On a warm, windy evening at Bill Davis Stadium Thursday…for the longest time baseball, and indeed the stars, seemed to finally align for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Columbus – Facing 30-win Indiana, already ticketed for next week’s Big Ten Tournament, the Ohio State Buckeyes got great starting pitching from sophomore Connor Curlis Thursday night, timely hitting throughout the lineup against sophomore standout Jonathan Stiever, and error-free defense in a 7-4 win over the Hoosiers. The only blemish on the first seven innings was a pair of solo home runs by Indiana power plant Craig Dedelow.
And to no one’s surprise. The senior centerfielder entered the game with 13 home runs on the season on a team that had 60 collectively, leading the Big Ten. Dedelow’s first bomb in the top of the fifth was the Hoosiers first hit, actually. And his second, an almost-identical seventh inning bolt to the same spot in right center, marked just their fourth hit against Curlis in his 91 pitches.
Offensively, the Buckeyes struck early, scoring a single run in the bottom of the first when Tre’ Gantt singled and later scored on a Dominic Canzone groundout.
It stayed 1-0 until the top of the fifth when Dedelow went yard against Curlis, tying the score at 1-1. But not for long.
In the bottom of the sixth the Buckeyes sent ten men to the plate, ignited by a leadoff triple by Jalen Washington. Then successive singles by Brady Cherry, Zach Ratcliff, Conner Pohl – a two-run double to the corner in left by Shea Murray, followed by a single by Jacob Barnwell, another single by Andrew Fishel – and when the smoke cleared they’d plated five runs. Clutch hitting with runners on base, they batted around and chased Stiever, Washington ending the inning with a swinging strikeout.
Indiana’s second run came in the top of the seventh, Dedelow against Curlis, to cut the deficit to 6-2.
Sophomore Ryan Feltner came on to relieve Curlis in the top of the eighth, breathing fire and throwing smoke. He struck out the side in the top of the eighth, a welcome respite from so many previous struggling appearances by the Walsh Jesuit product through the season’s first 53 games.
They added in the bottom of the eighth, Jalen Washington driving in Tre’ Gantt for his 36th run of the season.
But Feltner, hoping to repeat his dominant eighth, breezed through the first two outs in ninth before giving up a flaired solo home run to right by Logan Sowers, his ninth of the season. With two outs and a runner on second, the would-be final out was played into a fourth run on a throwing error by Pohl at third base, his second of the game. That brought a pitching change, and Seth Kinker into the game. He struck out pinch hitter Austin Cangelosi on three pitches.
The point is…with nothing left to play for in terms of qualifying for the post-season tournament – with nothing left but the fact of pride in beating one of the league’s best, and playing in a manner hoped for all season – the Buckeyes played with a calm and confidence that brought a smile to Greg Beals’ face.
There was, in fact, so much to play for as they put aside, for at least a day, the horrors of past failure and lost leads – of injuries and juggled rotations – of searching for something that would work!
The performance of Connor Curlis brought broad commendation from Beals. Having retired the first 13 batters in the game consecutively, it was by far his most dominant outing of the year and without question a glimpse at part of the makeup of next year’s weekend rotation.
“There were a lot of positives to take away from this game, and one of them was the way Connor threw the ball for us tonight,” said Beals. “Connor was so good because he pitched ahead and threw good strikes with his fastball. He’s got a slippery fastball and made the most of it tonight.
“I thought Ryan Feltner was good tonight. He gave up the flair to right that got up in the wind in the ninth, but I told him I thought he really pitched well. It wasn’t about him that I went to the bullpen for Kinker, it’s just that Kinker’s our closer and the situation at that point dictated it. Ryan pitched well enough to deserve a better finish.”
Freshmen Conner Pohl, Dominic Canzone, and Noah West continued to grow in stature and respect.
Sophomores Brady Cherry, Jacob Barnwell, and Curlis, of course, gave plenty indication of a better, up-to-date set of ‘prints for 2018.
“Very important start for me,” said Curlis, whose performance earned him his fourth win of the season (7 innings, four hits, and two earned runs). “I threw mostly fastballs tonight and a few curves. I just wanted to get ahead and let my defense work. It just worked out to be a good outing for me.”
Players who got hits…..Jalen Washington went 2-5 with an RBI. Cherry was 2-4 with an RBI. Shea Murray was 2-4 and had 2 RBIs. Conner Pohl had his third consecutive 3-hit game. And Dominic Canzone went one for five, but drove in a pair by putting the ball in the play when the game situation simply dictated contact.
“The new guys continue to hit, and the old guys hit, too,” added Beals with a smile. “That was nice to see. But Canzone was great even going 1-5 because he made contact with the infield back twice and got ground balls that scored a runner from third. Very unselfish and very mature approach at the plate. The infield hit he got in the eighth he really deserved.”
Players followed the blueprint. No one tried to win it on their own. A single base-running blunder by Jacob Barnwell in the bottom of the eighth was a lone hiccup in the plans. The two throwing errors forgotten in comparison to, as Beals said, so many other positives.
What’s left to play for, of course, is the ability to show consistency in their remaining two games with the Hoosiers – their final games of the 2017 season.
“It really important to me to finish the season confidently,” said Conner Pohl. “I never dreamed back in February that I’d have three three-hit games in a row like this. But I’m seeing the ball well now, I’m hitting with some confidence, and hitting is contagious. This is something I want to carry forward into summer.”
“There’s still a lot to play for,” added Beals. “But the message I gave them was that we go out to control that which we can control now. We need to continue to move forward and play the best we can on a daily basis. Second, why do we play the game? You play because you love it and you have a passion for the game. That’s the reason we’re here. And the final thing is the brotherhood of doing this. It’s what we always talk about and it’s of utmost importance to all of us. That’s the culture of our program. You play for each other.”
7 runs on 13 hits 2 errors and 9 left on won it for the Buckeyes (22-32)
4 runs on 6 hit and 2 errors and 5 left on lost it for Indiana (30-20 -2).
They play again on Friday night at 6:35, their 55th game of the season. One game shy of the end of their season. One game closer to a new brotherhood in 2018, a renewal of the culture…and moving forward.
Always moving forward!