They were ranked #4 in the country, but the Texas Tech Red Raiders had anything but their way with the Buckeyes, who held serve, but once again, could not deliver the killing blow.
Columbus – If there was any question about the issues with this 2017 Ohio State baseball team – the ones that Greg Beals talks about so often of late – those who came out and paid attention Wednesday night must have gone home at least concerned, if not convinced.
Facing the number #4-ranked team in the country, the Texas Tech Raiders (37-12), the Buckeyes (17-27) got off to an early 2-0 win, pitched well enough to win, nearly matched Tech in hits, played good defense for eight innings, but ultimately came up a run short in a 5-3 loss…and in an all-too-familiar scenario. For want of a timely hit with two outs!
The Buckeyes drew first blood, and in the first inning at that, on a Tre’ Gantt walk and a Dominic Canzone RBI single off freshman righthander Jake McDonald…from Maude (and then there’s Maude), Texas.
They added in the second with a walk to Conner Pohl, a single by Shea Murray, a walk to Andrew Fishel, and an RBI single by Canzone…2-0. Fishel was thrown out trying to score on the same play, an unusual looking play that looked like he got his hand on the plate prior to being tagged. But umpire Perry Costello said no, OSU coach Greg Beals protested, protested some more, and then after some additional protesting…he got the gate from Costello for protesting too much!
But the fact of the inning was this. They had the bases loaded with no outs…and scored just one run!
Impressively, freshman Jake Vance threw 3 2/3 innings in his start, surrendering just two runs on three hits before being lifted for Joe Stoll with two outs in the fourth.
Tech added on against the Buckeye bullpen, as both teams were obviously tuning for important conferences dates this weekend – the Buckeyes on the road at Michigan, and TTU at West Virginia in a Big 12 matchup. Beals and Tech coach Ted Tadlock made no bones about it. They wanted to win this game.
The Raiders added a run in the fifth on a triple by left fielder Grant Little and a ground out RBI by third baseman Josh Jung.
They tallied again in the top of the eighth with a run off Ryan Feltner – a double by first baseman Hunter Hargrove and an RBI single by teammate Orlando Garcia…and added an insurance run in the ninth on a walk and a pair of Jalen Washington errors at shortstop.
Ohio State threatened the lead in the bottom of the eighth when Jacob Barnwell and Noah West hit successive singles to open the inning. moved to second and third on a wild pitch, and Barnwell scored on a sac fly to left by Shea Murray to make the score 4-3 at that point.
They went harmlessly in the bottom of the ninth – Washington (strikeout), Cazone (ground out), and Cherry (strike out).
Texas Tech won it with 5 runs on 9 hits, committed no errors and left 8 men on base.
Ohio State lost it with 3 runs on 8 hits, committed 2 errors and left an incriminating 10 men on base. Mound-wise, they used seven pitchers – Vance, Stoll, Adam Niemeyer, Connor Curlis, Ryan Feltner, Kyle Michalik, and Curtiss Irving. Playing to win, of course. But just as much…one last impression before Michigan.
But against the nation’s fourth-best team, the inconsistencies of the young Buckeyes were for three hours and seventeen minutes magnified…for that very fact of the competitive necessities that Beals stresses. Yes, they held their own on the scoreboard. And yes, they had their opportunities to win for want of a two-out hit in the bottom of the eighth. Four times in the game they made the third out with a runner standing at third base.
And yes, they impressed Tech coach Tim Tadlock, who echoed Beals earlier in the week when he said, “There’s just a real fine line between winning and losing in college baseball. And you either have it, or you don’t.”
“I really like the physical makeup of that team,” Tadlock said of the Buckeyes. “They pass the eye test. They’ve got athletes in the field and I liked the arms that I saw on the mound.”
A frustrated Beals shook his head afterwards.
“We were one for six with men on third base and less than two outs,” he said. “That resulted in three less runs on the board. There’s such a fine line between losing and winning, and we continue to fall beneath the line. Had we hit three ground balls to the second baseman tonight in those situations we win. Because of the one for six when we had with runners on third, four times the infield was back.”
Still, it was a picture of what Beals really believes is a core of success for the future – a struggling young team that’s looking to somehow get above that line…against a team that the college baseball writers in America point to as the fourth-best in all of America.
“They ARE solid,” acknowledged Beals. “They play good defense. They do a lot of things right. They hit (.307 as a team, .476 slugging pct.). They have some good arms on their pitching staff. But I don’t think they incredibly more talented than we are, or experienced.”
Which, of course, only heightens the frustration of falling beneath…that line!
Their season now takes a turn at Michigan this weekend, their diminishing hopes for a berth in the Big Ten Tournament squarely on the line with just three weekends of conference play remaining. And to add dramatic impact…they own a five-game win streak against the Wolverines, going back to a three-game sweep last year in the regular season, and having won both of the games against U of M in the tournament.
“It’s a turning point, but we really can’t look at it that way,” Beals corrected. “If you look at it that way it’ll kill ya. And what are we going to do differently? We’ve got to approach it like any other ballgame, except we’ve to find a way to be better in our execution.
“We’re not going to practice any different tomorrow. We’re not going to do our pre-game any different up there. We’re going to run out the same lineups. We’ve just got to find a way to be above that line.”
Notes: There were some hitting highlights for the Buckeyes: Freshman Dominic Canzone continues to blister opposing pitchers. He went 3 for 5 in the Wednesday loss to Texas Tech and now stands at .353 for the season. And teammate Jacob Barnwell was 2 for 4 against Raider pitching. Pitcher Adam Niemeyer made his first mound appearance since the Xavier weekend, pitching 1.2 innings and giving up a run on two hits. He was tagged with the loss. Raiders reliever John McMillon raised some curiosity with his brief appearance in the game. A freshman from Jasper Texas, McMillon stands 6’3″, weighs 250, and program officials say he routinely clocks at 97-99 on the radar gun. He retired both hitters he faced in the eighth, but Bucks’ outfielder took him to the left field walk on a sacrifice fly.