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Ohio State baseball eliminated from NCAA tournament in wild 13-inning game

The Buckeyes’ season is over after being walked off by UNC Wilmington.

Ohio State baseball

In what has to qualify as the most dramatic game of the NCAA tournament thus far in 2018, Ohio State baseball was eliminated by UNC Wilmington, 4-3, in a marathon six-hour, 13-inning affair in Greenville. The game featured 24 hits, 401 pitches thrown, 24 runners left on base, three comebacks by the Seahawks, two potential game-winning runs thrown out at the plate, and one 99-minute weather delay.

Things were ultimately decided when Kep Brown delivered a bases loaded single to score Zachary Bridges. It was the eighth walk-off win for UNCW this season, which is by far the most in the country.

The two sides were knotted 2-2 from the fourth inning until the 11th, when Ohio State’s Noah West delivered a seeing-eye single through the left side of the infield to plate Dillon Dingler for the go-ahead run. That’s when things started getting a little crazy.

Senior relief ace Seth Kinker— a day after surrendering the lead and taking the loss against South Carolina— couldn’t close things out. The second-team All-American yielded a game-tying single to Mason Berne in the bottom half of the frame, and nearly gave up the walk-off win for UNCW right then and there, but was saved when Dingler threw out the potential winning-run at the plate.

There was a level of familiarity between the two clubs after they met back in March, though a lot baseball has been played since then. In those two games in Wilmington, Ohio State jumped to early leads and outscored the Seahawks 16-4 en route to picking up a pair of victories. This contest definitely did not follow that script.

Things started innocently enough. Junior Ryan Feltner took the ball at the outset for the Buckeyes in what was likely his final collegiate start. The Walsh Jesuit High School product— who is expected to be selected in the first half of the Major League Baseball draft next week— turned in a workmanlike start for his squad, tossing six innings of two-run ball.

UNCW sent freshman Gage Herring to the mound, and the right-hander struggled with his command from the get-go. Walking four and giving up a hit, Herring lasted just an inning and a third before giving way to the bullpen.

The Buckeyes opened the scoring in the top of the second, taking advantage of Herring’s command issues and using a little small ball. Dillon Dingler and Jacob Barnwell walked to open the frame, and after a Bo Coolen sacrifice bunt and Noah West walk, the bases were loaded. Dominic Canzone came through with an RBI groundout for the early 1-0 lead.

But the Seahawks bullpen has been a strength all season, and senior Austin Warren came on to snuff out the threat. The righty tossed 4.2 innings, allowing just a run on two hits, striking out four.

UNCW came back against Feltner in the bottom half of the inning to tie the game using the same small-ball strategy. A leadoff single, sacrifice bunt, and wild pitch put Kep Brown on third with one down. David Sheaffer followed with a sharp single to right to tie the game, and an infield single and a walk loaded the bases for the Seahawks with one out.

Things could have unraveled further from there, but Feltner beared down. The big righty got a strikeout and weak groundout to escape the jam. UNCW’s patient approach at the plate drove Feltner’s pitch count up, but he battled through and ended his day after 104 pitches with his club still in the ballgame.

Barnwell gave Ohio State the lead back in the top of the fourth with a wall-scraping home run down the left field line.

It was the second longball of the season for the junior signal caller, but the Seahawks answered right back. Putting together a two-out rally in the bottom of the inning, Ryan Jeffers delivered an RBI single to tie the game at two.

That’s how things would would stand through the 10th, with the bats on both sides going quiet. UNCW would threaten in the seventh against senior Austin Woodby, stringing together three straight singles. But a seed thrown from left field by Tyler Cowles nailed the potential go-ahead run at the plate to keep things knotted.

After West’s go-ahead hit and Berne’s answer in the 11th, UNCW had an opportunity to walk things off against Kinker. But Luke Gesell, a pitcher serving as a pinch runner, became the second man gunned down at the plate. It was a controversial play, with Gesell looking on replay as if he may have beaten the throw. But with no replay available to the umpires, the call stood.

Then the weather hit, and the game was sent into a lengthy delay.

When play resumed, the Seahawks finally broke the tie in the bottom of the 13th. Buckeye seniors Yianni Pavlopoulos and Kyle Michalik were unable to slow the Seahawks’ relentless offensive attack, which tallied 19 hits on the day. A pair of walks followed by a pair of singles brought the winning run across.

Ohio State closes the season with a 36-24 record, an excellent turnaround from last year. But, for the Buckeyes and their fans, the distant promise of fall ball in September is now all there is to look forward to.