Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.

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It goes down as a win, of course, and a good one for the Buckeyes.  But the manner in which they won over 16th-ranked Southern Mississippi left half the stadium thrilled…the other half speechless.

Pensacola, FLA – It may mean something big.  Or, it may be nothing more than Ohio State’s 7th win of the season.  After all, they’re only ten games into it.

But the manner in which the Buckeyes overcame a 6-2 mid-game deficit to beat 16th-ranked Southern Mississippi Saturday night actually might – I say might – say a lot about the character of this 2018 edition and what they may yet accomplish between now and game #56.

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They overcame, sure enough, to beat Southern Miss, 9-6, in thrilling fashion – in a manner that left an impressive number of Ohio State fans that made the trip, well, thrilled…actually!

And to the large group of Southern Miss partisans, a knowledgeable and proud contingent that came with some bearing on taking down mighty Ohio State and the Big Ten…well, a lot of them left the ballpark speechless.

It pitted top pitchers from both teams.

For the Buckeyes, Ryan Feltner, seeking his first win and some scoreless innings to diminish an inflated ERA of 6.55 entering the game.

For Southern Miss, Nick Sandlin, a side-arming righthander with a 2-0 record and a 0.00 ERA over 14 previous innings of work.

Both threw scoreless first innings…Feltner in 1-2-3 fashion, lighting up a radar gun behind home plate at 96 miles per hour.

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However, in the second Feltner faltered briefly after a two-out throwing error by shortstop Kobie Foppe.  He then surrendered a pair of hits to SMU’s aggressive batting order and quick as you can say ‘shrimp basket’ in Pensacola…the Buckeyes trailed 2-0.

Catcher Jacob Barnwell is late with the tag as SMU scores in the bottom of the second.

But from that point the Buckeyes’ righthander settled into a better rhythm, cruising through the third…and in the top of the fourth third baseman Conner Pohl evened things with a towering two-run homer to right field, his third of the year.

“He (Sandlin) had a good tailing fastball, and he kept trying to get me to roll over and hit it on the ground,”  said Pohl afterwards.  “So I was waiting for something up that I could handle, and I got a fastball and put a good swing on it.”

Feltner went out for a stressful fourth, where he gave up a pair of hits and then retired the final out with runners on second and third.

In the bottom of the fifth…the roof caved in.  The first four SMU hitters reached on a walk, a base hit, another walk, and another base hit.  He hit a batter, gave up another hit, and by the time he retired the final out the Eagles had put four runs on the board to take a 6-2 lead.

It marked the end of the night for Ryan Feltner.

“It was a heavyweight fight,”  said Greg Beals.  “They way those two starters (Sandlin and Feltner) were going at it, and both of them paid a lot of tax.  Neither was able to go deep into the game because the lineups were tough.  They both pitched well, but they both paid the price.  Their guy made it six innings, our guy made it five.”

The bullpen was great…and freshman Griffan Smith pitched a perfect sixth inning.

It then became a battle of the respective bullpens as freshman Griffan Smith came on for the Buckeyes in the sixth and impressively retired the side in order, pitching 1.1 innings, and into the seventh.

The Bucks scored in the top of the sixth off reliever Jared Wright on consecutive singles by Noah McGowan, Pohl, and Tyler Cowles…6-3, Southern Miss.

Curtiss Irving came on with one out in the seventh to strike out the final two hitters and the keep the deficit at three.

But in the eighth…the roof took its turn with Wright, as well.  The Buckeyes sent nine men to the plate, collected four hits, benefited when SMU rightfielder Mason Irby misplayed a fly ball from Conner Pohl that scored a pair of runs – and with the bases loaded Dillon Dingler, pinch-hitting for Bo Coolen, lashed a line drive to right that scored another run.  Then, Canzone ripped an RBI single to left for his third hit of the game, and before they retired the final out the Bucks led, 7-6.

If you’re talking bullpen for Ohio State, you’re talking Seth Kinker in a game of this magnitude.  He came out paintin’, much to the dismay of the Southern Miss crowd and their disdain for plate umpire Will Posey.  Kinker was vintage, pouring in one strike after another, and retired the side on a pair of ground balls and a strikeout.

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In the top of the ninth, the Eagles bullpen continued its collapse when Brady Cherry opened the inning with a line double to the gap in the left-center.  Then came Noah McGowan to the plate.

The Southern Miss fans, as we said, are knowledgeable, and someone had done their reading on McGowan’s big weekend in Port Charlotte two weeks ago, where he hit .419, drove in 13 runs, and for his efforts was named national collegiate player of the week.

Brady Cherry shows some emotion while scoring on Noah McGowan’s RBI triple in the top of the ninth.

“Hey Noah, this ain’t Milwaukee (University of Wisconsin Milwaukee),”  someone yelled.

McGowan took a pitch from reliever Jacob Weirich, and then promptly drilled a laser shot to dead center that ricocheted off the wall for a triple, scoring Cherry.  Pohl then singled for his third hit, and third RBI, of the night…and Tyler Cowles followed with another hit – a pair of insurance runs for Kinker.

But he didn’t need them.  After walking the leadoff hitter to start the bottom of the ninth, he promptly struck out first baseman Hunter Slater, struck out DH Dan Keating, and induced second baseman Storm Cooper to ground out back to the mound.  It was done…a 9-6 win for the Buckeyes!

The Buckeyes won it with 9 runs on 15 hits, they committed one error, and left nine men on base.

Southern Mississippi lost it with 6 runs on 10 hits, they committed one error, and left ten men on base.

Seth Kinker got the win to square his record at 1-1;  while Jared Wright took the loss for Southern Miss.

It was a game of big things…big moments…and a ‘validation’, to use some Greg Beals words, of the talent, character, and resolve of this group, hungry to atone for the frustration and disappointments of a year ago.

It was validation for the youth of this team – three hits each by Pohl and Canzone, Dillon Dingler’s big pinch base hit, and Griffan Smith’s scoreless sixth – and for the second day in a row, the brilliant defensive play of Pohl at third base.

They hit throughout the lineup – Canzone (3 for 5), Cherry (2 for 5), McGowan (2 for 2 and 4 runs scored), Pohl (3 for 5 and 3 RBIs), Cowles (2 for 5) – a veritable murderers’ row, and that lineup of heavyweights that eventually took its toll on Nick Sandlin and the Eagles’ unsuspecting bullpen.

McGowan spoke about it.

Conner Pohl (left) and Noah McGowan celebrate the final out.

“Just seeing the ball well right now,”  he said, showing hardly a smile.  “Credit to Cherry for getting on base to start the ninth.  It was good to get some insurance for Kinker.  But the thing is we’re all playing together right now.  We’ve got a little ‘swag’ about us this year, we enjoy being an underdog (like tonight), and we play well against good teams.  Last week we were right there with Oregon State, and tonight we put it together and got a win.”

And of course, while he didn’t get hyperbolic about it, Greg Beals enjoyed it all the more, as wins like Saturday ‘validates’ the very blueprint of Buckeyes baseball…the “culture” of Buckeye baseball, as he puts it.

“The story more than anything else was about how we kept fightin’,”  he said.  “Credit both starters, but the game became a battle between the bats and the bullpens.  But what I really liked was we’re down 6-2 against a really good baseball team, in a hostile environment, and our guys fought back and put seven unanswered runs on the board to win a very big baseball game today.”

It is early, and a lot can go wrong between now and May.  Better to not make so much of one day and one win.

But in that win the growth of this baseball team emerged…if only for a day.  There were no days like this in 2017, or at least precious few.

There weren’t many days when every button pushed by Beals paid off in spades – individuals recognizing their roles and executing according to the blueprint…the culture.

“But we’ve got another game tomorrow,”  he cautioned before dismissing his team for the night.  “Great teams win when they’re supposed to win.  And we need to validate a win like today’ with another win tomorrow.  We need to sweep a weekend series.  That’s what we need more than anything.”

Southern Miss right fielder Mason Irby looks up to watch Conner Pohl’s fourth inning homer leave the yard.

He was all business, but still, somewhere deep down there had to be some concealed satisfaction for what they had accomplished.  It’s been a long nine months for Beals and his staff, and the wait to atone for last year’s failures…a long wait for the culture to finally emerge in such a symbolic manner.

“Yes,”  he admitted.  “for the fact that tonight showed a great amount of character, because competitive toughness is very important to our program.  Sometimes you get nicked up a little bit when you play good teams, and tonight we got nicked up.  But we kept battling, kept battling…and late in the game when our bats had a chance we took advantage of it.”

They finish the series on Sunday morning with a 10 am tipoff against Eastern Michigan, who won in extra innings Saturday against Nicholls State.  Senior Adam Neimeyer gets the start on the mound.

And happy as the bus trip back to the hotel was, Beals made the point one last time, with emphasis…that nothing less than a sweep will do on Sunday.

It is, as we wrote about on Friday…a business trip!

Put ‘er there…Seth Kinker and Jacob Barnwell congratulate each other after the final out.

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