The Buckeyes ran into a buzz saw from Greensboro and came away with a familiar story. Outhit, and outplayed, they fell for the fourth time in their last five games.
Columbus – It didn’t go well again.
This time, to the Spartans of UNC-Greensboro, a free-swinging team from the Southern Conference (Division I) that one follower Friday night described this way.
“They’d rather hit than go to Sunday school. Now that’s serious where we live.”
Hit they did, which must have made Buckeye coach Greg Beals drool, given his team’s offensive struggles over the past six weeks. The Spartans pounded out sixteen hits through the first seven innings (17 for the game), scored in each of the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth innings, and eventually won their 23rd game of the season (23-14), 11-4!
Buckeye starter Yianni Pavlopoulos (2-5) may have gotten a false sense security after retiring the side in order in the top of the first; because in the second UNCG scored a pair of runs, aided by a costly error by freshman second baseman Noah West.
But West’s error had nothing to do with UNCG shortstop Tripp Shelton’s two run homer to right in the third.
It had nothing to do with another pair of runs in the top of the fourth, or a single run in the fifth.
And when Pavlopoulos ran out of gas in the top of the sixth, there was nothing ulterior about it…just line drives and hard ground balls through the middle and in the holes between first and second – shortstop and third base…and another sloppy play (error) on a throw back in from the outfield that got through everyone and allowed a galling fourth run in the inning.
Ohio State answered, scoring once in the fourth on an RBI single by first baseman Bo Coolen, who drove in Dominic Canzone after he had singled to open the inning.
And, they added three more in the bottom of the fifth on a pair of walks and singles by Tre’ Gantt, Canzone, and Jacob Barnwell. It cut the deficit to 7-4, but only for a moment.
UNCG came right back with with those four runs in the sixth to take the air out of the Buckeyes’ sails…and the game out of reach!
The Buckeyes put their first two runners on base to lead off the bottom of the ninth; but Jalen Washington hit into a 5-3 double play. Tre’ Gantt followed with a single to left (his third of the game) to put runners at first and third with two out. But Brady Cherry struck out to finish the game, his fourth strikeout of the night.
It took 2 hours and 37 minutes to prolong the agony of the frustration of those following this baseball team currently. And the 1,400 faithful that turned out to watch must have been as mystified as Greg Beals. For the first time in anyone’s memory after an Ohio State baseball game…Beals did not huddle the troops in the outfield after the final out.
“I had a message I wanted to deliver” he said, matter-of-factly, as most of his messages are these days. “I wanted them to be in our locker room, and in our locker room our cultural blueprint is in the back of every locker. I told them that we are going to stick to our guns, be true to who we are and what we’re doing, and we’re going to keep fighting. We didn’t play a very good baseball game today.
“Our season’s not going the way we want it to. But that’s not going to change who we are and how we go about doing what we’re doing. That blueprint…we believe in it 100%.”
He (Beals) admits that he’s tried just about everything, vowing a couple of weeks ago do juggle things until he finds the combination that produces a change of fortune – aka, wins. Asked if the present baptismal of fire against quality opponents will eventually deliver what he’s looking for, the coach smiled and then turned Biblical.
“There’s a verse (Proverbs 27:17) that states that iron sharpens iron, and metal put into the fire comes out pure, something like that,” said Beals. “I can’t quote the verse. But that’s what we’re going to be. We knew that this season was going to have some bumps and bruises, some learning curves. It’s been a tough season and it hasn’t gone the way we wanted it to go. But it’s a learning opportunity for all of our players and coaching staff. That fire is challenging us and we’re going to make sure that we hold true. It’s going to sharpen us and make us shiny and bright someday.”
If that’s true it’s surely to come in stages. Strikeouts (9) Friday were down somewhat from recent averages, while Dominic Canzone (.341) went 2 for 4 for his eleventh multi-hit game of the season – and Tre’ Gantt went 3 for 5 to continue his recent upsurge, increasing his batting average to .298.
Reliever Austin Woodby pitched the final four innings, shutting down UNCG on 1 run and four hits after inheriting the bases loaded when he came in for Pavlopoulos in the sixth. He struck out three (including nation-leading Caleb Webster, who’s struck out just 4 times in 154 at bats) and walked none.
But Brady Cherry went 0-5 with four strikeouts; and designated hitter Noah McGowan continued to slump, going hitless – his average dropping to .222.
Beals talks continually about the importance of confidence, in baseball terms the equivalent of trial by fire, or baptism by fire, if you will.
“It’s good to come in and do your job successfully,” said Woodby, “but at the end of the day we still lost. That’s the frustrating part. It’s very frustrating. We know we have a good ballclub, but we just have to stick to our blueprint and we have to find ways to win games. We’re capable, we just have to remain confident that one day it’s going to click and we’re going to turn things around.”
Gantt echoed Woodby’s appraisal, while admitting that time’s running short. After Friday’s loss there’s just 18 games remaining on the Buckeyes’ regular season schedule.
“You have to know who you are and stay true to that,” said Gantt. “Sometimes that’s baseball. You’re going to have slumps and you just have to find ways to work out of it. We know we’re a good ballclub and what we’re capable of. Again, we just have to stick together and do it for each other. We’ll play hard, and work hard everyday. You can have a spark plug on the team, but in the end it’s a team effort. If we trust in each other and everyone does their job that’s all we can do.”
Well, yes, but cliches’ don’t win baseball games. Base hits and good pitching, with sound defense, wins baseball games. No offense intended, but time is short and the blueprint IS necessary for young teams like this one trying to live up to a legacy forged by ten graduated seniors and six who signed from last year’s Big Ten champions.
No, they didn’t play a very good game on Friday, but they did finish with 10 hits…and almost as many strikeouts. Connor Curlis takes the mound for the Buckeyes in game two Saturday (3:05 pm), and Reece Calvert gets another start in Sunday’s series finale.
This is a team that does have a shot at making the Big Ten Tournament field, currently sitting one place out, behind Purdue. But they need wins, and after this weekend comes Nebraska, and Michigan, and Iowa, and Indiana. Some heavy lifting awaits the Buckeyes, and Friday UNCG proved again…that heavy’s already here.
And blueprints, by the way, come with load-bearing walls – exactly what Beals and the Buckeyes need. And in the worst way!