Vanderbilt proved why they are the No. 2 overall national seed in the NCAA Tournament with an 8-2 first-round win over the Buckeyes here in Nashville.
Nashville, TN – Ohio State ace Garrett Burhenn toed the rubber for a first-round NCAA Tournament game not having thrown a pitch that counts for two full weeks because he was in concussion protocol, and it showed like a ripe red boil on the tip of someone’s nose.
No. 2 overall seed Vanderbilt needed only three pitches for its star-studded lineup to measure him up in sending baseballs all over Hawkins Field.
Burhenn is a pitch-to-contact right-hander, and third baseman Austin Martin smacked his first pitch up the middle for a single. Right fielder J.J. Bleday, who is predicted to be one of the first five players chosen in the Major League Baseball draft, followed with a double to left on the second pitch he saw.
And on and on it went as the Commodores scored two runs in the first, second and fourth innings and kept pouring it on to come away with an 8-2 victory over the Buckeyes before a sellout of 3,626.
Ohio State (35-26) must defeat McNeese (35-25), a 6-5 loser to Indiana State, at 1 p.m. Saturday or face elimination.
“Give credit to Vanderbilt. They are the No. 2 team in the country for a reason,’’ Buckeyes coach Greg Beals said. “That’s a tough lineup top to bottom and that put some pressure on Garrett.’’
Burhenn gave up six runs on six hits and three walks in 4 1/3 innings. He struck out three.
No team in the country has a lineup with more big sticks than Vanderbilt. Burhenn didn’t make any excuses for having to sit out until being cleared to play by doctors early in the week.
“I don’t think I was different,’’ he said. “I didn’t feel like I wasn’t ready. I definitely was ready for it. The crowd and the way the ballpark is set up, you have to make your pitches. It was fun. It’s definitely a challenge, but you also have to challenge them at the same time. They are good hitters and I knew that going into the game. You have to make your pitches and can’t make any mistakes.’’
Vanderbilt (50-10) scored two runs in the first on a single to right by Pat DeMarco, two in the second on a sacrifice fly by Harrison Ray and a home run by Julian Infante and two in the fourth on a groundout and wild pitch for a 6-2 lead.
The Buckeyes looked strong in scoring on an infield chop single by Dillon Dingler in the first and one in the second on a towering home run to right by Pohl.
Right fielder Dominic Canzone set the tone leading off the game with an opposite-field double to left on a 1-and-2 pitch. Matt Carpenter got him to third with a sacrifice bunt up the third base line.
But it was Pohl’s home run that really put a charge into the dugout. The crowd went silent because the baseball looked like a golf ball being hit off the tee with a Big Bertha driver.
“It was huge to score early because they can hurt you in all kinds of ways,’’ Pohl said. “Hitting that (home run) early is huge. I thought it was huge to give the team some momentum.’’
Then Commodores starter Drake Fellows showed just why he has a 12-0 record in giving up only an infield hit to Ridge Winand the final 5 2/3 innings. He threw a complete-game seven-hitter with nine strikeouts.
“He was throwing all three pitches for strikes,’’ Pohl said. “He was throwing changeups and giving me fastballs and sliders early.’’
Beals was asked whether his batting order might have been a little impatient swinging at pitches early in the count, and his response was that Fellows always is around the plate and his players had to pull the trigger sooner than later.
The plan was to be on the lookout for Fellows’ fastball.
“I did like our approach,’’ he said. “Obviously, I’d like to capitalize on those pitches. Drake is not a guy where you can sit around for walks. He knows how to pitch and pounds the strike zone for the most part. He nibbled a little bit on us early, then he got back to battling the strike zone. Our approach was to be ready to hit fastballs, and he got us on some off-speed pitches that we chased a little bit.’’
It was obvious that Ohio State was not intimidated by the crowd or opponent and simply got beat. After all, it knocked off Nebraska 3-1 to win the Big Ten Tournament championship before 17,503 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha.
Simply put, Vanderbilt is six years removed from winning a national championship, five years removed from being national runner-up and has played in this tournament 14 straight seasons.
“A tough ballgame. I liked how our guys competed,’’ Beals said. “We got off to a really good start and took some really good swings. There in the middle part of the game we had some chances to make some plays on defense and make some pitches and get some hits and we just weren’t able to do that tonight.’’
The Buckeyes have been in a win-or-else mode for the last three weeks, and they are comfortable knowing that they won’t be squeezing the bats tightly against Southland Conference Tournament champion McNeese.
McNeese is similar to Ohio State in that it finished fifth in its conference and had to win its tournament to make it here.
“That’s the exact message out in the outfield after the game,’’ Beals said. “We’ve had our backs against the wall and put our fists up before, and we’re going to do that again tomorrow. We’re going to run Seth Lonsway out there. We have a strong starting pitcher. We have confidence in our lineup and have confidence in the competitive toughness in our group. That’s part of our cultural blueprint.’’
Pohl was brief talking about the elimination game.
“It’s just doing it,’’ he said. “Let’s do it.’’