Talkin’ Baseball: Buckeyes Stay in B1G Hunt with Series Win over Illinois
By Andrew Lind
COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the Big Ten season in full swing, the Ohio State baseball team remains right in the thick of the conference title race.
Through four weekends of conference play, the Buckeyes (25-13, 9-6 Big Ten) were tied for fifth in the conference, only three games behind co-leading Minnesota and Michigan. Winning a series against Illinois would only better Ohio State’s positioning in the race for a regular season conference championship, and the Buckeyes did just that, taking two of three over the weekend.
Ohio State welcomed the Illinois Fighting Illini to Columbus for the most crucial series of the season, to date. The Illini came into the weekend with a 23-10 record, 5-4 in the Big Ten, and only two games behind the conference leaders. The series marked the opening of a seven-game home stand for the Buckeyes, who hold a 101-95-2 advantage all-time against Illinois.
Despite a disappointing defeat at the hands of in-state rival Cincinnati during the week, Ohio State was looking to continue its stellar play of late. The Buckeyes took two of three from early-season surprise Nebraska last weekend, and a similar result against Illinois was expected by Greg Beals’ ball club.
In fact, the weekend seemed a little too similar.
Game 1: Illini 9, Buckeyes 2
If you think you’ve heard this story before, you have.
Ohio State’s “ace” Jaron Long took to the hill for the Buckeyes on Friday night, looking to resurrect a once-promising season. The All-Big Ten selection came into the contest a loser of two straight games after beginning the season with a stellar 4-1 record. This outing did nothing to help his stature as the best pitcher in the Buckeyes rotation.
The Illini wasted no time getting to Long, as they loaded the bases in the top of the second inning. Long and the Buckeyes were able to escape the inning without harm, but it wouldn’t last long.
Illinois took the lead with a four-run fourth inning. Star infielder Justin Parr got the scoring started for the Illini with a sacrifice bunt. Leading the Illini with a .440 average and 36 runs batted in, Parr was the likely candidate to finally get the lead run across the plate. An RBI single and a triple brought home the other three runs in the inning.
Illinois tacked on another run in the top of the fifth when Long walked the leadoff batter and allowed him to come around and score, effectively ending Long’s day. Right-hander Tyler Giannonatti came into replace Long and swiftly loaded the bases, leading to Parr’s bases-clearing triple, which gave the Illini a 9-0 lead.
On the offensive side, the Buckeyes were unable to string together any hits off of Illini starter Kevin Johnson. It wasn’t until the sixth inning when the home team pushed a run across the plate on a bases-loaded walk. A single to left would make the score 9-2, but the Buckeyes couldn’t get any closer on this night.
Clearly furious by the lack of hits the Buckeyes could muster, Beals was quoted as saying that this was “the worst offensive team he’s ever coached.”
Game 2: Buckeyes 7, Illini 6 (10 innings)
Photo by Jim Davidson
Beals’ frustrations carried over to the first inning on Saturday, as the Buckeyes and starter Brad Goldberg were quickly down 3-0. After an undefeated start to the season, it looked like Goldberg would need all the help he could get from the offense to remain that way.
In the bottom of the inning, Kirby Pellant and the Buckeyes responded with an RBI single to left. While this was only a single run, it ignited a flame in the rest of the lineup. The Buckeyes tied the game in the bottom of the second when Brad Hallberg doubled to right field, bringing home a run, and Ciamacco drove in another with an RBI groundout.
Ohio State took the lead in the bottom of the third, putting Goldberg in line for another win, when Pat Porter crushed a homerun over the right field fence. However, the Illini responded with an RBI double to tie the game.
In the fifth, Parr scored his 34th run of the season to give the Illini the lead. Goldberg, in line for the loss at this point, was then relieved by Ryan Riga. Riga proceeded to strike out the side, holding the deficit to only one run.
In the back-and-forth game, the Buckeyes answered right back, taking the lead 6-5 on a sacrifice fly by Pat Porter and a two-out RBI single by Jacob Bosiokovic.
Again, Illinois knotted to score, this time after a bases-loaded fielders choice brought in the typing run in the 7th inning. The Illini threatened to take the lead, but stranded runners at the corners.
The Buckeyes looked to walk off with a win in the bottom of the 9th as Porter reached third, but was stranded 90 feet away as Illinois reliever Bryan Roberts struck out the final batter, sending the game into extras.
Like the previous weekend at Nebraska, Trace Dempsey held the opponent scoreless through two innings of work. This allowed the Buckeyes to capitalize in the bottom of he 10th. Solomon reached base after he was hit by a pitch and later advanced to second when Tim Wetzel dropped down a sacrifice bunt.
With a runner in scoring position, Brad Hallberg wasted no time in crushing a walk-off double to the gap, setting up the rubber match on Sunday.
Game 3: Buckeyes 7, Illini 3
The series finale shaped up like the first two games of the series, with the Illini taking early lead off of Buckeyes’ starter Brian King. A leadoff double put a runner in scoring position, a single to right brought a run home, and another single gave Illinois a 2-0 lead in the first inning.
Like Saturday, the Buckeyes were quick to respond, tallying six runs in the bottom of the second. Porter doubled to left field to lead off the inning and Bosiokovic singled to put runners on the corners with nobody out. Aaron Gretz singled to bring Porter home, Tim Wetzel’s single plated Bosi, and then Brad Hallberg added the go-ahead run with an RBI single to center.
Ryan Cypret displays his best homerun trot after crushing a pitch over the left-center field wall to put OSU up 6-3.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Illinois’ starter was chased from the game after one 1 1/3 innings when he plunked Joe Ciamacco on the back and his replacement gave up a crushing blow. The crushing blow came courtesy of Ryan Cypret, who took the first pitch over the left-center field wall, giving Ohio State a 6-3 lead.
The offensive explosion was a welcome sight for Head Coach Greg Beals.
“We’ve come back to win a series like this two weekends in a row,” he said.
“Hopefully this team is learning the winning ways after tough losses on Friday, extra-inning wins on Saturday and good, clean Sunday wins the last two weeks. I feel like it’s been a learning experience as to just how to win games and it speaks a lot about our competitive toughness.”
Illinois rarely threatened the rest of the game, only tallying one more run over the course of the game. Ohio State was able to tack on another run in the bottom of the sixth inning when Porter reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second and scored on an RBI double by Bosi, extending the lead and capping the scoring at 7-3.
For what seems like the first time this season, the offense overshadowed a great outing by the Buckeyes starter, Brian Kind. King added another quality start, allowing only three runs over 6 1/3 innings pitched.
With the university in the midst of Finals Week, the baseball team does not have a midweek game. The Buckeyes will continue their seven-game homestand on Friday night against Penn State.
The Nittany Lions come into the game with a 10-25 record (2-10 in Big Ten play), good for last in the standings. Anything less than a sweep would be a disappointing way for the Buckeyes to say goodbye to a chance at a regular season Big Ten Championship.