In a game which featured two weather delays, Ohio State ran into a loaded Louisville team with an offensive and pitching combination capable of producing streaks of lightning and thunder of its own.
By Chris Webb for Press Pros Magazine
LOUISVILLE, KY – Finishing with a 13-4 run in Big Ten play, before going 5-1 in the conference tournament, the Buckeyes had their way against Big Ten peers to spur the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth in seven years. But in facing the tournament’s No. 2 national seed in Louisville of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Ohio State fell short against a stacked club.
Suffering a 15-3 defeat, Ohio State (44-19-1) falls to the loser’s bracket of the Louisville Regional and will face Wright State (45-16) with their season on the line, Sunday at noon.
“A tough game for us,” Ohio State head coach Greg Beals said. “Playing against a tough opponent, we didn’t execute pitches the way we have been and got ourselves in a hole. Give their hitting approach and their offensive talent credit.”
From the start, the power from the ACC, had the upper-hand.
Taking the ball for Louisville in the second game of the regional was sophomore left-hander Brendan McKay. A third-team Louisville Slugger All-American, with a fastball up to 95 miles-per-hour with a tight low-80s breaking pitch, McKay, struck out the first three Buckeyes of the game.
“With his 12-6 curveball, he was lights out,” Ohio State co-captain and leadoff batter Nick Sergakis said. “He was getting us to chase, he was locating in and out with his fastball at 95; he just threw well today.”
Striking out the side, McKay wasn’t done sending the majority of the 4,058 in attendance in Jim Patterson Stadium into a tizzy in the first inning.
Following a full count, two -out walk to put a runner, McKay sent a 1-2 offering from Ohio State starter John Havird off of the stadium’s scoreboard in right field. In front 2-0 after one inning, Louisville never looked back as McKay had little trouble with the OSU lineup.
Countering Havird, a southpaw who relies on spotting pitches to compliment a mid-80s fastball, McKay’s second spot in the Cardinal rotation is on the heels of Kyle Funkhouser. A fellow flamethrower with a mid-90s fastball, Funkhouser is a senior right-hander who was selected 35th overall in last June’s MLB Draft, before electing to return for a final year.
For Louisville, there is not a conference-mandated restriction on oversigning, the term used to describe the offering of athletic scholarships over what ultimately a team may extend, as long as a team is ultimately settles at the mandated 11.7 scholarship limit. With such roster flexibility, the Cardinals can bring in the best talent throughout the country to fill out it’s 35-man roster, including four players from Ohio, then have the cream rise to coach and develop.
Rules in the Big Ten limit the over-extending of athletic aid to two scholarships, and players on scholarship cannot be cut, or have their scholarship non-renewed for athletic reasons.
“I don’t know enough about their recruiting and what they have available,” Beals said on facing a lineup deeper than a typical Big Ten outfit. “I don’t want to take anything away from (Louisville coach) Dan (McDonnell) and their staff and what the program has done. You can’t.
“They’re the number two seed in this tournament for a reason and they showed up and took care of business.”
Where Ohio State has All-American outfielder Ronnie Dawson, who scouts expect to be drafted within the top three rounds of next week’s MLB Draft, the first three hitters in the Cardinals lineup, Corey Ray, Will Smith and Nick Solak are expected to be drafted within the first two rounds, Ray a potential first overall pick.
As good as the top of the Cardinal attack is, the four through seven starting batters carried the game, going nine-for-17 with eight runs scored and nine RBI. Before Louisville could finish a second at-bat, the ability to compile a roster littered with elite talent was evident.
In the bottom of the third, an eight-hit, eight-run inning broke open the contest. The talented Cardinals picked up two singles, two doubles and a home run in succession to chase the Havird before an out was recorded. The Cardinal outburst was the most runs Ohio State allowed in an inning, surpassing seven allowed to UNLV in a March 13, 8-7 defeat.
“John was able to get into decent counts but wasn’t able to execute to finish guys,” Beals said. “We couldn’t find a way to get out of that inning.”
Batting cleanup, McKay went two-for-four with a home run and three RBI. Batting seventh, senior first baseman Danny Rosenbaum connected for two-run home runs in consecutive at-bats over the third and fourth innings, drawing praise from Beals. “He’s a good baseball player, regardless if he’s a high-round draft pick or not, he’s just a ball player.”
With the support of the relentless offense he helped guide, McKay held Ohio State to three hits over five and two-third scoreless innings, exiting after a 51-minute delay in the top of the sixth.
The Buckeyes ended the shutout with a pinch-hit, two-run home run, pulled down the right field line by center fielder Daulton Mosbarger in the top of the eighth. Mosbarger added an RBI-single in the ninth, to be responsible for all three Buckeyes runs. Junior left-hander Joe Stoll pitched four innings of one-run relief, holding the Cards to three hits.
The NCAA Tournament, like the Big Ten Tournament the Buckeyes won, is a double-elimination format, forcing the season-on-the-line rematch with the Raiders. With a victory 7-6 victory over Wright State on Friday under their belt, to win the regional, Ohio State must win twice on Sunday, then come back and defeat Louisville on Monday.
But after winning four elimination games within 30 hours a week ago, though the Buckeyes are in a less-than-ideal position, it’s familiar one in which they thrived.
“It’s familiar ground,” co-captain Jalen Washington said “Probably not the route we prefer to take, but the games over. We have to get ready for Wright State tomorrow at noon and we’re geared up for that and however many games it takes.”