Buckeyes parlay a gutty start from Seth Lonsway, clean bullpen work from Will Pfennig and Andrew Magno, and a game winning single by Dillon Dignler to take Big Ten tournament opener over Michigan.
Omaha, Nebraska – It sure wasn’t the sound-of-music-Julie Andrews-style blasting from the clubhouse that got Ohio State players a little scolding from ballpark officials.
The shouting and screaming from a hard-driving band was being played at dance club levels, and it could be heard way down the hallways in the underbelly of TD Ameritrade Park on Wednesday afternoon.
But even the tune police really couldn’t blame the Buckeyes for getting a little rowdy.
The team that a lot of people all but wrote off a couple of weeks ago had just pulled off a stunning come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Michigan in the first game of the Big Ten Tournament on a sunny, but cool and windy day.
Seventh-seeded Ohio State (32-24) advanced to play sixth-seeded Maryland (30-27), a 6-2 upset winner over Illinois, at 6 p.m. Thursday.
First, though, let’s tell the story of an upstart team that suddenly owns the Wolverines (38-17) with four victories in the last five games, including two in the conference tournament.
The Buckeyes have won eight of their last nine games, and each more or less has been win or else. The team needed to beat Purdue the final game of the regular season and get help from Iowa just to make it here.
“Obviously, it’s a great victory, opening day of tournament play against our rivals. We fought hard. There was a lot of baseball we left on the field. Our guys competed and played hard. About the third inning you knew it was going to be one of those days where everything – every base – was going to count. Give our guys credit.’’
Freshman shortstop Zach Dezenzo couldn’t explain how his team suddenly has turned it on after having so many false starts during the 55-game regular season.
This team is the hottest in the Big Ten.
“There is no better time to get going,’’ Dezenzo said. “Honestly, I can’t put a finger on it, but I’m glad whatever is working for us is working. We have to keep it up. We understood it was a pitching duel. Both pitchers were lights out today. We knew we had to stick to our guns and keep the faith and that things would work out for us.’’
Michigan, meanwhile, was put in dire straits. There will be a wake-up call at the crack of dawn with a 10 a.m. start against Illinois in a losers’ bracket game, but it also needs victories because it is not anywhere near a lock to make the NCAA tournament as an at-large team.
“I didn’t sense the guys being nervous or not competitive in the box,’’ coach Erik Bakich said. “We just didn’t get it done. We just didn’t get the big hit. In tournament baseball it’s defense, pitching and timely hitting, and we didn’t get the timely hits.’’
Ohio State had one hit with not many hard-hit balls against Michigan No. 1 Karl Kauffmann going into the top of the eighth.
The Wolverines led 1-0 on a sacrifice fly by Jesse Franklin in the sixth.
Dezenzo changed the complexion of the game with a leadoff double midway up the fence in left field. It was such a line shot that outfielder Miles Lewis had no shot at getting a glove on the ball.
“The previous two ABs he got me both times on strikeouts,’’ Dezenzo said. “I knew from my second AB that he started me off with a little hanging curveball and that if he gave that to me again I’d be able to be quick to it and hammer it down the left field line. That’s exactly what I did.’’
Balls hit to center and right field were beaten down by winds that reached 15 miles per hour, but there was a little jet stream going to left.
“I knew I hit it over his head,’’ Dezenzo said. “I wasn’t sure if it would go out or not, but, honestly, I’m glad it stayed in (the way things turned out). Oh, yes, as soon as I got in scoring position I knew we’d have a very, very good shot.’’
Kauffmann compounded his problems by hitting Ridge Winand with the first pitch.
Then freshman third baseman Nick Erwin really applied the pressure with a nearly perfect sacrifice bunt up the third base line to put men on second and third.
Dominic Canzone was walked intentionally to load the bases with the guts of the batting order coming up.
Second baseman Matt Carpenter quickly got behind two strikes before hitting a slow bouncer to second for what looked to be a certain double play. But Carpenter ran for all he was worth and beat the throw by shortstop Jack Blomgren by a step as Dezenzo scored.
Kauffmann didn’t have time to work on catcher Dillon Dingler. Dingler took an inside-out swing on the first pitch in sending a soft fly to the opposite field in right to plate Winand for the go-ahead run.
“It was the fourth time through the order for the pitcher and I thought I had a good grasp on what he was going to throw,’’ Dingler said. “I got my fastball and was able to put it into the hole.’’
Until the rally, Ohio State players showed good body language despite all the frustration in the batter’s box. The sight of Dezenzo on second base after a hard hit ball really charged up the dugout.
“That definitely was huge getting someone on base, let alone in scoring position,’’ Dingler said. “It’s all about timing. I just so happened to be late on that ball and was able to get my hands through it. I hit the ball where it was pitched.’’
Anyone following the highs and lows of starter Seth Lonsway this season had to know it could be one of those days for the redshirt freshman. He walked the No. 2 and 3 batters in the first inning and two more in the second.
Lonsway was starting on four days’ rest rather than five because No. 1 starter Garrett Burhenn is in concussion protocol from the foul ball he took to the left side of the head last Saturday against Purdue.
He would have gotten the side in order in the third and fourth except for an error by first baseman Conner Pohl on a ground ball up the line in the fourth.
But a lead-off walk to nine-hole batter Ako Thomas, a single to left-center by Jordan Nwogu and a wild pitch led to Michigan’s first run in the fifth, a sacrifice fly to left by Jesse Franklin.
When he was in the strike zone, Michigan had no chance. When he wasn’t, the game slowed to something resembling curling. He walked seven in 5 1/3 innings and only 55 of his 105 pitches were strikes.
“He was effectively wild,’’ Bakich said. “His fastball was just spraying all over the place. He has got one of those high spin rate good vertical rise to his fastball. We needed to have hard cap on the strike zone and not chase above the belt, and we didn’t do that. His ball had good life at the top of the zone. Lonsway didn’t necessarily get us with secondary pitches.’’
Lonsway gutted it out in giving up one hit. He struck out six.
“I knew today that I was going to have to battle, especially not having as many days’ rest,’’ he said. “I just tried to have confidence in what I was throwing and worked a few changeups in there. That’s something I haven’t done much of this season, and I had some success with it. I just battled no matter what was going on behind me or behind the plate. I tried to have some conviction.”
Freshman Will Pfenning also has been all over the place with his control this season, but he was never better than in the sixth when Lonsway left with one out and runners on first and second because of walks.
The Wolverines pulled off a double-steal – lead runner Jimmy Kerr was thrown out at third, but the call was overturned by replay – but Pfennig dug deep to strike out Thomas swinging and got Nwogu on a lazy fly ball to center.
Pfennig got the side in order in the seventh, and that included two strikeouts.
“A lot of credit to our guys in the field for getting outs and to Will Pfennig and leaving those guys stranded and helping me out,’’ Lonsway said.
Junior Andrew Magno got the final six batters in order to get the save.
“The Bucks are hot. We love momentum,’’ Dingler said. “Everyone gets fired up and we feed off one another. It’s great to see and great to be part of.’’