It was tense, it was tight, and Friday’s game turned on one play in the third inning that propelled the Buckeyes to a series-opening win over Penn State.
COLUMBUS — It could have been disastrous. As it turned out, it led to a spectacular play, a singular play by Buckeye catcher Dillon Dingler; a play that was, according to Buckeye coach Greg Beals, “the play of the game, the turning point” in Ohio State’s 4-2 win over Penn State Friday night at Bill Davis Stadium.
The play came at the conclusion of the third inning. Penn State was sitting on a 2-0 lead, both runs coming in the first against freshman starter Garrett Burhenn.
Penn State had a little something going again in the third, Mason Nadeau singled and one out later stole second. Burhenn got the second out of the inning on a fly ball to right.
The batter was Ryan Sloniger, who doubled in two runs in the first. He hit a line drive back to the mound. He hit it hard enough that Burhenn probably felt it before he heard it. The ball hit him flush on the upper arm.
“It was all on the flesh and muscle,” Beals said. “It didn’t hit his elbow; didn’t ride up and hit him in the face.”
The ball bounced back toward the third base line as if it had been tossed in that direction. The ball rolled toward no-man’s land. While most seemed stunned by the impact on Burhenn, who spun toward center field but did not go down, Nadeau was running full bore from second trying to score a third run.
Dingler had the presence of mind to pick up the runner trying to score, then pounced on the ball, turned and dived back towards Nadeau coming down the line making the tag.
Nadeau was clearly out and Dingler had, in Beals’ opinion, set himself apart.
“Dillon Dingler,” Beals said, “best athlete on the field. He made a play right there. They (Penn State) thought they had a catcher in that situation. Instead, they had a really good athlete playing catcher. Then we score a run (in the bottom of the third) and the game started moving in our direction.”
Top of the third concludes in dramatic fashion for OSU and what comes next. Ridge Winand and Nick Erwin reach Penn State starter Dante Biasi, one of the best starters in the Big Ten, for back-to-back base hits to start things.
Two outs later, Dingler comes to the plate. He singles to right, scoring Winand. Ohio State is on the board, down one, 2-1, and the game is in the hands of the Buckeye bullpen. Burhenn was done for the night.
“It’s too early to tell if (Burhenn) will miss a start,” Beals said. “I pray that he doesn’t.”
Freshman Will Pfennig started the fourth, armed with a curveball that was highly effective, adding to the difficulty of his fastball.
He worked 3.2 innings of scoreless ball allowing two hits and two walks. He struck out four and pitched this night like a man who has found his place.
“Will is starting to create his identity at this level,” Beals said. “Obviously, we have a lot of trust in him. His curveball has a chance to be something really, really special. Even now.”
“I’m just feeling confident right now,” Pfennig said. “I’m feeling good about my pitches and my stuff. I threw a ton of curveballs today for strikes and for first pitch swings and misses.”
In other words, he is no longer pitching like a freshman. “There was a little bit of learning process just becoming a reliever. I finally began to figure it out.”
With one out and two on in the seventh—runners reaching by virtue of a walk and a tough chance error by Erwin at third—Beals called for closer Andrew Magno.
“We might have gone to him a little early,” Beals said, “but we just felt the time was right.”
It was, Beals agreed, an important game, a game like nearly all the rest on the OSU schedule, one the Bucks need to win to maintain position for a slot in the Big Ten Tournament.
Magno, always ready for the ball, got out of the inning on the strength of one his five strikeouts, a walk and a routine flyball to center.
By that time OSU had taken a 3-2 lead with two runs in the fifth.
With one out Dom Canzone singled to right-center. Matt Carpenter followed with a single through the hole at short and third. Dingler was walked to load the bases.
A passed ball scored one run. After Brady Cherry was walked to reload the bases, Conner Pohl was hit for the second time in the game to score another run. He was hit for a third time in the seventh, setting up OSU’s final run of the game.
Pohl was plunked with two outs and took second on a wild pitch. Brent Todys, hitless to that point in the game, singled up the middle scoring Pohl and giving Ohio State a two-run lead.
The rest of the game belonged to Magno. He retired the side in order in the eighth, striking out two, and made short work of the Nittany Lions in the ninth. His only flaw was a one-out walk, but the runner was stranded—one of nine men left on base by Penn State.
At this point, with two left in this home series with Penn State and the final three Big Ten games next weekend at Purdue, there is a resolute quality about the Buckeyes these days.
“Will (Pfennig) actually brought it up before the game,” Magno said. “He said, ‘We know what’s ahead of us. We know what we have to do. So, let’s go do it.’
“He’s right,” Magno said. “We all know the situation…We have to win. That’s all there is.”