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 dual arts degrees from Ohio State University.

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A questionable walk-off home run ruined it.  What should have been a night of ‘what went right’ turned into instant ‘what went wrong’ in the bottom of the ninth.

Corpus Christi, TX – They say if you watch baseball long enough you’ll see something you either don’t expect…or you’ve never seen before.

Such was the case Saturday night as the Ohio State Buckeyes (4-2) somehow squandered a 7-3 lead in the last three innings to lose to Texas A&M Corpus Christi, 8-7, on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth…about which it’s questionable if any of the three umpires working actually saw the ball leave the ballpark.

In fact, it’s questionable as to whether the ball did leave.  More about that in a moment.  Needless to say, it was a gut punch – a tough loss – where everything, they say, happens bigger in Texas.

It negated a great beginning, Noah West doubling to lead off the game and later scoring on a Brady Cherry single to give the Buckeyes a 1-0 first inning lead.  And freshman starter Garrett Burhenn carried that lead into the bottom of the second when Corpus Christi showed early that they meant to make a wild night of it.

There was an early omen.  The lights went out in the second inning and it took 15 minutes to get ’em back on.  And when they did come back on Corpus took advantage of a pair of walks by Burhenn, sandwiched a pair of hits around those walks, and tagged the Indianapolis freshman for his first collegiate runs – three of them – to take a 3-1 lead.

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Burhenn was obviously not the same pitcher that cruised through Seton Hall a week ago.  On this night he struggled with command.  He threw a lot of pitches.  But he also made adjustments, and came back out in the third and competed, throwing more strikes, and better strikes, holding Corpus scoreless for the next three innings.

In the meantime the offense came to his defense.  Dom Canzone was hit by a pitch to lead off the top of the third and Brady Cherry followed with a majestic home run to left field to tie things at 3-3.  One batter later catcher Brent Todys hit a pitch in almost the identical spot where Cherry’s bomb had landed for his first home run as a Buckeye and a 4-3 lead.  It invigorated Burhenn, who pitched with that lead into the fifth when the Buckeyes struck for another pair of runs.

Freshman Garrett Burhenn regrouped after a rocky second to pitch the Buckeyes through the fifth.

Canzone walked, Cherry singled for his third hit of the night, and two outs later third baseman Zach Dezenzo doubled deep into the alley in right to drive them both across the plate – OSU 6, Corpus Christi 3.

An inning later, in the sixth, Malik Jones led off with a walk, Noah West was hit by a pitch, and Jones scored all the way from second base when Canzone grounded into a fielder’s choice – OSU 7, Corpus Christi 3.

Burhenn’s night was done, as he exited after 91 pitches for reliever Thomas Waning in the bottom of the sixth.  Waning retired the side in the sixth, but the bottom of the seventh he gave up a two-run home run to catcher Trevor Beard – OSU 7, Corpus Christi 5.

Corpus Christi’s bullpen of Steven Vejil, Payton Bauer, and John Gaddis shut the Buckeyes down over the final three innings on just one hit, striking out five while walking one.  It seemed to be just the emotional lift the Islanders needed.

In the bottom of the eighth they worked Buckeyes lefthander Andrew Magno for a pair of leadoff walks, and one of those walks ultimately scored on a two-out single by third baseman Enrique Sanchez.  The inning ended with the Buckeyes clinging to a 7-6 lead, but Corpus was hardly done.

Magno again walked the leadoff hitter, Trevor Beard, to open the ninth.  Replaced by pinch-runner Chad Romere, Romere was sacrificed to second base with one out and up to the plate walked right-handed hitting first baseman Luke Marbach, who had doubled and scored in the third.  And on a 1-2 pitch Marbach lifted a high fly ball to the opposite field and headed for the right field corner.  Dom Canzone ran after it, ran out of room, the ball dropped somewhere…but no one in the park was sure where.

Why?

Conner Pohl reaches into the dugout to record an out in the seventh inning.

Because none of the three umpires – plate umpire Jeff Beaman, first base umpire Jeremy Hayes, or third base umpire James Ainsworth – made a call of any kind.  In the meantime Romere raced around third and scored the apparent tying run while Marbach stood at second base as the Corpus Christi dugout emptied upon the field…Marbach still standing at second base.

Still, there was no call as the Islanders’ bench told Marbach to continue running – that the ball had left the ballpark for a home run.

Ohio State coach Greg Beals came out to ask what was going on.  Beaman tentatively signaled home run as Marbach ran around third base and crossed home plate with the winning run.  But yet, the body language of the three umpires led one to believe that none of them was sure where the ball had landed – fair, foul, had it left the park on the fly, or bounced over the wall?

Both teams left the dugouts to ask for an answer.  Beaman, Hayes, and Ainsworth huddled for a few seconds, and when they adjourned that meeting Beaman signaled home run, and that Corpus Christi would be awarded the winning run.  But Greg Beals was anything but convinced, because three minutes after the fact of the baseball landing someplace none of the three acted with much conviction.

“He told me that the ball hit the foul pole,”  said Beals later, clearly fuming over the call, and the appearance of the umpires failing the moment.  But showing remarkable restraint in the face of his team losing for the second time in as many days, that was all Beals would say about it.

Reliever Thomas Waning tries to throw out a runner from flat of his back during his two innings of work.

But the fact is that the call was not made confidently, and even the Corpus Christi fans were shaking their heads over where the ball had landed, or whether it was fair or foul.

It was a regrettable way for a ballgame to end, regardless of who won.  But in the case of the Buckeyes it was particularly galling because it negated a spectacular competitive effort on the part of Garrett Burhenn – to regroup after the 3-run second to give his team a chance to come back and win.

“Garrett’s effort was huge, and one of the bright spots of the game,”  said Beals.  “He gave us a workman-like outing at the end of the day.  Obviously he didn’t have his best stuff against a good-hitting ballclub, but he battled and got us through five innings.  He set us up to where the bullpen could come in and do their thing.”

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It also negated an offensive effort that saw the Buckeyes come bounding back from a 3-1 deficit and take command of the game after the third inning.

It negated another 3-hit performance by Brady Cherry, and his third home run of the season.

It wiped out a 2-hit night by Noah West.

Plate umpire Jeff Beaman explains to Greg Beals what he saw on the game’s final play.

It erased a 2-hit night and the good feeling of Brent Todys’ first home run as a Buckeye.

And it took the shine off Scottie Seymour’s first career hit – and a pair of them – as the team’s designated hitter.

Final line:  Texas A&M (Corpus Christi) won it with 8 runs on 13 hits and 2 errors, while Ohio State lost it with 7 runs on 10 hits and 2 errors.

“I was happy with the way we swung the bats,”  added Beals.  “We juggled the lineup, trying to find a better combination – same guys, just hitting in a different order, and tonight that worked out for us.  And in fact I think we saw some things that we liked from that standpoint…some things that we might do more of moving forward.”

But it left a bad taste for a game that deserved a better ending – a game where ‘what went right’ from the third through the sixth, turned to ‘what went wrong’ in the eighth and ninth.

And, one that will not soon be forgotten, given the two teams will meet again on Monday;  or given that the same Southland Conference umpiring crew may well be back to work tomorrow’s game at noon with Oral Roberts.

“We had this one in hand,”  added a dejected Beals.  “Yes, we fueled it a bit with the walks in the last two innings and a couple of plays along the way.

“But give their hitters credit.  They kept battling.  And whatever color you happened to be wearing…that was how you saw the last play of the game.”

Malik Jones scored from second base in the sixth inning on Dom Canzone’s groundout to first base.

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