After coughing one up on Friday, and a Saturday spanking, the Buckeyes regrouped to play with ‘resolve’, winning the final game in their weekend series with Florida Gulf Coast.
FORT MEYERS, Fla.—After two agonizing losses here this weekend, Ohio State salvaged something from this three-game series with 24th ranked Florida Gulf Coast winning a 5-4 squeaker Sunday afternoon at Swanson Stadium.
“I’m really pleased with the outcome today,” Coach Greg Beals said. “With a young ballclub, all the thoughts and feelings they can have after two tough losses like we had here, our guys come out and play really, really good baseball, and survive a ninth inning when it looked like doubt could creep in and become a factor. To do all that is really pleasing. We showed our resolve today.”
The loss ended FGCU’s 10-game winning streak and was just their third in 17 games this season.
The Buckeyes, now 6-and-8, went to the ninth with a four-run lead and eight solid innings of play behind them. Closer Yianni Pavlopoulos came on to finish but dug himself into a position far too familiar with Friday night’s disastrous finish.
With three runs in, the tying run on first and the winning run at the plate, Pavlopoulos gathered himself and got out of the inning on two routine ground balls.
“I just tried to stay focused on the hitter and keep my pitches down,” Pavlopoulos said. “I didn’t think about the tying run or the winning run, anything like that. I didn’t think about Friday night. I just tried to think about each pitch and what I needed to do at that point.”
Pavlopoulos did the job and it came in his first outing since Friday night, when he and set-up man Seth Kinker were tagged for a six-run ninth in a 10-9 loss.
“You can’t let that enter your mind,” Pavlopoulos said. “It was just good to get this win. We played a good game today, and even though we only won one game, it’s like Coach said, we out-played these guys in 17 innings this weekend and they are ranked 24th in the country. We still feel like we can play with anybody.”
The Buckeyes did play well Sunday. Starter Adam Niemeyer, staked to a three-run lead in the first, gave Ohio State five innings of one-run ball, and Kyle Michalik and Seth Kinker followed with three shutout innings.
“It was nice to have that lead going in,” Niemeyer said. “I just tried to give us the kind of start we needed.”
The early cushion came quickly. Tre’ Gantt (3-for-4 with two RBI) opened the game with a single to left and scored on Jalen Washington’s triple to left center. Two outs later, Bo Coolen hammered a home run to center and it was 3-0.
“With ‘Nemo’ it’s not rocket science,” Beals said. “It’s old-school baseball. He’s just keeps the fastball down in the strike zone and works both sides of the plate…The three-run lead (in the first) allowed us to settle into the game. That was very important and it showed resolve.”
Florida Gulf Coast picked up a run in the third on Cory Fehribach’s homer to right center, one of three hits allowed by Niemeyer.
Ohio State scratched out a run in the fifth, largely the result of an Eagles throwing error, and added a fifth run in the seventh when Shea Murray, moved to third on Jacob Barnwell’s sac bunt and scored on Gantt’s bunt single and another throwing error.
The game came down to the ninth, and as FGCU ripped-off three straight doubles and Washington added an error on a ground ball, nerves began to jsurface.
“Oh, yeah,” Coolen said. “I mean I had faith in Yianni, but you are thinking, ‘Ah, crap.’ But he did the job and we get one from these guys.”
That’s what counted, and it counted for more than it would seem.
“We learned from this weekend,” Gantt said. “We had two tough losses but we learned we got to trust in ourselves, who we are and stick to that.”
There was reason for doubt. Friday night’s loss was bad. OSU blew that one. Saturday’s was a loss of a different kind.
Getting Hammered On Saturday
Saturday’s game was a disappointment of another kind. OSU ran into a superior pitcher—pro prospect Kutter Crawford, who checked the Buckeye bats in the on-deck circle—and were otherwise clobbered, 13-1.
The Buckeyes managed just three hits against Crawford in his six innings. Overall, 10 Buckeyes reached base and nine were left stranded. Crawford (4-0, 1.04) gave up one unearned run and struck out eight. He faced 25 hitters and threw 17 first pitch strikes.
Ohio State’s lone run was the result of Bo Coolen’s lead-off walk, a wild pitch and an error by shortstop Julio Gonzalez.
“Crawford is not someone who will light you up,” Beals said. “At first glance, you appreciate him. He uses all his pitches. He commands his fastball really well. For a strike out guy (38 Ks in 26 innings), he uses his fastball an awful lot.
“His fastball is 88-to-91. It’s not like it’s an electric fastball, but he spots it really, really well. He knows what he’s doing and he executes very well…The (pro) scouts may want more from his fastball, but he’s pitching at an awfully high level.”
Those who followed Crawford weren’t too shabby either. Peyton Gray and Sebastian Gruszecki combined to work three innings, allowing two hits and did not walk a man.
On the other side of the slate, Florida Gulf Coast went to work on Ryan Feltner and those who followed him to the mound: Connor Curlis, Reece Calvert and Gavin Lyon.
Led by Matt Reardon, the Eagles turned 15 hits into 13 runs. Reardon, FGCU’s second baseman, was 4-for-6 with eight RBI, two doubles and a triple. He singled to drive in a run in the Eagles’ three-run second, hit a three-run double in the third, giving Florida Gulf Coast a 6-1 lead, doubled to drive in a run in the seventh off Connor Curlis and doubled in the eighth against Gavin Lyon to score three more.
“He’s the real deal,” Beals said.
If Reardon wasn’t enough, shortstop Julio Gonzalez was 3-for-6 with two doubles and a pair of RBI.
Feltner struck out a career high seven, but his performance added to existing concerns. With the loss, the sophomore right-hander is now 0-3.
In short, he’s been as spotty this season as he was impressive a year ago.
“He’s a very talented young man, but he is not commanding his fastball very well right now,” Beals said. “He’s up in the zone. His breaking stuff is adequate. His fastball (location) is what’s been getting him in trouble…It’s not mechanical. I think it’s a mental matter. He’s trying to throw the ball rather than pitch.”
Equally troubling for Beals, was his team’s response after falling behind early in the game.
“Entering the game I thought our frame of mind was pretty solid,” Beals said. “But then we go down early (6-1 after the third) and that kinda knocked us back on our heels…
“I don’t think the fight went away. The thing I’m concerned about is self-doubt creeping in. That’s what we have to fight. That’s what I talked to the guys about post-game. We need to dig down right now and not be trying something new. We have to rely on our belief system and stick with who we are.
“It’s not time to doubt ourselves,” Beals continued. “It’s way to early in the year and we have way too much potential.”
Of course, with 17 newcomers on the team—either JUCO transfers or freshman, including five new starters, that’s more easily said than done. In tough times, a young player is prone to press on the field and fret away from it.
“No doubt,” Beals said. “That’s my challenge.”