It went 15 innings and the Buckeyes had their chances. But for the fact of outstanding pitching and want of a timely hit…OSU dropped the Illinois series opener in heart-breaking fashion.
Champaign, Illinois – The Ohio State Buckeyes dove headlong into the cauldron of what’s become Big Ten baseball on the road for them in 2016, dropping a depressing 1-0 decision in 15 innings Friday night to the Illinois Fighting Illini.
As happened to them at Maryland just two weeks ago, they ran into another pitching buzzsaw, this time in the person of Illinois starter Cody Sedlock, who went the first 10 2/3 innings, allowing just 5 hits while striking out 14 and walking just one.
Sedlock (4-1 entering the game) was good, yes. But his excellence negated an equally impressive performance by Buckeye starter Tanner Tully, who pitched the first nine innings allowing 7 hits while striking out 6 and walking one.
It was, as OSU coach Greg Beals would characterize it afterwards, a game of pitching and great defense – by both teams – but for the sake of defense, in particular by the Buckeyes. Twice centerfielder Troy Montgomery sprinted for the warning track to haul in long fly balls with over-the-shoulder catches. And third baseman Nick Sergakis, who’s quickly becoming the nightly Houdini highlight for his play at the hot corner, speared a shot headed for left field in the fifth inning to throw out a would-be Illini base runner.
But unfortunately the Buckeyes simply could not score, squandering what precious few opportunities they had with strikeouts…14 against Sedlock, who punished the entire lineup with a 90-plus fastball and a wicked slider; and 9 more against relievers J.D. Nielsen, Nick Blackburn, and eventual winner Charlie Naso.
In total, the Buckeyes struck out 23 times, by far a season’s high, and at least five hitters in the lineup struck out twice or more. Second baseman Troy Kuhn and shortstop Craig Nennig were particularly vulnerable, each striking out four times!
In the meantime Tully and three Buckeye relievers, Seth Kinker, Michael Horejsei, Yianni Pavlopoulos held serve, limiting the Illini hitters to just nine hits through 14 innings while striking out nine. Tulley had his best outing of the season with pinpoint control, adding and subtracting, moving the ball in and out. In a word…he pitched!
Kyle Michalik became the hard-luck victim in the bottom of the 15th when he allowed a pair of singles that ultimately advanced into scoring position with two outs…and right fielder Jack Yalowitz scored the winning run on a cross-up between Michalik and catcher Jalen Washington.
Washington was expecting a breaking ball, Michalik threw a fastball…wild pitch to the screen, Yalowitz scored, and the game was over!
It was heart-breaking…discouraging…and reminiscent of the opener of the the Maryland series where the Buckeyes squandered another good performance by Tanner Tully for lack of offensive support.
They say good pitching stops good hitting, and credit Sedlock and the Illini bullpen Friday for doing just that.
“It was a game of great pitching and good defense,” said Beals, sitting in a dark dugout afterwards while Friday night fireworks rattled about in the background, the irony of ironies.
“We got great pitching from everyone tonight, we played good defense, it was a really good ballgame. It was chilly, the wind was blowing in and it wasn’t a very offensive day. It came down to a mistake…getting crossed up between Jalen and Kyle at the end of the ballgame. We called a slider, he threw a fastball, and that was the difference in the game.”
As 15 innings was a season’s high in terms of innings played, so too was 23 strikeouts, an ignominious high that left Beals frustrated and unhappy.
“I didn’t like the strikeouts…way too many times,” he added. “And too many times in critical situations. Now their starter was good, he had great stuff, but we knew from our scouting report what he was going to do. We didn’t hit the fastballs that we got and we couldn’t stay off the late slider. We chased too much and that’s a prescription for striking out.
“Give their pitchers credit for making pitches, but we need to be tougher than that offensively. We had chances to put a couple of runs across and we didn’t do that.”
Like at Maryland, the cauldron continues Saturday at 3 pm when the Buckeyes face a critical game two of the series. A quality opponent, against quality pitching, with Big Ten consequences on the line…the similarities are familiar.
“I told our guys that we played tough tonight, and they did, too, but we have to be ready to do it again tomorrow.
“We came here to win a series and that’s still on the table.”
That’s true, but Illinois came damn close to jerking the table cloth out from under the plates on Friday. They won it with that single run on 11 hits and didn’t commit an error.
Ohio State lost it with no runs, on five hits, had one error…and struck out 23 times!
The two teams resume the series on Saturday at 3 pm with lefthander John Havird on the mound for the Buckeyes.
Greg Beals mentioned the term prescription in his post-game comments, and a short night after a long, disappointing night of baseball is usually tough medicine.
He’ll find out soon enough…if an acute hiccup on Friday turns into a weekend epidemic.