Illinois (26-25) scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth against Buckeye closer Josh Dezse to take the 5-4 win over Ohio State (26-26), sending the Buckeyes to the losers' bracket and a twelve-hour turnaround between games.
Buckeyes Lose Heartbreaker 5-4 to #1 Seed Illinois in Big Ten Tournament
By Tony Gerdeman
Buckeye coach Greg Beals brought Dezse into the game in the eighth for a two-inning save that the freshman was unaccustomed to.
"I asked a lot of Josh Dezse today," Beals admitted.
"He’s our closer and he’s going to be great. He already is. Today is part of his maturation process. His pitching two innings isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility, but in retrospect, we asked him to do something he hasn’t done all year."
Dezse's scoreless eighth inning wasn't exactly uneventful. He walked two batters with two outs before getting a third to ground out.
Illini second baseman Pete Cappetta led off the ninth inning with a double, and advanced to third on a wild pitch. He was singled home by Justin Parr to make it 4-2.
After a ground out which advanced Parr to second, he took third on another wild pitch. Brandon Hohl then singled Parr home, making it 4-3.
After a fly out, Matt Dittman walked, putting runners on first and second. Willie Argo singled to right field and Brian DeLucia's throw to the plate couldn't get there in time and the Illini tied the ball game up at 4-4.
Dezse's evening on the mound then came to an end, and Andrew Armstrong then came into the game to face Davis Hendrickson with runners on second and third. Hendrickson took the first pitch he saw right back up the middle for the game-winning single.
“That's by far the toughest loss that we've had all season," said senior captain Brian DeLucia.
"I don't know if it's going to hit quickly, or if we're going to feel it tomorrow. That was a tough one. Dezse has had a hell of a year and I hope he keeps his head up.”
"If I'm gonna win or I'm gonna lose, I like having Josh Dezse on the mound," Beals said.
"And we're gonna do that again. We're gonna have him out on the mound in that situation many, many more times in his career at Ohio State."
Despite the appearance of total control in the late innings, the Buckeyes didn't actually take the lead until the top of the eighth inning.
David Corna led off the inning with a walk, and was then bunted over by Brad Hallberg. Catcher Greg Solomon then came to the plate and laced a dying screamer to centerfield. Argo charged the ball, and made a diving attempt, but the ball skipped under his glove and rolled to the wall. Corna scored easily, and Solomon was waved home as well, giving him a two-run inside-the-park homerun to make it 3-1.
They then added what they thought was an insurance run as DeLucia, who homered to center in the fourth inning, singled and stole second base to get into scoring position. Tim Wetzel then singled DeLucia home, making it 4-1 and setting the stage for the Illini's amazing comeback.
"We've got a great challenge ahead of us now," said Beals.
"The first challenge is to put this game behind us, and get ready for Minnesota tomorrow. You can bet Minnesota is gonna be ready for us, and we need to make sure we put this game behind us."
The Buckeyes will step back on the field at 12:05 pm on Friday, and should they win that game, they will then play at 3:35 against Purdue.
Should they lose, their season will be over.
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