They fought back from two-run deficits twice, showed fight with their backs to the wall, but inconsistencies from the offense and bullpen cost the Buckeyes for the second game in a row at Maryland.
College Park, MD – This one hurt – really hurt. The fact that the Buckeyes lost for the second day in a row to Maryland, 5-4, notwithstanding…it was the manner in which it happened that’s going to make for a long night.
Twice Saturday they fought back from two-run deficits, in the seventh and in the ninth, and looked like they’d seized the momentum of the game. All that was needed was the bullpen to slam the door to give them their due. It almost happened…but not quite.
Seth Lonsway started and pitched well. This was good Lonsway at his best for the first four innings. The fastball was alive, and the curve cast a spell on even the most suspecting of Maryland hitters.
He struck out 11 of the 18 hitters he retired and looked in total command until he walked Maryland’s Bubba Alleyene to start the fifth. Then on a pickoff attempt Alleyne broke for second and Lonsway had him dead to rights…only he threw the ball over the head of first baseman Conner Pohl and down the right field line. Alleyene scored all the way from the first and the Terps took a 1-0 lead.
“He let up, just trying to throw it over there instead of making a strong throw like he’d done all day,” said Greg Beals later. “He tried to goose it over there just to get the guy out.”
An inning later Maryland’s Max Costes doubled to lead off the 6th, advanced on an infield ground out, then scored on a wild pitch that skipped past catcher Archer Brookman. The Terps led 2-0.
Maryland righthander Nick Dean had matched Lonsway pitch for pitch through the first six innings, giving up just one hit and striking out seven hitters. That was a problem – a continuing problem of little or no offense – putting the Lonsway and the Buckeyes in a position of having to play ‘perfect’ baseball to even have a chance.
But in the top of the seventh Kade Kearn singled (3 for 5 on the day), and with one out Pohl came to the plate and got a Dean fastball in the center of the plate. The senior captain from Arcanum hit a laser shot out to right field for his second homer in as many days – his seventh – to tie the score at 2-2.
Lonsway was done after six, giving up the mound to Griffan Smith, who came on to retire the side in the seventh impressively, striking out two of the three outs in the inning.
But a different Smith came out in the eight, made mistakes with fastballs in the zone to Maryland’s Matt Shaw and Luke Schliger, and both hit solo homers out of band box Bob Smith Stadium to retake the lead, 4-2.
“Griffan was great in the seventh – pitched good – but left a couple of fastballs up in the eighth,” said Beals, frustrated over the current fates of baseball. “But the problem is we had zero runs scored early in the game. Dean was hitting with his pitches, but if we can score some runs then every little thing that happens in the game is not so magnified. But when your offense can’t produce it puts extreme pressure on the pitchers. And that’s causing some of the problems on the mound.”
Dean went eight innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits before reliever Sam Bello came on in the ninth to nail down what appeared to be a routine save. Kade Kearn, Pohl, and Brent Todys made it anything but routine.
They each singled in succession to load the bases…and then Bello walked Scottie Seymour on six pitches to drive in Kearn from third to cut the deficit to 4-3. Marcus Ernst then hit into a 4-6-3 double play to drive in Pohl and for the second time in three innings the Buckeyes had reprieved themselves.
TJ Brock came out to pitch the bottom of the ninth, his first appearance since a week ago Friday at Michigan. He looked unhittable – throwing fire – retiring the side in order and striking out two. Momentum was flexing its mojo in the Buckeyes’ dugout.
Zach Dezenzo and Kearn each singled in the top of the tenth off Bello with two out. Maryland made a pitching change, and Pohl came to the plate with a chance to drive in the go-ahead run off reliever David Falco. But Falco induced a ground ball to second and the game went to the bottom of the tenth, still tied at 4-4.
This time Brock was anything but efficient, walking leadoff man Alleyene on four pitches and none of them came close to the strike zone. A wild pitch then moved Alleyene to second. He hit Matt Shaw in the shoulder with fastball, then Ben Cowles moved the runners to second and third with a sac bunt.
Maxwell Costes, arguably the Terps’ most dangerous hitter came up and Beals walked him intentionally to set up a force at each base. That brought Luke Schliger to the plate with one out. Brock worked the count to 3-2, and could have had him struck out except for a questionable call on a check swing by third base umpire Wayne Harris. But on the final pitch of the game Brock missed wide of the plate, walking in the winning run…and momentum was out the door and on its way to Mudville.
Maryland (12-12) won it with 5 runs on 4 hits and committed no errors.
The Buckeyes (13-11) lost it with 4 runs on 9 hits and committed 1 error.
For the second day in a row the bullpen had stumbled, but to Beals’ earlier point about the offense, it led to the question of psychology and additional mental pressure on his team. He didn’t disagree.
“Sure, there’s always a psychological issue when you’re not hitting. Hitting’s hard, and the average college batting average is .272, so that means you’re failing 75% of the time. And trying to call yourself good when you do it.
“There’s nothing else you can do at a 25% success clip and consider yourself decent. There’s nothing else you can do at 25% and keep going. But with hitting you can, but there’s always going to be that psychological element to hitting. Today we knew what was coming from (Nick) Dean and we needed to capitalize more than we did.”
Maryland improved to 12-12 and now stands on the heels of tying the Buckeyes in the Big Ten standings with a sweep on Sunday. Righthander Jack Neely will have the responsibility of seeing that doesn’t happen.
In the meantime…another tough night for the Buckeyes and dealing with the less tangible issues. Somehow, as Greg Beals explained, they need to realize that failing 70% of the time is commendable, and doable, in baseball.
The trick is to pick the right time – a fortuitous time – for the other 30%.