It took 4 hours and 21 minutes and had so many crazy twists and turns, but in the end Ohio State took Indiana State’s best punch a couple of times to win 10-6 in 10 innings to come home winners from opening weekend.
Port Charlotte FLA – It was a baseball writer’s nightmare, a mess of a baseball game that lasted nearly 4 1/2 hours, saw the Ohio State Buckeyes lose a pair of two-run leads, fight back each time and finally persevere in the 10th inning to beat Indiana State 10-6 in the rubber game of the Buckeyes’ weekend opening series.
On one of those rare occasions where the good and the bad balanced themselves out, Conner Pohl, the Buckeyes’ 6-foot-5 first baseman, beat ISU’s 10th inning strategy of left-handed pitcher against left-handed batter by lining a two-out double on a 3-and-2 pitch to the alley in left-center with the bases loaded. One batter later, Scottie Seymour lined a single to drive in the fourth run of the inning.
That’s how we’ll remember the climactic finish to opening weekend, 2020. Bucks win…Bucks win…Bucks win. And someone cue Harry Caray!
It could have been better, and it should have been better. Four hours earlier, junior Griffan Smith had made his first start of the season and carried a 1-0 first inning lead into the third inning despite giving up four hits through the first two innings to a pesky ISU lineup.
Ohio State added a run in the third and ISU countered with one of its own. Smith was on the smiling side of the scoreboard, but stamina was an issue. Coming back from an elbow procedure during the off-season, Smith was the beneficiary of an insurance run in the top of the fourth before freshman Wyatt Loncar came on in relief.
Loncar, a 6-6 freshman from California, threw murderously hard, but not so accurately. But he also threw enough strikes with a sharp-breaking curve to make Sycamore hitters respect him, and got through the fourth and fifth without giving up a run.
But bad things began to happen. The Buckeyes loaded the bases with none out in the top of the fifth and didn’t score a run. Nolan Clegg, Matt Carpenter, and Noah West struck out in succession to end the inning, an omen, perhaps, of more things to come.
When Loncar walked the lead-off man to start the sixth, that was enough for Greg Beals. Reliever Joe Gahm came out of the bullpen, and could have had better luck, because the defense looked as though it went to the airport early in making three errors behind him, including costly ones by Pohl, Carpenter, and Dingler on the same play that ended up costing three runs and the lead. The Sycamores led at the end of six, 4-3.
TJ Brock salvaged the sixth for Gahm and pitched brilliantly through the seventh and eighth, giving up no runs or hits, and striking out five.
In the meantime, Clegg redeemed himself in the top of the eighth by hooking an inside fastball down the left field line and directly over the foul pole for a home run to tie the game at 4-4.
Transfer Archer Brookman followed with a double and pinch-runner Sam Wilson scored on a single by Noah West to give the Bucks the lead. Dillon Dingler then drove in West to make it 6-4.
Clegg’s homer was his first of the season and first as a Buckeye. It was a massive moment in the face of what could have been a bad weekend, but the sophomore from Toronto (Oh.) was reserved talking about it.
“I was just happy to get a chance to do something late in the game to get some confidence in the guys,” Clegg said. “Once that happened everyone’s spirit kind of picked up. It seemed like, ‘Man, if he can do it, so can we.'”
Pat Murphy came in for Brock in the top of the ninth, presumably to close the game, and ‘Murphy’s Law’ almost happened. The transfer from Marshall uses a slider as his out pitch and the Sycamores greeted him with four singles in the inning to cut the lead to 6-5.
Still, he almost got out with the lead and game intact, but usually sure-handed second baseman Nick Erwin couldn’t handle a ground ball that would have resulted in the final out. A run scored and it was 6-6 and the game went to extra innings.
The top of the 10th was a tester for the Buckeyes, having already lost two two-run leads.
To prove that baseball plays no favorites, ISU right-hander Max Klein could not locate the strike zone, either, in walking the bases loaded with Pohl coming up and no one out.
ISU went to the bullpen for a third time in the game to bring in a lefthander to pitch to Pohl – Zach Frey. The left on lefty strategy had worked twice before.
“It kind of made me mad,” said Pohl. “But huge props, first of all, to all the guys on the bench – Archer, Sam Wilson, Colten Bauer – for coming in and making huge contributions to help us win. They did a helluva’ job with that. This was the third lefty that they threw at me and it got under my skin. They thought they could do it again to get me out and I just took a different mindset. We had battled to get back, guys had made some great at bats to get us to that point and I just tried to stay on the fastball and drive it.”
He worked the count full, then drove a fastball to the alley in left-center to clear the bases. The bench erupted in celebration. One hitter later, Scottie Seymour added the insurance run with a run-scoring single for a 10-6 lead.
Beals called on Bayden Root to close a second game in less than 24 hours. He threw strikes and mercifully ended things before the new inning curfew at 3:30 pm.
Root was just as good as he was Saturday in a victory over Pitt. He got the first two outs on a grounder to third and strikeout. ISU did scratch out a single, but Root ended it by getting a fly ball to right field.
Ohio State had survived to win two of three games on the first weekend.
The Buckeyes won it with 10 hits, but committed 5 errors and stranded 12 men. Murphy got the victory and Root the save.
ISU had 14 hits, 2 errors and left 15 on base.
With a plane to catch to Columbus, Greg Beals was short and sweet with his post-game analysis.
“First of all, a ‘W’,” he said, offering a smile. “It was sloppy defensively, obviously, but I thought our pitchers battled pretty good. I think our infield defense is going to be fine, a strength of our team. It didn’t play that way this weekend, but we saw that we’re going to pitch the ball effectively and we need to support that pitching staff better than we did today.”
Beals also offered the positives.
“A couple of things,” he said. “We had a really good game last night, and we had to contend with some situations today. We had to hang in and compete, and while we put ourselves in some bad spots – it wasn’t pretty – we fought our way through those spots and found a way to get a win. And for the fact of brotherhood, we had some guys come off the bench and contribute. Archer Brookman’s big double, Colten Bauer worked a walk there to lead off the 10th, Hughes and Wilson as pinch-runners. We used to the bench and it’s good that they know they’re going to be called on.”
Root proved he was as big, if not bigger, than the moment.
“If anyone wonders about him pitching two days in a row, he only threw 32 pitches last night in three innings,” said Beals. “His efficiency last night allowed him to come back today, still throwing strikes.”
Beals boarded the plane for home a winner of two out of three on the weekend. Plus, there’s also the intangible of a young team gaining confidence by coming back from mistakes time and again.
“This was huge,” he said. “With the expectations that we had you can’t go home on opening weekend with a losing record. And we were close. It was a scare, but we got out of it and there’s some things to think about when we get home. We have some work to do.”