The Buckeyes combine timely hitting, defense, and a remarkable starting performance by Griffan Smith to take the Maryland series on a better-than-average Easter.
College Park, MD – It was Easter Sunday and more than one Buckeye had that long look on their face over not being home for services, or family dinner, or even the ancillary fun of finding a few surprises hidden around the house and yard.
On top of that…there was the issue of the Big Ten standings, and their sitting 11th out of 13 teams in league play (5-6) with the uncertain prospects of them even qualifying for the conference tournament next month. It’s true, a lot of baseball is yet to be played, but those games begin next week against the likes of Iowa (9-5), Minnesota (7-5), then Penn State (1-12), and Purdue (6-7).
Winable games? Yes. But Northwestern was thought to be winable, too. And who knew that .235-hitting Maryland would overwhelm the team’s best starting pitcher in the opening game of yesterday’s double header? The Terrapins scored 14 runs on 20 hits, a season’s high.
But needing a win on Sunday to sustain their hopes, centerfielder Ridge Winand and starting pitcher Griffan Smith played Easter Bunny for the Buckeyes. Winand his a pair of home runs and drove in four runs…and Smith delivered his most efficient start since five innings against Florida Gulf Coast in March. It was enough to go to the airport with a complete-game 5-1 win.
Winand got the Bucks on the board with a ringing solo home run to right center in the second inning, his second of the year.
But his encore was better, a majestic three-run blow to the right of the batter’s eye in center in the third inning with Brent Todys and Zach Dezenzo aboard. Winand’s pair amounted to finding something special, and unexpected, on Easter Sunday.
Griffan Smith’s outing was something just as welcome. Efficient, he threw 78 pitches through the first six innings while reaching a career high in strikeouts with nine. He would finish with ten, throwing 110 pitches.
The Buckeyes added a run in the eighth on an RBI flair double to left by Dom Canzone, scoring Zach Dezenzo.
But the story was the complete-game win by Smith…as well as a complete effort on both sides of the ball by the Buckeyes.
“Great to win a series like this,” said Ridge Winand. “The way we came back last night, then come out there today and play this way.
“It was good to get the two home runs – got a couple of fastballs up, put a good swing on ’em, and that felt good.”
Griffan Smith was smiling ear to ear, winning his first game since March, while throwing arguably the best game of his life.
“I was able to command all my pitches,” said the Cincinnati sophomore. “The changeup was good, I was hitting with my breaking pitch, and I had command of the fastball.
“My team made some plays behind me, and the Easter Bunny showed up (Ridge Winand). What a great day for Ridge and our team.”
But the guy who appreciated it most was Greg Beals, who admitted that his team badly needed a series win at this juncture of the season, and it couldn’t have some in a better, or more satisfying fashion.”
“It was so big to win that second game last night, and who knows, maybe that broke them for today,” said Beals. “Griffan came out here today and showed command with all his pitches. Ridge had the great day with the two home runs, but I thought our offense lost a little of its discipline in the middle of the game – we swung at some pitches we probably shouldn’t have.
“But I really wanted to ride Griffan Smith out, not being sure of what his pitch count was. After the sixth he just settled in, and he got some help. Brady Cherry’s catch in left field in the fifth inning was a turning point for him because a play like that gives a pitcher confidence. It was a great weekend for the Buckeyes. We’re very happy to win a series here.”
With no mid-week game this week it’s the perfect way to come home, prepare for Iowa next week…and suddenly, with the matter of one baseball game on Easter Sunday, Omaha and the Big Ten tournament looks so much more doable.
Final line: Ohio State wins it to go 22-19 (6-6 in Big Ten) with 5 runs on 11 hits and didn’t commit an error all weekend.
Maryland lost it (19-21, 6-6 in Big Ten) with 1 run on 4 hits and committed two errors.
Next up…the Iowa Hawkeyes, currently fifth in the league, come to Bill Davis weekend for single games Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. No word about any bunnies in that one. It’ll be hard to find the eggs from this point on.