Needing a Big Ten win in the worst way, the Buckeyes picked the worst night possible to get it…a blowout over Purdue.
Columbus – Here was the setup as Ohio State took the field Friday night for the opening game of their weekend series with Purdue.
A steady drizzle was falling, saturating the field turf surface of Bill Davis Stadium
An even steadier wind was blowing a near gale out of the northwest, estimated at 20 miles per hour – and confirmed with the help of weather.com.
The temperature was hovering around 50 degrees, but by the third inning it had plummeted with a little chill factor in the 30s.
Needing a Big Ten win over the visiting Boilermakers (13-12, 1-3 in league play), the 10-14 Ohio State Buckeyes could not have picked a worse night to do it. When starting pitcher Yianni Pavlopoulos took the mound he bowed his neck, head down into the mist, looking a bit like the old sea captain on the Gorton fish sticks package. The term…degree of difficulty…was an understatement.
It started badly for Pavlopoulos. He hit the lead off batter, and two pitches later third baseman Brady Cherry kicked a sac bunt attempt, putting runners on first and second with none out. But believe it or not, the gritty Greek rolled a 4-6-3 double play on the next hitter, Nick Delasandro, and center fielder Skyler Hunter struck out to end the inning. No runs, no problem.
But Purdue starter Tanner Andrews wasn’t so lucky. After retiring Tre Gantt and Jacob Barnwell routinely on ground balls, Jalen Washington lined a single. Noah McGowan looped a base hit into right. Andrews hit Zach Ratcliff in the shoulder to load the bases…and Brady Cherry lined a base hit to left to drive Washington. And a moment later McGowan and Ratcliff both scored on a wild pitch that ended up down beyond the first base dugout.
Through 24 games it might have been the biggest three runs of the season, given the circumstances…all of the circumstances. It was the perfect opener, an eventual 13-2 win, for what’s hoped to be…a perfect weekend.
There was plenty upon which to build.
The Bucks tacked on a run in the fourth – three more in the fourth on a pair of hits by Tyler Cowles and freshman Dominic Canzone (who’s on a torrid streak at the plate), a walk to Gantt, a wild pitch, an error…and well, you get the picture.
An inning later the beat rolled on, fueled by a triple out of the wrong barrel by McGowan, and RBI single by Ratcliff, an error that put Cherry on base, a sac fly by Cowles, and suddenly it’s 9-0 OSU, Pavlopoulos is out of the game after five really good innings…and all was well.
Reece Calvert pitched a scoreless sixth and seventh, giving up a pair of hits.
Connor Curlis came on for the final two innings and collected six outs and four strikeouts, but gave up a couple of earned runs.
The defense was tight – Zach McGowan fighting the wind and rain to make a catch from his knees in left; and Tre’ Gantt made a circus catch sliding in center while avoiding McGowan. There were double plays at timely moments, punctuating timely pitches.
They swung with authority, even late-inning substitutes. Washington, Cherry, Ratcliff, Barnwell, Cowles…and Andrew Fishel, Bo Coolen, and Casey Demko off the bench as the Bucks added four beat-down runs in the bottom of the eighth.
In the end…they got exactly what they needed, and when they needed it most.
“Absolutely,” agreed Greg Beals. “There was a lot of things good about tonight’s ballgame, but to get the start from Yianni that we got…”, he paused to reflect, “…for him to execute the fastball the way he did tonight was exceptional. It’s a cold night and a hard night to ‘feel’ the touch pitches, the curve and slider. We just asked him to command the fastball in the bottom of the zone and he was really good.
“It was good, too, because we scored and then we went out and put up zeros in their half of the inning. That’s really deflating to a team when you don’t let them back in. We were on ’em tonight, and the season hasn’t been that way too often for us. Tonight it was all Buckeyes.”
And to his point, it WAS a horrible night for Purdue, who aided and abetted the Buckeyes cause with six wild pitches, five errors, a balk, and the worst possible starting effort from Tanner Andrews, who entered the game with a 4-1 record and a 3.5 ERA through the first 22 games.
In short, Ohio State embraced the challenge, the weather, and the while he didn’t admit that the wolves were at the door for the fact of needing a conference win, one could not escape that reality, either.
“I told ’em in the pre-game huddle that we had to embrace the weather,” said Beals. “There’s nothing we can do about that. But to the point about pressure to win, no one puts more pressure on us than we put on ourselves.
“A team and a coach all need nights like this where you can take a deep breath and relax. There wasn’t much wiggle room relative to the standings, so we needed to get on the winning way in the league.”
Yes, there was wind, and rain, but there was an attitude of embracing the challenge, as well. And none bigger…than the example of Yianni Pavlopoulos and his five innings of 2-hit, shutout baseball…three strikeouts and no walks.
“When you play in Ohio it’s hardly ever going to be ideal baseball weather,” said ‘Pav’ to post-game writers. “You have to block it out and control what you can control. I didn’t start very good, hitting the first batter and the error that put two on and none out. But the double play after that was HUGE. But I was able after that to take things pitch by pitch and batter by batter. I was able to simply things and just make pitches.
“At the beginning I wasn’t commanding anything, I had no breaking pitch and the fastball was all that I had the first three innings. But when the team comes out and gives you (seven) runs to work with it makes it a lot easier to just go out and pound the zone with the fastball. The goal on a night like this is to get quick outs.”
The happy tale of the tape for OSU: 13 runs on 10 hits, and they committed just two errors.
On the frowning side of the scoreboard…Purdue had 2 runs on 6 hits and committed five errors.
Now the challenge is to follow up, to build on Friday’s win. They tee it up again on Saturday at 6 pm for game two of the series, to be televised on the Big Ten Network.
Notes: Freshman Dominic Canzone continues to make the most of his recent playing time, with another hit Friday and was on base twice. Likewise, Noah West had a hit, Jacob Barnwell had maybe the game’s biggest hit with his RBI single in the third to bust things open. Noah McGowan was on base four times, with a single, a triple and a pair of walks. Ryan Feltner gets the start on Saturday, replacing for a day, the spot vacated by senior Jake Post who’s dealing with back spasms.