Great Day for a Comeback
Buckeyes Rally with Five-Run Eighth to Beat Gophers
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The crowds didn’t flood through the gates of Huntington Park Wednesday for Ohio State’s first-round matchup with Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament.
The Buckeyes celebrate another run in the eighth inning.
Photo by Jim Davidson
After all, the Buckeyes were not all that great during the regular season. They finished the year as a .500 club, 25-25 overall, by taking 2-of-3 on the final weekend in Minneapolis. Their 13-11 conference record was only two games off the pace in the Big Ten, but that’s more of a testament to the mediocrity of the league than it is to the Buckeyes.
That’s not to say they weren’t without their bright spots in the first season under new Head Coach Greg Beals. Freshman Josh Dezse was a fantastic find who hit .341 in the 4-hole and blew people away with his mid-90s fastball as the team’s closer.
Ace Drew “Boomer” Rucinski also had a fine season, posting a 5-2 record with a 2.88 ERA and a nearly 3-1 strikeout to walk ratio. He single-handedly kept the Buckeyes in the game Wednesday against the Golden Gophers as the bats faltered in the heat of the moment against Minnesota ace T.J. Oakes.
Ohio State managed all of three hits over the first seven innings, but still trailed only 1-0 in the eighth before Beals went to the bullpen. Left-handed specialist Andrew Armstrong promptly gave up a 2-run double off the Huntington Park logo in left-center field and it looked like the Buckeyes were going to go away quietly.
Only they didn’t see it that way.
“None of the guys on our team quit, we all staid positive in the dugout,” third baseman Matt Streng said.
“Coach came up to us and said we're getting good swings, just stay with it. Keep doing what we do. Our pitching has been unbelievable and we played great defense once again, so we knew that we were still in this ballgame, we just needed to string together a few big hits.”
They had not gotten many of those against Minnesota starter T.J. Oakes, who held Ohio State scoreless for seven innings. He had his slider going and the Buckeyes couldn’t touch him until the eighth inning. With one out and runners on the corners, the Gophers turned the game over to reliever Scott Matyas.
All season that meant the game was over. Not Wednesday.
The most dominant closer in the Big Ten, Matyas came into the game with a sparkling 1.82 ERA and 10 saves in 23 appearances. He has struck out 40 batters in 29.2 innings and opponents were hitting just .129 against him.
The Buckeyes would need some magic, and they got it when a ball hit by centerfielder Tim Wetzel glanced off the glove of Gophers’ second-baseman Matt Puhl and into centerfield.
Second baseman Ryan Cypret followed with a ball back up the middle off the foot of Matyas, which then kicked off the glove of Puhl and again into centerfield to make a 3-2 game. The Buckeyes still had two on and just one out with their best hitter at the plate, but Matyas struck out Dezse after he had come back from an 0-2 count to work it full.
The rally could have died there, but Streng followed with a base hit through the right side of the infield and Wetzel came all the way around from second to score the tying run on a close play at the plate. He was ruled safe, but replay would show Minnesota catcher Kurt Schlangen blocking his hand from the plate.
Tim Wetzel is called safe at home.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“In that situation, you always want to get a hook slide around the catcher and try to touch the back end with your hand. And he did a great job of blocking the plate,” Wetzel admitted after the game.
“Right where I was planning on putting my hand, his foot was right there. So I guess it must've looked like I touched the back end. It could've went either way. I sold it, I guess. We got the run and that's all that matters, I guess.”
Schlangen tried to run back and tag Wetzel, but it was too late. The home plate umpire had called him safe and with that, the Buckeyes had come back to tie the game 3-3.
“Whatever works,” Beals added.
Ohio State took their first lead when
Schlangen attempted to gun down Cypret at third after Streng took off for second base. The throw caromed into left field, giving the Buckeyes a 4-3 lead. They would add an insurance run when the next batter, left fielder David Corna, ripped a ball off the top of the BIG sign in front of the leftfield bleachers to make it 5-3.
It was a huge swing in momentum for that point in the game, because Ohio State could turn things over to Dezse, who doubles as the team’s closer, in the ninth. Throwing his fastball in the mid-90s, Dezse retired all three batters in the ninth, striking out Trip Schultz on a curveball before getting A.J. Petterson to whiff on a 96 mile-per-hour fastball.
The Buckeyes will face No. 1-seed Illinois Thursday evening at 7:05 p.m. at Huntington Park in downtown Columbus.
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