It was a nail-biter, but Ohio State used pitching and its revamped defense to post an impressive win in the series opener in ‘Happy Valley’…1-0 over Penn State.
State College, PA – Statistically, they say that less than 3% of all major league baseball games end in a 1-0 score.
It’s even less in college baseball.
But that’s exactly how the Ohio State Buckeyes won their 22nd game (22-10, 4-3 in Big Ten) of the season Friday over Penn State – 1-0 – on a combined 8-hit shutout that featured starter Connor Curlis (4.2 innings), Kyle Michalik (2/3rds of an inning), Thomas Waning (2/3rds of an inning), and the horse at the end, Seth Kinker, who pitched the final three innings (3 hits) to record his 8th save of the year. Kyle Michalik was credited with the win, his first of the year (1-1).
“You don’t see many games like this,” said first baseman Conner Pohl, afterwards, during a massive Friday night fireworks show beyond the center field fence.
And indeed you don’t – less than 3% at any level of baseball. That’s how good the pitching and defense – yes, defense – was in a game that took 3:01 to play.
Pitching, by the way, by both teams, as PSU starter Justin Hagenman was tough as nails, taking a 4-hitter into the seventh inning, surrendering just one unearned run. The Nittany Lions bullpen kept it 1-0 with 2.2 innings of scoreless, 2-hit baseball by Marko Moricich and Mason Mellott.
But as it turned out, the Buckeyes won it by being one run better, to gain their second consecutive shutout, and they protected that one run with some standout plays on defense. They finished the second and third innings with double plays and multiple men on base…and a running catch by center fielder Dillon Dingler to close out the fifth, Connor Curlis’s final inning.
After the Bucks’ lefthander had loaded the bases with a hit batsman and a pair of walks, Greg Beals summoned Kyle Michalik from the bullpen to face PSU third baseman Connor Klemann. Michalik induced him to lift a fly ball to center that Dingler easily ran down for the final out. And inning later, he had an even better catch.
Waning surrendered a single to center by Curtis Robison to open the sixth, and Parker Hendershot reached first on the Buckeyes’ only error of the game – a tough high-hopper to third that handcuffed Noah McGowan. After a popup to McGowan for the second out, second baseman Joe Weisenseel sent a fly ball deep into the gap in right center that Dingler literally outran to catch for the final out.
“At some time during the year you have to show that you can win games in different ways,” said Greg Beals after the game. “We’ve won a lot of games this year with our bats, but tonight our defense gave us a couple of double plays and Dingler ran that ball down in the gap. That was a big out.”
The only run of the game came unexpectedly, in the top of the fifth, when after two were out Dom Canzone singled, and Kobie Foppe was hit by a pitch. With runners on first and second, Hagenman attempted a pickoff of Foppe at first, but threw wildly down the right field line. Canzone scored all the way from first base for the Bucks’ only score, an unearned run.
“Sometimes you have to find a way,” said Beals. “They got a great outing by their pitcher tonight. We saw great pitching tonight from their staff. But we handled it, and our defense supported our pitching staff.”
The Buckeyes won it with 1 run on 6 hits and committed just one error. Uncharacteristically, only one man in the batting order, Conner Pohl, had a multiple hit night with a pair of singles. Uncharacteristically, there were only three extra base hits – a second inning double by Brady Cherry, an eighth inning double by Dillon Dingler, and a ninth inning triple by Kobie Foppe. They left the bases loaded twice, and left 13 men on base for the game.
Penn State dropped their 20th game (7-20, 1-9 in Big Ten) with no runs on 8 hits, and committed two errors. The Nittany Lions left 11 men on base.
Beals was obviously pleased with the manner in which they made that one run stand up.
“Connor Curlis wasn’t sharp tonight, but you’re going to have about 14 starts a year and you’re going to be lights out for a couple, and not very good in a couple others. And the rest of them are going to be your normal stuff. He wasn’t as good as he normally is, but he got us into the fifth inning and that’s a tribute to his competitiveness.
“But I thought we did a good job of managing the game. When we brought the new pitchers in (Michalik, Waning, and Kinker) we got outs in all three instances. And we had to go to Kinker early again, but we thought it was going to be that type of game where one run was going to be it…and we went to our guy.”
And as a tribute to Penn State’s competitiveness, they didn’t play like a 7-20 baseball team.
“They were aggressive on the base paths,” said Kinker. “And we had to command their running game because they’re not going to beat us hitting. So a game like this shows that we were able to grind it out against a team that got a well-pitched game; and that’s going to be important for us later in the season…to know that we can win with our pitching and defense.”
“They competed,” added Beals. “You know they’re going to compete. I have a lot of respect for Coach Cooper and their staff and they came out and threw a really good punch at us tonight, and I expect them to do the same tomorrow.”
Out of concern for a return to uncertain weather on Sunday, the series will conclude on Saturday with a 2 pm double-header. Not ideal, because double-headers are hard to win, and the Buckeyes will undoubtedly look at the weekend series as an opportunity to sweep.
Ryan Feltner (3-2, 5.11 era) and Adam Niemeyer (2-2, 5.06 era) will start for the Buckeyes, looking to improve their spot in the Big Ten standings with Indiana (25-6, and 5-2 in Big Ten) coming to Bill Davis Stadium next weekend.
“No, they’re not easy,” said Beals. “Because you tend to split double-headers and you have to combat that. But, we need to win the series first,” he cautioned. “But hopefully…we can win a double-header tomorrow.”
And if that figure is right, that less than 3% of baseball games are determined by a 1-0 score, it perhaps says something about Beals’ contention throughout the year…that while 22 wins are good, this team can get better.
Back-to-back shutouts – pitching and defense – is powerful testimony.