Dingler, Todys and Cherry fuel offense with home runs in Game 1 of final Big Ten series of season.
West LaFayette, Indiana – It was a typical post-game flurry of activity Thursday night with Ohio State players gathering their equipment and stuffing it into canvas bags as if they were robbing someone’s home and then double-timing it to the charter bus for the getaway.
Everyone was doing that hustle except freshman pitcher Garrett Burhenn. The big man stood next to the retaining wall along the right field line holding a tiny cousin in each arm and talking to family members.
Those children could have been double their size and Burhenn still would have had no difficulty.
Burhenn already had done some impressive heavy lifting in giving up six hits and one walk and striking out six in eight innings in the Buckeyes 7-0 pasting of Purdue at Alexander Field.
This is the final regular-season conference series of the season, and there is no room for error if Ohio State (29-24, 10-12) is to become one of the eight team qualifying for the Big Ten tournament in Omaha beginning next Wednesday.
It was a comeback of sorts for Burhenn in that he gave up two runs on six hits in three innings last week against Penn State.
“It was a big start. It almost felt like Michigan,’’ he said. “The team needed it and the team did a great job. I can’t say enough about the defense behind me.’’
There could have been added weight on Burhenn in that he is from Indianapolis and had a cheering section. Yet he worked like a pitching machine.
“Something I didn’t do in the previous outing was attack the hitters, and that’s what I tried to do tonight,’’ he said. “I was in and out and tried to get on their hands. You saw a lot of flares and ground balls, and that’s what I wanted to do.’’
It used to be that colleges recruited Indiana mainly for basketball players. Ohio State coach Greg Beals, though, has come up with some gems through the years.
Getting Burhenn away out of Indiana was a coup. He is 6-3 with a 3.53 earned run average as the team’s ace.
“I’ve still got some recruiting networks from my time at Ball State time here in Indiana, and we’re able to grab a guy or two now and then,’’ Beals said.
Burhenn gave up walks in the first and second and two scratch hits in the third. Double plays were turned in the second and sixth and a third would have been a cinch had shortstop Zach Dezenzo not slipped after trying to set his feet after gloving a grounder in the eighth.
“Garrett was really good pounding the fastballs on both sides of the plate and he had just enough changeups and sliders for outs to keep them honest,’’ Beals said. “Our infield defense was really good behind him. We made some good plays.
“Garrett was a little fired up for tonight because he knows where we’re at as a team, he got knocked out of his last start and he had a lot of his family crowd here from his home state. It was a big start for him.’’
Burhenn had a lot of help from his friends:
Right fielder Dominic Canzone raised his on-base streak to 49 straight games– the team record of 51 was set by Nick Swisher in 2002 – by going 2-for-5 with a run-scoring double.
Catcher Dillon Dingler set the tone with a home run in the first inning and had two other hits in five at bats.
Left fielder Brady Cherry, like Canzone, also added on to a dream season by blowing open the game with a three-run homer in the eighth that WBNS radio analyst Bob Spears called a 2-iron.
With two out in the first, Dingler allowed everybody in his dugout to exhale when he put a 1-and-0 pitch over the wall in left-center for a home run.
“I got a fastball on the second pitch after a first-pitch fastball and got the timing down and put the bat on the ball,’’ he said. “It felt good. I was just happy to put us on the board first. We were loose – we’re not a tight team. We know this series is big, but we play loose.’’
The score stayed that way until Todys, a redshirt sophomore, hit a 2-and-0 pitch to left-center for a home run leading off the seventh.
At that point, Ohio State had only three hits for good reason. Purdue starter Trent Johnson entered with an earned run average of 2.38, which was good for sixth in the Big Ten. Opponents were batting .199 against him.
His earned run average took a beating when Cherry hit, well, a “Cherry Bomb’’ with one out in the eighth and Canzone and Dingler on base.
Cherry also is a Hoosier in hailing from Pendleton, Indiana, a village northeast of Indiana.
It took him three at bats to figure out Johnson. He had popped out to third and struck out twice.
“Obviously I struggled early in the game,’’ Cherry said. “He pitched me well with a lot of off-speed and I was swinging at stuff I shouldn’t be swinging at. I told myself that fourth at bat to just relax and see the ball well. I got a curveball up in the zone on 3-and-2 and put a pretty good swing on it.’’
Said Burhenn, “We were feeling really good at that point.’’
Beals smiled and said, “He just smoked it.’’
The top six spots in the Big Ten tournament are signed, sealed and delivered, leaving the Buckeyes, Northwestern and Maryland at 10-12 and Rutgers at 9-12 in going after two spots.
Yesterday, Northwestern lost to Minnesota, Maryland defeated Iowa and Rutgers lost to Indiana.
Ohio State has missed making the conference tournament three times since the team became a power in 1990, and that was 1996, 2010 and 2017.
“We definitely need to win and everybody knows that,’’ Cherry said. “Everybody is willing to do whatever it takes. That late surge in the game was the leave-it-all-on-the-field and nothing-to-lose mentality. We knew this would be a great field and great environment and we went out and enjoyed it.’’
Beals has been through almost every scenario one could come think of, but a lot of his players were in high school last year at this time.
What did he say to them?
“We talked about, okay, it’s a big game and we are aware of our situation and what needs to happen,’’ Beals said. “I talked to them and said, ‘Guys, make sure you are keeping yourselves and your teammates at the right level, not too high and not too low.’ I told them not to beat themselves up. We got dented early a little bit, but we stuck with it. We capitalized that third time through the lineup and got pitches to hit.’’
Of course, Ohio State must come up with another victory today.
“The first one is always huge, especially this week,’’ Burhenn said. “We need more wins this weekend. We’re not done.’’