The Buckeyes took a breath of mountain air and came up reinvigorated, sweeping Sunday’s double-header at Penn State and taking a badly-needed series from the Nittany Lions.
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA — Ohio State needed this. The Buckeyes needed it for the conference standings. More important, they needed it for themselves, their outlook and the confidence sweeping a double-header can produce.
On a brilliant Sunday afternoon, Ohio State came off the mat to defeat Penn State, 5-2, on the strength of a four-run ninth in the opener, and rode that momentum to make it a sweep in the series finale, dropping Penn State, 11-2.
“This was Buckeye baseball,” said senior Jake Post. “This is the way we can play. It’s the way we need to play.”
Sunday’s sweep marked a departure from the up-and-down, on-again, off-again play that has characterized the 2017 season thus far, but Coach Greg Beals has never expressed doubt about this club, and Sunday’s effort only heightened his beliefs.
“It has a lot to do with that believin’ feeling,” Beals said. “We’ve been striving for that for some time. We’ve been looking for that ‘it’ factor that keeps you believing you can win games.
“To win a doubleheader is tough and to get the win like we did in Game One put a lot of momentum in our dugout…Overall, it’s a big day for us and something we really needed as a program.”
Ohio State came to Happy Valley 1-5 in conference play and 12-17 overall. They left 3-5 in the Big Ten and 14-18 overall with Michigan State coming up next weekend in East Lansing.
“Getting these two wins and taking this series was big for us,” said Brady Cherry, who keyed the ninth inning rally in Sunday’s first game. “But this is an important week coming up, real important. Hopefully, we can take some of this with us.”
Ohio State went into the ninth inning of the first game down, 2-1, and this game had the look of too many before it. They get a runner or two on but can’t get them in, can’t capitalize.
The Bucks had scoring opportunities in the fourth, fifth seventh and eighth innings. Prior to the ninth inning rally, the lone exception came in the second. With two down, Jacob Barnwell doubled down the left field line, and senior Zach Ratcliff brought him home with a single up the middle.
Entering the ninth, Ohio State had stranded nine base runners. But then, things changed.
Bo Coolen opened the ninth with a solo home run on a full-count pitch. That tied it at 2-2. One out later, Jalen Washington who was moved into the leadoff spot, drew a walk and moved up on a wild pitch. Tre’ Gantt drew a walk to put runners at first and second, bringing Cherry to the plate.
Cherry, who’s had his struggles both last year and this season, ripped a triple to right field, clearing the bases and giving OSU a 4-2 lead. Next came Noah McGowan, who lifted a fly ball to left, scoring Cherry.
Beals went to his closer, Seth Kinker, for the ninth, and it was business as usual. Kinker’s only flaw—a two out walk, but he closed it out getting a routine infield pop-up, and Ohio State had a much needed win, and one that launched the Bucks into the series finale.
“We’ve worked very hard,” Cherry said, “and we felt pretty good going into the second game.”
It was tied 2-2 after two innings, but Ohio State kept tacking on and stringing hits together: three runs scored in the fourth and sixth; two in the eighth and the final run in the ninth.
The meat of the order—hitters two through six—were 9-for-19, that’s Gantt (2-for-4), Cherry (2-for-6 and three RBI), Noah McGowan (2-for-3, two RBI), Shea Murray (1-for-1, who appeared as a pinch hitter) and Dominick Canzone (2-for-5, two RBI).
The Buckeyes took advantage of nine walks and four Penn State errors. They capitalized. They looked like a different team, more aggressive—more at ease.
“I think,” Post said, “that we’ve been playing too tight, concentrating on executing too much. Today, we were able to relax.”
“I believe in this team,” Beals said. “I don’t want to say it too much, but I really do. There is talent on this team. We can make a run this season and get something going. That’s what we needed something to help that ‘believin’ feeling. Maybe this is it.
“I’ve said it a lot. These guys have to believe in themselves and develop some confidence. Winning the first game like we did really helps that and to carry it over—obviously—that helps.”
There was more to like beyond the competitiveness of at-bats and scoring runs. The Buckeyes played 18 innings of errorless ball, backing a pitching alignment that was tweaked and delivered. Post opened the first game and after five innings of two-run ball, gave way to Joey Stoll, who gave OSU two shutout innings. Kyle Michalik worked the eighth and Kinker handled the ninth.
Reece Calvert started game two, allowing two runs in four innings. Then came Ryan Feltner, normally a starter, for three innings, followed by freshman Jake Vance, who put up two shutout innings.
“We’re trying to get these guys in the right spot, where they can succeed,” Beals said. “We really wanted to pitch Feltner out of the bullpen to kind of change his M.O….Ryan is a really talented, gifted young man. He just hasn’t been sharp in his starts. So, I just feel like it was necessary for him to change it up a little bit—find himself, maybe.”
Possibly, Feltner wasn’t alone. Possibly, OSU found something, as well.
“As a coaching staff, we’ve been banging our heads trying to find the right things,” Beals said. “Maybe we found the right mix.”