In the end…it was a microcosm of the year – beginning to end. They nearly overcame their mistakes to have a memorable finish. As it was, it turned into an all-too-familiar outcome.
Columbus – Apparently, nothing goes off without a hitch or according to plan, in this 2017 baseball season for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Saturday, the season finale against Indiana, was even stopped in the middle of the second inning when lightning and threatening storms west of Bill Davis Stadium prompted stadium personnel to clear not just the field, but even the stands. Play was resumed after an hour with the Buckeyes trailing 2-1.
Reliever-turned-starter, junior Seth Kinker started, stopped with the weather delay, and then came back after an hour and six minutes to pitch seven innings of the grittiest, most determined baseball of the entire college baseball season. On Senior Day, he pitched for the upperclassman, his brothers. He wanted to give them a chance to go out winners…and he did!
They scored early, sure enough, when Tre’ Gantt doubled to lead off the game and scored on an RBI sac fly from Dominic Canzone to match the Hoosier’s single run from the top of the first.
Indiana went up 2-1 in the second when a popup between second baseman Brady Cherry (yes, Brady Cherry) and first baseman Bo Coolen fell between them from a lack of communication. Moments later that “extra at bat” yielded a base hit and the second Hoosier run.
They tacked on two more in the seventh, in customary…and, uncustomary fashion. Read on.
Along the way they left would-be runs in scoring position for lack of a two-out hit, as has been their custom throughout the year.
An untimely error would put a runner on, when justifiably Kinker had earned an out from another ‘grinding’ at bat from the talented, disciplined Indiana lineup.
There was a hit batsman, for absence of the same “he failed to get make an effort to get out of the way” call, that haunted this team earlier in the year. The only consistency among the Big Ten umpiring staff, it seems, is their inconsistencies!
Two more Indiana runs scored in the seventh, Kinker’s last inning, on a leadoff single, a sacrifice, and then run-scoring double by DH Matt Lloyd. Another run crossed on a passed ball by Jalen Washington, and then a wild pitch which Washington picked up and mistakenly tossed into the dugout, thinking ‘time’ had been called. It hadn’t!
There was one last offensive ‘high’ in the eighth – a leadoff single by Tre’ Gantt, followed by a ringing shot to left field by Washington for his seventh home run of the year. Brady Cherry followed with hard double up the gap in right center; and Zach Ratcliff grounded out to move him to third. But with two outs and anticipation of at least some redemption for the season…Conner Pohl grounded out to second for the final out.
Shea Murray, in his final at bat reached first to open the ninth. He got to second on a ground out by Bo Coolen, and Andrew Fishel flaired a ground ball to third base for the second out. It brought Gantt to the plate for the final act of the production. He grounded out…to end the season.
The point is…nothing came easy for the Buckeyes, appropriately, even in their final game of the year. Even on ‘Senior Day’. Seth Kinker, God love him, was spectacular in his effort – his passion to compete – pitching one out deep into the seventh, giving up a pair of runs while scattering nine hits. He struck out three and walked one.
Joe Stoll gave an account of this season in his final appearance.
Sophomore Thomas Waning showed that the glass is half full with a brief mound stint in the eighth.
And junior Yianni Pavlopoul’us’, making his first appearance since popping a hamstring three weeks ago against Purdue, pitched a scoreless ninth.
It was, in panorama and ‘Technicolor’, a tapestry of the 2017 season.
“From the very first pitch I was locked in on one thing, and one thing only,” said Seth Kinker aftewards. “I wanted to go out there and perform for the seniors. I wanted to send them out on a good note. I don’t think the hour rain delay helped the process, but I was determined to grind and I told Stafford and Beals I was good to go. I wanted to go as long as I could.”
“He was exactly what we knew he’d be in that situation,” said Greg Beals of his junior reliever-turned-starter. “This is why we made the decision three weeks ago to let him start…because we knew he’d go out and compete with every opportunity.”
One could make a comparison, perhaps of this season and the old adage of it being hard for a leopard to change its spots. Asked in that very manner, Beals conceded to the fact of the inexplicables of a 22-34 season…but disagreed that it had anything to do with the character of the group with which he will retool for 2018.
“Today was a microcosm of the season,” he nodded. “But I think you’re going to see the spots off the leopard come next year. There were mistakes this year, and today, but physical mistakes that are a part of baseball. They’re things that bother a coach, but they don’t make you mad. There were things today that shouldn’t have happened…a passed ball and a wild pitch that cost us a run…the miscommunication on the popup in the infield. We made the point in the final huddle in the outfield, about taking what we’ve learned from this season into a 40-game summer schedule. Consider what we’ve done, what we’ve learned from the coaches here, and what they’ll experience over the summer. Then we’ll come back and get together in the fall and begin to build a new brotherhood. Because that’s what this is all about. These guys know they’re brothers, regardless of what the record shows.”
They lose five seniors – Zach Ratcliff, Jalen Washington, Jake Post, Shea Murray, and Joe Stoll. They return an exciting nucleus of freshman and sophomore talent that not only got experience in these 56 games…but performed well above expectation.
Dominic Canzone finished as a strong candidate for conference Freshman of The Year. He hit .345.
Conner Pohl blossomed over the final third of the season, playing at third and second base. He hit .330.
Noah West shows signs of being a top flight middle infielder in 2018 and beyond.
Catcher Jacob Barnwell hit a hundred points over his freshman season, and succeeded as a every-day catcher at the highest level of college baseball.
And Brady Cherry, who struggled to get untracked in March after a disappointing freshman season, made perhaps the most progress of all, flashing brilliance at the plate and in the field – in Beals’ words, from learning to adjust on the fly.
“I fully expect to be back here with this group next season, and I’m excited about that,” said Kinker, who will be a candidate for the upcoming June MLB draft.
“I’m honored and excited to have set an example for the younger guys, guys this year and guys who will be coming in,” said the junior from Huntington, West Virginia. “It’s one of those things from the start in the fall, whether I’m a captain or not, where I’m always going to want to be a leader. Doesn’t matter if it’s in the bullpen, as a starter, or in the dugout. You have be open to criticism when it comes, and you have to be able to calmly share what you know with the young guys (when it comes to that).
“It’s a matter of being someone they can trust – someone they can talk with about things – and that’s huge. You play this game and you learn from a lot of guys; and I’ve never played with a greater guy and teammate than Jalen Washington. He’s taught a lot of great things to every one of us because he leads by example.”
And finally, Washington himself concluded his career in storybook fashion with that two-run homer in the eighth, but in the true fashion of a leader was more concerned about the process of returning to prominence in 2018, after he’s gone, and the building of that new brotherhood.
“Nothing came easy, for sure, even at the end of the year when some things started to click,” he shared. “When we hit well, or pitched well, there was still that one mistake that would come back to haunt us. Last year it seemed like everything went our way. This year it was a different story – nothing seemed to go our way. Whether it was us or just baseball in general, we didn’t get many breaks this year.
“The home run was a situation where I got a good pitch down and I put a good swing on it. That was a great feeling and something special to carry away. These were my brothers and the season didn’t go the way we wanted, but I told the guys in the huddle that at the end of the day they were my best friends. I told them to keep working, and keep grinding, because this is a championship team. We fell short this year, but it’s something to look forward to next year and beyond.”
And so it was with game 56. Indiana 4, Ohio State 3. Things considered.
And things to yet consider.
* Press Pros would like to take this opportunity to extend appreciation to each of the core sponsors for our coverage of Ohio State baseball this spring. Our thanks to Five Star Painting (Pickerington), United Building Materials (Dayton and Columbus), the Sheward-Fulks Insurance Agency in Jackson, Ohio, Wilson Sports Medicine, in Sidney, Ohio, Ever-Green Turf and Landscape, and the Buckeye Diamond Club. We could not have done this without them – a ‘brotherhood’ worth having…and keeping.