Ohio State baseball coach Greg Beals thought his team had its best practices of his two-year tenure as it got ready for the Big Ten baseball tournament.
The one thing he just wasn’t sure of was whether his team would be able to mentally respond from its sweep suffered last weekend at Indiana.
As it turned out, he didn’t have to be worry about that, either. The sixth-seeded Buckeyes battled back from an early 5-1 deficit Wednesday afternoon to blitz Penn State, upsetting the third-seeded Nittany Lions by a 12-5 score in Game 2 of the tourney staged at Huntington Park.
“After last weekend, I was concerned about how our guys were playing in competition,” Beals said. “I felt like they were putting too much pressure on themselves and we were questioning our belief in our ability to win a game, our ability to play for a championship.
“That was what we talked about for the last four days was finding a way to get ourselves playing in the right frame of mind to allow ourselves to be our best. Today was a great example of continuing to believe.”
The Buckeyes took the lead with three runs in the eighth and put away the contest with a six-run outburst in the ninth, stunning a Penn State team that looked in control when ace Joe Kurrasch was mowing the Buckeyes down in the middle part of the game.
But the Buckeyes worked Kurrasch to the point he had to leave after the sixth, and the Penn State bullpen wasn’t up to the task. On the other side, Ohio State reliever Brett McKinney’s effort was paramount as the junior worked 4.2 scoreless frames to improve to 5-5 and Andrew Armstrong and Josh Dezse finished things off.
“Their bullpen held and ours didn’t,” Penn State head coach Robbie Wine said. “That’s the bottom line. It was a matter of McKinney calming things down and getting them back in the game.”
Wine’s Nittany Lions will play fellow first-day loser Nebraska tomorrow at noon an in elimination game while the Buckeyes will throw sophomore John Kuchno against league regular-season champion Purdue in the nightcap at 7:05 – a prime-time affair that should bring the fans out to the home of the Triple-A Clippers in downtown Columbus.
There were 1,250 on hand on a picturesque day in Columbus for the first day, but the fans predominantly clad in scarlet and gray didn’t have much to cheer early as the Nittany Lions (29-26) battered OSU ace Jaron Long for five runs on 11 hits in three-plus innings.
Long gave up a run on three hits in the first, gave up three more hits in the second – being saved from conceding only when left fielder Patrick Porter ended the inning by erasing PSU catcher Alex Farkes at the plate – and then was tagged for three in the third on four consecutive hits.
He gave up a single and a double to start the fourth as well and was lifted in favor of McKinney, who allowed a run-scoring single to PSU third baseman Joey DeBernardis but then settled down to close the frame with no further damage to keep the score at 5-1.
From that point, McKinney was in control, allowing only one runner to reach third base and pitching into the eighth inning.
“Coach gave me the opportunity to put me in the game in a big situation,” said McKinney, OSU’s opening day starter. “I was just trying to do everything I could to help the team win. I knew at that point in the ballgame we had to limit as much damage as possible.”
His performance allowed the Buckeyes to get back into the game. Ohio State touched Kurrasch – who entered with a 1.98 ERA – for two runs in the sixth. Third baseman Brad Hallberg singled with one out, DH Mike Carroll reached on an error and right fielder David Corna singled home Hallberg. Freshman left fielder Patrick Porter then hit a sacrifice fly to score Carroll and make it 5-3.
After a quiet seventh, Ohio State (32-25) took the lead in the eighth. First baseman Josh Dezse singled to lead things off before Hallberg singled and Carroll walked off eventual losing pitcher Greg Welsh (4-2).
Wine turned to closer Drew Walkling with the bases loaded, but Corna greeted him with an RBI single to score Dezse that made it 5-4. One batter later, Porter hit a chopper to first that tied the game when first baseman Jordan Steranka threw to second, but shortstop Elliot Searer’s return throw to first was not only late but wide of the bag. Covering first, Walkling had to reach for the throw and lost his balance, allowing Carroll to motor home with the winning run.
As surprising as things turned in the eighth, the way the ninth developed was even more abrupt. Walkling issued a walk, committed an error with a woeful throw to first on a sacrifice bunt then plunked two in a row to end his day, and things blew up from there until six runs were on the board.
Porter and Corna had four RBI apiece on the day while Pellant had two. Hallberg and Corna each had three hits while Pellant and Porter had two apiece.
“I really was pleased with the guys’ ability to stick to the plan,” Beals said of the offensive attack. “Even if they chased, got out of the plan, they got back in the plan and we were able to have success.”
Penn State’s attack was led by Steranka, a first-team All-Big Ten choice who had two doubles among his three hits with a run and an RBI.
Game 1: (5) Michigan State 10, (4) Nebraska 9
The Spartans, picked as preseason league champions but a darkhorse now after an up-and-down regular season, held on to beat the Cornhuskers in a crazy game to open play at Huntington Park.
The Spartans opened a 10-2 lead going to the home half of the ninth before Nebraska scored seven runs in the bottom of the frame, the big blow a three-run, bases-clearing double by Kale Kiser that pulled the Huskers within a run. But Pat Kelly lined out to leaping MSU second baseman Ryan Jones to end the game and leave Kiser stranded.
MSU pounded out 17 hits, including four each by Joel Fisher and Anthony Cheky. Jones, Justin Scanlon, Jordan Keur and John Martinez each drove in two runs, while Tony Bucciferro threw eight innings of two-run ball.
The Spartans will play second-seeded Indiana in the middle game Thursday at Huntington Park.