It was a veritable buffet of baseball, both good and bad. But in the end the Buckeyes could not overcome the bad, falling in a twin bill, and a series sweep, to Minnesota.
Columbus – Less than 24 hours earlier pitcher Jake Post had made a prophetic statement when he said, “It’s just a matter of time until we put things together. We did it last year, and I think we’ll do it again.”
What he meant was, on days when the Buckeyes have hit this year…their pitching has been suspect. On days when they’ve gotten good pitching…their hitting has been suspect. Post remembers last year, when they did put it together.
“That was a team that just found a way to win games,” said Greg Beals after last Sunday’s twin-bill at Xavier. “So far, this team has been one to find ways not to win games.”
Unfortunately that trend carried over into this weekend, as Minnesota used a frightening hitting attack to pound out 17 hits in the first game – 13 hits in the nightcap – and win both games of Saturday’s double-header 15-5, and 6-5.
Coming off Friday’s disappointing opening loss, a game in which the Bucks scored in the fifth to tie the game, but did little afterwards, they atoned on Saturday, scoring a single run in the bottom when Tre Gantt and Jacob Barnwell both reached base..and Gantt scored on a groundout RBI by Noah McGowan.
They added another run in the bottom of the third on second baseman Noah West’s first collegiate homer, supporting what seemed to be a fine starting effort by lefthander Connor Curlis.
But Curlis ran into trouble of his own in the top of the fourth, when the Buckeyes lapsed into some old defensive habits…and catcher Cole McDevitt punctuated things with a long three-run homer to center field to take a 5-2 lead.
The Buckeyes came back to add a pair of runs in their half of the inning on a home run by Tyler Cowles; and Jacob Barnwell went yard an inning later for his first home run as a Buckeyes.
But Curlis could not withstand the prosperity of the support, surrendering the baseball to reliever Reece Calvert in the fifth. Calvert would have a rather forgettable day, giving up seven earned runs in 3.2 innings of work as Minnesota tacked on three in the fifth and seven in the top of the eighth to put the game out of question.
Austin Woodby followed Calvert to the mound and worked the final 1.1 innings, giving up a run on a hit.
“Connor Curlis went out there and had a good three innings for us,” said Greg Beals. “But then he just kinda’ disappeared. After that it just got away from us. Our bullpen is a little banged up right now because four of the pitchers we had on our original traveling roster were unavailable to us this weekend. We need to be healthier on the mound so we can keep ourselves in ballgames.
“Offensively, we’re always searching for ways to be better,” he continued. But pausing to consider the obvious, he added, “But there wasn’t a lot going on out there in the first game for the Buckeyes.”
But the problems of the Buckeyes frankly went beyond the issues of pitching and offensive lapses. From the fifth inning on it was a buffet of bad baseball, errors, a passed ball, a couple of wild pitches, and frankly, some lack of focus. On a beautiful March afternoon where the temperatures reached the mid-60s, beer sales at Bill Davis, a first in 2017, were brisk – the perfect complement to the buffet.
The Buckeyes finished with just five hits – three of them home runs!
In the second game they got off to another positive start, scoring in the bottom of the first to take a one run lead. Sophomore starter Ryan Feltner came out throwing missiles, but gave up a single run to tie in the third…and a pair of runs in the top of the fourth when the Gophers took a 3-1 lead, and a lead they would never relinquish. Feltner fell into what’ become a very familiar rut. He elevated his fastball in the strike zone, and the Minnesota hitters made him pay.
“He (Feltner) has a great fastball with good natural movement,” said Beals for the second consecutive week. But 92, 93 miles per hour when you elevate the fastball gets hit at this level of baseball. 89 at the bottom of the zone can live and survive, and he’s just got to find the mechanism that will allow him to pitch more consistently at the bottom of the zone.”
Minnesota maintained their lead into the fifth, when Feltner left in favor of Yianni Pavlopoulos, and extended their margin with a pair of runs on two hits over his 2.1 innings of work.
But the Buckeyes would not go away, adding single runs of their own in the fourth, the fifth and the sixth, a fact that pleased Beals.
“Yeah, in the second game I really liked how our guys competed. We had good energy, we were locked in, and we were competing really well. Yianni came in an gave up a couple of runs, but he ate up some of those middle innings and gave us a chance.”
They had a chance because unlike the first game, the Buckeyes hit shot after shot off Gophers starter Toby Anderson (6.2 innings ) and a trio of relievers over the final 2 1/3 innings. But as often as not, they were right at someone’s glove…or the Minnesota outfielders ran them down deep in the alleys.
To punctuate the frustration, the Bucks loaded the bases, trailing 6-4 in the bottom of the eighth, and scored on a sac fly to deep center by Domini Canzone (who had three hits for the game). But with runners at second and third and two out…Jacob Barnwell took a called third strike for the final out.
An inning later leadoff hitter Jalen Washington put down a perfect bunt between the mound and third base in an attempt to get on base and set the table for the three, four, and hopefully five hitters behind him. Only, Gopher third baseman Jordan Kozicky did his best Brooks Robinson imitation, picking the ball up with his bare hand and throwing to first in one motion to nip Washington by a half step.
With one out McGowan hit a shot that center fielder Jordan Smith ran down on the warning track in dead center; and Zach Ratcliff made the game’s final out on a line drive to the alley in right center that Smith ran down again, making an impressive backhand catch.
Beals gave credit where credit was obviously due.
“We hit a lot of balls hard, and right at ’em. I thought we hit a lot of balls really well, but I don’t believe in moral victories. It was just one of those games where right down the final out…you’re wondering what you’ve got to do? Jalen’s bunt and the guy makes an absolutely big league play at third base, and then a fly ball to the warning track and the lineout.
“Give them credit, they played well, but we’ve got to have some guys in that bullpen step up and eat up some quality innings for us,” he added, summarizing his concerns. “We’ve just got to stick to the process; I think guys are pressing a little bit, and when you’re not winning game you’ve got to fight that.”
Reliever Seth Kinker added his own spin to a long and frustrating day.
“We talk about it every day, about being called in from the bullpen to command a situation,” said the junior side-armer. “And a big part of that is confidence. I think right now there’s some guys a little rattled when they go in from a lack of confidence. I’ve been told from the first day I got here that you have to pitch with confidence, so that confidence has to come back and the only way you get that is by pitching.”
Kinker, himself, pitched a near-perfect eighth and ninth, giving up but a single hit.
6 runs on 13 hits and 3 Gopher errors was the tale of the tape of the second game; while the Buckeyes came a run short with 5 runs on 9 hits and an error of their own.
They get a chance to embellish that confidence with a Tuesday date with Ohio U. this week at Bill Davis Stadium, before Purdue comes calling next weekend. As of this Saturday the Boilermakers were 12-8 for the season, and a 2-0 winner at Iowa on Friday.
Notes: Minnesota’s sweep marked the first time since 1990 that the Gophers had swept a 3-game series from the Buckeyes, who fall now to 9-14 for the year and 0-3 in the conference. Offensive stars for the day were Brady Cherry, who had another 2 hits in the second game, Tyler Cowles, who went 2 for 3 with a homer in the first game, Jake Barnwell, who 2 hits on the day, but hit the ball hard frequently, West with his first collegiate homer, Jalen Washington with 2 hits in the first game, and Dominic Canzone who had 3 of Ohio State’s 9 hits in the nightcap.