They hit with confident abandon and starter Connor Curlis gave them another quality start. A preview of what lies just ahead? The Buckeyes throw the kitchen sink at Iowa Saturday to even the series.
IOWA CITY—It’s games like this that make you really wonder about this 2017 Ohio State baseball team; games like this one that make you wonder how coach Greg Beals and his staff have stayed out of the psych ward.
On Saturday afternoon, Ohio State defeated Iowa, 12-7, and did so at Duane Banks Field where the Hawkeyes were an impressive 17-3 this season.
This was a thorough win, a veteran win—if you will—a game in which the Buckeyes not only played well and pitched very well, but overcame their mistakes, costly mistakes that on previous occasions sent them reeling.
“When the game got tough,” Beals said, “we got tough. We made some really good defensive plays behind (reliever) Seth Kinker in the eighth and ninth inning, and we haven’t always performed like that in those situations.”
At home, Iowa doesn’t give up much but Ohio State went into the game seemingly relaxed and easy, and took control early. With lefty Connor Curlis, using his deceptively quick fastball to check the Hawkeyes, Ohio State appeared to be on their way to a comfortable win from the start.
They led 5-0 in the fourth, 6-1 in the fifth and 8-1 in the sixth, and—like so many times this season—the thought rolled around: “Where has this been?”
But things changed and changed quickly; and changed in familiar fashion. Errors came into play and the game grew tight.
Brady Cherry’s two-out error in the sixth opened the door for three runs. A walk followed the error and then came Matt Hoeg’s three-run homer. Suddenly, it’s 8-4 Ohio State.
Next inning, Chris Whelan grounds to third. Cherry commits another two-base error. It leads to another three-run inning.
Before it’s over, Beals has used three more pitchers: Kyle Michalik, Adam Niemeyer, and with Iowa bearing down (8-6), he goes to his best, Seth Kinker.
By the time Kinker closes the inning, Iowa scores another unearned run and it Ohio State 8, Iowa 7.
To lose this game after holding such commanding leads and lose it as a result of errors, a problem for the Buckeyes most of the season would have been another wrenching blow to the program.
This season, OSU has committed 73 errors, 70 of those by infielders. Cherry, one of the hardest working and most determined players on the team, has the second most on the team.
“There’s a tempo issue with Brady,” Beals said. “He’s a good fielder and he has a great arm, but some times the ball tails on him…We’ve got to get that throwing slot in a better position.”
Beals did not want to go to Kinker as early as he did, hoping to save him for Sunday’s series finale if at all possible, but in a two-run game, he felt he had little choice.
This was the worst part of the game. It also proved to be the best part of the game.
“I’m looking around,” Beals said, “and I’m not seeing that ‘Oh, crap!’ look, know what I mean? It’s not, ‘Oh, crap, here we go again.’ Instead, they’re still in it. They’re fightin’.”
Kinker retires Iowa in order in the eighth and largely due to a hustle play on his part. Ben Norman put down a bunt that got away from first baseman Bo Coolen, catcher Jacob Barnwell came up with it and Kinker got to first in time for the throw and the out.
The rest of the eighth inning was routine.
The ninth belonged to Ohio State.
Murray opens the inning with a home run to right, his second of the season. It’s a two run game. One out later, Jalen Washington singles and Gantt busts a double to left center, scoring Washington.
On it goes.
Conner Pohl, who entered the game at third as a defensive replacement, homers to right. It was Pohl’s first home run of the season, a two-run job. It’s 12-7 Buckeyes.
Kinker takes care of business in the bottom of the ninth, retiring the side in order—striking out the last two hitters he faced.
“What can you say – Seth Kinker,” Beals said. “He does the job: two-and-a-third, one unearned run, no walks, three strikeouts. He just does the job.”
But there was something a little different about this day, at least it seemed that way to Murray, the fifth year senior.
“It just seemed like everyone was relaxed for a change,” Murray said. “We’ve had games like this before this season: we get a lead and then it starts to get away, and it seemed as though everyone was tight…Worried about the next play, the next pitch and then that’s when things would go wrong.
“I’ve thought about that. I’m sure everyone has…More than anything else it’s been frustrating.
“It’s great to have a game like this,” he said, “but – ya know – you look back and you say to yourself, ‘Where has this been?’ You can’t point to one thing or one aspect of the game. It just seems like so many times we were worried about what if we don’t execute here, or what if we don’t hit this pitch…The confidence just wasn’t there.
“At this point, we are still playing to win. We’re not just playing out the string. There’s no reason for guys to press or worry about not performing…
“We’ve got five games left: Iowa tomorrow, Toledo this week (at home) and then Indiana next weekend. ”
He didn’t have to say another word.
Saturday’s win moves the Buckeyes to 20-31 overall, 7-13 in the Big Ten. Iowa stands 30-18, 12-8 going into Sunday’s season finale.
“At this point,” Murray said, “you just stay after it and – you enjoy games like this one.”