hill labor. Working long at-bats, the right-hander’s pitch count climbed quickly, and he would be gone before recording an out in the fifth.

As they did throughout the Big Ten tournament last week, the Buckeyes got on the scoreboard first in this one. With one away in the top of the second, Dingler unloaded on a fastball in the middle of the plate, sending it screaming over the left field wall for his fourth home run of the year.

Ohio State would have opportunities again in the fourth and fifth frames, but came away empty. In both innings, the Buckeyes loaded the bases but failed to deliver the clutch hit needed to blow things open.

Meanwhile, Curlis was showing the grit of an ace on the mound. South Carolina had runners in scoring position in the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth innings, but the Findlay native executed pitches when he needed to to escape the jams.

The seventh inning is where things turned. Ohio State took a 2-0 lead when Dingler delivered a two-out double down the left field line to score Connor Pohl. With Kinker coming on looking for his 16th save of the season, the Buckeyes had to feel confident.

But the senior sidearmer just didn’t have his best stuff. A pair of singles and a sacrifice bunt gave the Gamecocks two on with one out, and that’s when Blair went yard.

A single and a botched force play at second base set up Row to knock in two more, and the air was taken out of the Ohio State dugout.

Freshman lefty Griffan Smith and senior right-hander Kyle Michalik would follow Kinker and give up another three runs, adding to the bullpen’s woes on the afternoon.

Junior righty Graham Lawson set down the Buckeyes in the eighth, but an error, a single, and a Pohl sacrifice fly led to one last run in the ninth. It was far too little, far too late.

What had at one point looked like a banner day for the boys from Columbus swiftly ended in defeat. Ohio State will have little time to recover, though. The Buckeyes will play an elimination game on Saturday at noon against the loser of the matchup between top seed and host East Carolina and fourth-seeded UNC Wilmington.