Down by two runs in the bottom of the ninth, the Buckeyes found a way to scratch out a pair of runs and avoid a Minnesota sweep of the weekend series. Not pretty…but a win’s a win.
COLUMBUS—For more than half the game Sunday, it looked as though Minnesota was on its way to sweeping Ohio State and adding another notch to its growing and deserved reputation. It seemed almost routine, then things took a turn Ohio State’s way.
After losing two games in two days and from both ends of the scoring spectrum—beaten Friday 11-1 and Saturday 2-1—the Buckeyes were down 5-1 in the sixth and showing few signs of reviving a suddenly moribund offense.
The Bucks had a total of two hits through five innings and had stranded six base runners. The crowd was dwindling. The shadows were lengthening and the ushers were looking at their watches.
But Tyler Cowles kicked some life back into the Bucks with a simple single to right. It was the start of what was a flourish of a finish that almost—if not quite—erased the wounds delivered by the Gophers this weekend.
The Buckeyes bounced off the ropes scoring five runs over the last four innings. Three came in the bottom of the ninth, the last and winning run scoring on dropped ball by Cole McDevitt on a bang-bang play at first base.
Thus, Ohio State avoided the sweep winning, 6-5, and heads to Illinois next weekend, 28-13 overall, 9-6 in the Big Ten.
“Minnesota is a very good baseball team,” said OSU Coach Greg Beals. “They beat us for 26 and a third innings this weekend, and we scratched and clawed and found a way in the ninth inning to win a ballgame.
“I thought this weekend for the first time this season we hit with a lack of confidence,” Beals continued. “Our team has been (aggressive) at the plate. We took a punch in the mouth offensively this weekend.
“We took a punch in the mouth overall from that ballclub, all the more credit to our guys to come back somehow and to find a way to win today.”
This is the way it went:
After Cowles singled, Andrew Fishel—who opened the game as the designated hitter in place of Brady Cherry—doubled to right field. That put Cowles at third. Jacob Barnwell scored him with a right-side ground out and Noah West singled to center to score the second run of the inning.
At that point, OSU was looking at a two-run deficit (5-3). But, something else had happened two players hitting around .200—Fishel and West and—had made a significant and unexpected contribution.
West is a steady starter, the Bucks’ best defensive infielder. Fishel’s double in the sixth was his second hit of the game and seventh this season.
“He made the coach look good today,” Beals said. “I felt like we needed to inject something into the lineup. That’s a good way to put it.”
In the seventh, Beals began to adjust his pitching. Starter Adam Niemeyer departed after five innings and four Minnesota runs. A fifth run scored against lefty freshman Griffan Smith, worn down by Minnesota’s greedy, elongated at-bats. He left the game with one run across in the sixth and the bases loaded.
Austin Woodby shut down the Gopher rally. He retired Luke Pettersen on a pop-up in the infield and Ben Mezzenga on a grounder to first.
“(Woodby) is attacking,” Beals said. “He’s pitching with conviction. Pitching with a little confidence.
After the Bucks’ two runs in the sixth, Woodby retired the first two Minnesota hitters in the seventh but when he walked Micah Coffey, Beals called on closer Seth Kinker.
“We’re down two (runs),” Beals said. “We’re down to the last seven outs. We got to hold it here. We’d just scored two. I couldn’t let the lead get away from us with Kinker sitting out in the bullpen. It was time to go to him…”
Kinker pitched a scoreless eighth, allowing a hit and his first base on balls at home in 22 2/3 innings.
OSU’s hitters went down in order in the seventh and eighth.In the ninth, Minnesota coach John Anderson, went to freshman closer Max Meyer, who earned his 11th save of the season Saturday night.
Jacob Barnwell singled to right to get things going. One out later, Dom Canzone singled to left, his second hit in five trips. Kobie Foppe grounded to short where Vavra made a diving stop and flipped to Pettersen for a force at second.
Suddenly the shadows didn’t seem so long and the ushers were no longer checking their watches. When Noah McGowan drew a four-pitch walk, Ohio State had the tying run at second, the winning run at first.
Conner Pohl poked a single through the left side and it was 5-4, and it was a game.
Meyer was taking his time. Dillon Dingler came to the plate. He pounded a ball that bounced about 10-to-12 feet out in front of the plate on the third base side.
Catcher Eli Wilson pounced on it as Foppe raced by scoring the tying run. Wilson threw an absolute tracer to first, where Dingler, 6-1, 195 on a light day, arrived at first at precisely the same time as the ball hit Cole McDevitt’s glove—and popped free.
Dingler went down. McDevitt went down. McGowan scored the winning run and Wilson stood red faced, a picture of frustration as the Buckeyes swarmed the field.
“The contact took place right at the bag,” Beals said. “You’ve got to have the ability to get to the base…If they had called interference, I might have become unglued.
“The catcher had a throwing lane. That did not affect the play. Where Dillon was running did not affect the play…The ball, the base runner, the first baseman all get there at the same time…We lost on a play exactly like that (Saturday) night.”
Minnesota scored the winning run on a double steal when the throw bounced off the trailing runner’s leg and the lead runner scored on the throwing error.
“Baseball giveth,” Beals said, smiling, “and baseball taketh away.”
“I was just bustin’ down the line trying to get there,” Dingler said. “The throw kind of brought him over and I was reaching for the bag at the same time and it so happened we collided and he dropped it…It was crazy.”
“The situation (late) was asking for us to finally get that big hit this weekend,” Kinker said. “This wasn’t a hit, I don’t think (ruled an error), but, hey, if a chopper that goes 35 feet in the air is the way you got to do it, and a botched play at the end to win it, and not get swept by a really good ballclub, you got to take that win.”
Really good ballclub?
Minnesota is ranked 21st currently, 28-12 overall, 11-3 in conference play.
“Best we’ve seen this year,” said Kinker, 6-1 with the win.
“By far,” Dingler said. “No doubt.”