A storybook season for Ohio State adds another chapter, with the help of some two-out magic in the Louisville regional.
By Chris Webb for Press Pros
Louisville – After squandering a 5-0 lead, a resilient Ohio State (44-18-1) rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth to defeat Wright State (44-16) in walk-off fashion, in the first game of the NCAA Tournament Louisville Regional, 7-6.
“Give our boys credit, they kept playing, they kept fighting,” head coach Greg Beals said following Ohio State’s first NCAA Tournament game in seven years. “I have a lot of respect for Wright State, Coach Greg Lovelady and their fight.”
Though the game ended with a bang, Ohio State’s 14th win in their last 16 contests started quietly as each team’s first six batters retired in order. But a crooked number in the bottom of the third staked Ohio State to the game’s first lead.
After a pair of groundouts, third baseman Nick Sergakis lined a single up the middle. On the next pitch, shortstop Craig Nennig reached base on a bunt Wright State starter Jesse Scholtens was unable to field and fire to first in time. On heels of being named a Louisville Slugger All-American, left fielder Ronnie Dawson lined his team-leading 24th double down the left field line, plating Sergakis and Nennig.
“We had good at-bats in the first couple of innings, they didn’t produce, but everyone saw five or six pitches” said senior co-captain Sergakis. “Once a guy makes a mistake, one guys jumps on him and then there’s your shot. We had about four or five guys jump on him.”
Second baseman Troy Kuhn was hit by a pitch in the next at-bat, in front of a second double to left field, this off the bat of center fielder Troy Montgomery, landed between three converging Raiders to double Ohio State’s advantage. Montgomery scored the final run of the inning on a single to center by Jacob Bosiokvoic.
But quickly the Raiders responded.
In the top of the fourth, with runners at first and second, a fielding error by Bosiokovic prevented an ending-inning double play, allowing WSU’s first run to score. Issuing a walk to the next batter, Ohio State starter Tanner Tully exchanged a run for an out, inducing a run scoring grounder to Nennig, before handling a comeback to escape the jam.
The junior left-hander was unable to minimize the damage his next time on the mound.
A leadoff walk followed by two singles loaded the bases loaded. On a 1-2 pitch, Tully hit right fielder Peyton Burdick to bring in WSU’s third run. Facing center fielder Ryan Fucci, Wright State’s leading run producer with 59 RBI on the year, Tully was unable to find the put away pitch. Ahead in the count 1-2, Tully surrendered a line-hugging double to the left field corner, clearing the bases and putting Wright State in front, 6-5.
Providing three innings of relief in Ohio State’s Big Ten Tournament championship game, Tully wasn’t at his all-Big Ten level on a short week.
“Tanner’s been our Friday guy for three years,” Beals said on the decision to start Tully. “On Sunday, he did only what we felt like he was able to do and come back.
“It was a push for him to come back, but I’ve gone to him every Friday and he said he wanted the ball. (In the fifth) I probably left him in an at-bat too long.”
Right-handed reliever Seth Kinker struck out the first batter he faced, before Fucci advanced to third on a fly out to Montgomery in center. With pinch-hitter Brad Macciocchi at the plate, Fucci attempted to catch Kinker off guard with a steal of home, before the right-hander threw to the plate in time to end the inning.
The 6-5 score held over the next three innings, although Ohio State was in prime position to change it in the eighth.
Dragging a bunt down the first base line, Montgomery collected his fourth hit of the game to open the eighth, off new Raider pitcher Caleb Sampen. Back-to-back strikeouts kept the tying run three bases away, before DH L Grant Davis drove a single to right center, moving Montgomery to third. Advancing to second on the throw, Davis put the go-ahead run in scoring position. Swinging on the first pitch of his at-bat, Ryan Leffel skied a Sampen fastball into the glove of Wright State catcher Sean Murphy to end the inning.
With three fly outs, right-hander Kyle Michalik retired the Raiders in order in the ninth, to quickly bring the Bucks back to the plate. Kinker, left-hander Michael Horejsei and Michalik combined for five innings of one-hit relief to keep the Bucks in the game.
Drawing a leadoff walk, Sergakis moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Nennig. With a 2-2 count, Dawson ripped a single past first baseman Gabe Snyder. Beals sending him all of the way, Sergakis safely slid into home just before Murphy was able to apply the tag on a throw from defensive replacement Adrian Marquez.
“I knew there was a 99% chance of Beals sending me,” Sergakis said of reading the single off Dawson’s bat. “I was looking to score right off the bat, running around third I was just thinking of how to slide.”
With a double under his belt, and 13 home runs on the year, Dawson credit’s his coaches of keeping him in the moment, able to hit a game-tying single.
“It’s just listening to coaches, not trying to do too much,” Dawson said of his three-RBI game. “The first at-bat, I was trying to do too much; it’s the first game of a regional, this is a big stage. But I tried to relax, have fun and hit the ball hard.”
A two-out intentional walk to Montgomery was followed by a walk drawn by Bosiokovic to load the bases On a 2-2 fastball, co-captain catcher Jalen Washington lined a Sampen fastball to the center field wall to send the Buckeyes to walk-off victory.
“We just preach flatline,” Washington said. “There’s not one big opportunity, each opportunity is as big as the rest. We’ve been able to come up in key situations by keeping that flatline approach at the plate.”
The mental toughness, resiliency and perseverance the Buckeyes continue to display is more than just words for Beals.
“The competitiveness of the team, the never quit, the next guy up, they all sound cliché but it’s stuff we’ve been saying to each other,” the sixth-year head coach said “Every many in the clubhouse, every in the dugout has bought into the culture and behavior that we’ve trained ourselves on.”