The Buckeyes did a metamorphosis, atoning for Thursday’s ugly loss with a most sparking turnaround Friday, handing Oregon State it’s first loss of the year.
Surprise, Arizona – Halfway through their four-game series in the PAC 12 – Big Ten challenge this weekend those who’ve watched the 2017 edition of the Ohio State Buckeyes can probably make the case…that this is a team that’s going to play “young” this year.
And truthfully, it’s hard not to when you’re trying to replace nearly a dozen seniors and four drafted underclassmen from the 2016 roster. As the pundits say when they have nothing better to say…it is what it is.
But…what a difference a day makes!
As lethargic, as sloppy, and as disappointing as Friday night’s 12-0 loss to Utah could be characterized, youth was served Friday as the Buckeyes completely reversed themselves in the span of 24 hours. With a dominant performance Friday afternoon at Surprise Stadium they took down previously unbeaten Oregon State (5-1), 6-1.
And if pitching success is 80% of baseball, then starter Yianni Pavlopoulus was 67% of the reason why. The Junior righthanded closer-turned-starter dazzled through six innings of work and 85 pitches, limiting the Beavers to just 2 hits.
“It was just a great start for us,” said a relieved coach Greg Beals, who must have had a sleepless night after Thursday’s mixture of mistakes.
“Yianni pounded the strike zone. He got ahead in the counts, he was able to use his breaking ball, but the action on his fastball was good. He was able to roll a bunch of ground balls and with the tilt of his breaking ball he just gave us a great outing.”
But what he did was set a tone of complete reversal in the way this team changed its fortunes in the short span of 24 hours. Riding a three-game losing streak, and staring at one of the pre-season top teams in the country on Friday, the Buckeyes did a lot – a lot – of things right.
The pitching, six innings from Pavlopoulus and three innings of tight relief by Seth Kinker, was strong.
The hitting, 13 hits, and a game-breaking home run by sophomore Brady Cherry in the fifth inning, was timely.
The defense, with a circus catch from centerfielder Tre’ Gantt in the first inning, was sturdy, rolling a pair of double plays to eradicate would-be Oregon State rallies.
And balance…six different Buckeyes, Gantt, Noah McGowan, Tyler Cowles, Zach Ratcliff, Cherry, and catcher Jacob Barnwell all collected two hits each, twelve of the Buckeyes’ total of 13 on the day.
But Pavlopoulus, an affable guy with a sneaky fastball that twice hit 90 miles per hour on the scoreboard radar gun, was the centerpiece of the feast. Staked to a 1-run lead in the top of the first when Tre’ Gantt doubled and scored, he made that lead stand until Zach Ratcliff and Cherry hit the quinella in the top of the fifth.
Ratcliff singled…and Cherry picked on a hanging breaking ball from Oregon State starter Bryce Fehmel and hit a towering drive over the left field fence and into the bullpen. Big for the fact of the game, yes, but equally big for Cherry, who’s put in a year of swing work to tap into his awesome power potential. All that was necessary…was more contact.
“Brady’s working really hard,” added Beals. “Doing a lot of work to get himself as comfortable and relaxed as possible. He has a great desire to be successful, and that can be a fault sometimes. But that was a great lesson for him – a man on second and no one out – and he’s trying to drive the ball to right field, gets a bad breaking ball and hits it out of the park.
“It was a big confidence boost for me,” admitted Cherry. “Especially against a team like this one. I got a pitch up to hit and I put a good swing on it. It’s awesome to get it in that situation, help my teammates out, and good for momentum, especially after a game like last night. Today helps show what this team’s made of.”
They would add a run in the seventh on a pair of hit batsmen and a single…and a pair of insurance runs in the ninth to secure the three inning save work of reliever Seth Kinker, who yielded Oregon’s single run on a walk and a pair of hits in the bottom of the seventh.
But the finish, while punctuating the complete reversal of form, was academic. Pavlopoulus had given his team the lift, and the performance it needed…when it needed it most!
“I was able to throw strike one,” he said. “That’s the most important pitch, especially for a starter to come out in the first inning and set the tone. My breaking ball got sharper as the game went on because you get a better feel for it.
“But the catch that Tre’ made in the first inning was big, too. Tre’s great in center field and the defense was really the turning point in the game. We got the ground balls when we needed them, we turned the double plays when we needed them, and the catch he made in the bottom of the first set the tone for the game as much as any of it.”
They won it on 6 runs, 12 hits, and played error-free baseball in 2 hours, 31 minutes and 60 sun-splashed degrees.
Oregon State lost it with 1 run, on just 5 hits for the game, and committed 3 errors
They resume their weekend series with a rematch Saturday evening against the same Utah team that set the table for Saturday’s reversal. Fifth-year senior Jake Post is the probable starter, and the Buckeyes would dearly love to have a ‘mulligan’.
“We’re the same team, but it’s unbelievable, isn’t it?” Beals concluded before boarding the bus for the team hotel.
“As frustrated as I was last night, not being productive offensively, not being able to make plays, and all the little things missing, today was the flip side of that. We got a great start on the mound, we made the plays today, and this was really good Ohio State baseball today.”