Suspect pitching, poor defense, and anemic hitting led to a big letdown against Utah in the Buckeyes’ opening game in the Pac 12-Big Ten challenge.
Surprise, Az – The euphoria that came with the Ohio State Buckeyes’ opening wins last weekend over Kansas State and Delaware was amended Thursday night. At least for the moment.
The Utah Utes (3-1) saw to that with the day’s second impressive demonstration of PAC-12 baseball in a 12-0 win over the Buckeyes in front of 257 shivering onlookers at Surprise Stadium. To add some irony, after flying 2,000 miles to play baseball in warm weather, it was actually warmer back in Columbus.
And if you’re surprised over such a display of baseball from of all places…Utah?
Well don’t be. They actually won the PAC 12 tournament title last year, so if you’re thinking in terms of the Great Salt Lake or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, think in broader terms. Think in terms of … opportunistic. The Utes took advantage of every opportunity extended by the Ohio State Buckeyes – suspect pitching, poor defense, and anemic hitting.
Playing in the desert for the first time in 20 years, the Buckeyes’ offense and sense of swag that came with last weekend’s big comeback win over Delaware simply shriveled at the offerings of Utah starting pitcher Gary Rebar, who gave up three hits in 5 2/3rds innings before yielding to an equally effective bullpen.
And in addition, there’s suddenly the reality of being on a three-game losing streak after the strong statement of opening wins a week ago over Kansas State and Delaware.
Starter Adam Niemeyer struggled with command, for sure. Routinely pitching from behind in the count, the Utah lineup, that made a surgical procedure out of each at bat, simply ambushed every conciliatory fastball he threw.
But he got precious little help in terms of defensive support, as well, yielding an unearned run in the bottom of the first inning; and a second inning error by shortstop Jalen Washington was pivotal in the Utes’ stringing together a 6-run inning that for all intents put the game out of reach.
After righting himself to pitch a scoreless third, Niemeyer saw his night end after giving up a fourth inning two-run bomb to the opposite field by Utah right fielder Josh Rose. His line: four innings, eight runs, four earned, and a pair of strikeouts.
Connor Curlis took over in the fifth and finished the game, yielding four runs on seven hits.
The issue of poor defense contributed ill-timed errors that extended innings and further stressed the pitching.
And anemic hitting? The Buckeyes hit very few balls hard on their way to five hits, two by Jalen Washington and a ringing double by catcher Jacob Barnwell.
But neither pitching, defense, or hitting were the point of coach Greg Beals’ post-game comments. More than any of the above…he was most upset by the effort.
“What concerned me the most was our ability to show up play the way we’re capable of playing,” said Beals. “We didn’t have the proper energy, the proper approach, or the proper readiness on game day. We had an incredible energy yesterday in BP (batting practice), and today we had none of that. We’ve got to find a way to get comfortable on game day because we didn’t play that way today.”
His point was made manifest by a pair of first inning base-running blunders by center fielder Tre’ Gantt and Washington. Both reached first base on base hits…and both were summarily picked off by Rebar. Beals was not pleased.
“The pickoffs were a result of trying to force things,” he stressed. “We try to run without seeing enough information from the pitcher. That’s forcing the game, instead of letting the game come to us.”
And hoping for another strong starting effort from Niemeyer around which to build, it came to naught as the Buckeyes ineffectual start spread like an oil spill.
“Nemo wasn’t as good as he can be,” said Beals. “But we didn’t support him a lot, either. You had the errors in the first and second innings that fueled those innings for them. You have to support your pitching staff better than we did today.”
Utah, who proved they have more than great music and saltwater, won the game with 12 runs on 16 hits and played flawlessly in the field.
The Buckeyes, who fall to 2-3, couldn’t score on their 5 hits, and as Beals stressed, helped fuel the fire with those 4 glaring errors.
They don’t have long to regroup, or even think about it. OSU is back on the field Friday at 1 pm against Oregon State, who thumped Nebraska 10-1 earlier in the day.
“Frankly, it’s just what we need,” concluded Beals. “We need a team like Oregon State to peak our effort and fire us up. We’ll be playing one of the best pre-season teams in the country and it’s a great opportunity for us. It’ll be a great test.”
Highlights: There weren’t many, but the diving catch in the sixth inning by converted pitcher Shea Murray was another indication of his overall value to this team. For while he didn’t have a hit in three official at bats, his best at bat yielded a hard out with a head-high line drive at Utes shortstop Kyle Hoffman.