For the second time in as many days the Buckeyes stage late-inning fireworks to take the series and their late inning drama to new heights.
COLUMBUS — Nick Sergakis had a bloody nose. A lady in the stands was moved to tears. The coach demonstrated an admirable vertical leap and a smile as broad as Franklin County.
Jacob Bosiokovic did it again. His two-run, walk-off homer Sunday gave Ohio State a 5-4 win over Northwestern, salvaging the first Big Ten series of the season (2-1), and setting off a celebration that was equal parts joy and relief.
“I think I got hit in the face with a water bottle,” Bosiokovic said. “Something hit me. It was crazy out there…Four years without anything and now I got two. It’s awesome…It would have been bad, really bad not to win this first series in the Big Ten.”
The moment lingered and washed through the clubhouse. Nick Sergakis, the Buckeyes senior co-captain, entered the press room rolling his eyes, smiling and shaking his head. “Bo-Si has been our get-out-of-jail-free card all season,” he said. “It’s crazy. It’s crazy to watch what he’s been doing and it’s awesome to be a part of it.”
Circumstances filled this finish with emotion.
Once again, Ohio State had fallen behind early. They trailed 3-0 after two innings and 4-3 after eight. All weekend, Northwestern had pecked away at the Buckeyes, stringing together base hits, walks and stolen bases, taking advantage of every mistake OSU made and consistently building early leads.
Wildcats (6-18, 1-2) led 4-3 going to the ninth. Reliever Pete Hofman retired the first two hitters he faced: L Grant Davis on a spectacular catch by left fielder R.J. Watters deep in foul territory and Craig Nennig on a routine pop-up to short.
The game appeared to be said and done, but Troy Montgomery, who homered in the third to put OSU on the scoreboard, drew a walk. Up came Bosiokovic, who returned to the lineup Friday night after missing 10 games with a torn hamstring.
To that point, Bosiokovic was 1-for-4 with a single and a run scored in the eighth. Hoffman’s pitch was a change middle-in and up. Bosiokovic buried it—a no-doubter off the bat and well over the wall in left. That’s when the lady in the stands, Flora Bosiokovic, shed those tears of joy. The man of the hour was her son, Jacob, whom she and the family had come down from Delaware, Ohio, to see on Easter Weekend. Then came the celebration.
But as pleasant as all this was and as much as the Buckeyes are becoming known for coming back from deficits, they were in a situation that was all too familiar and unnecessary.
Starter John Havird pitched extremely well. He scattered eight hits over six innings, walked two and struck out six.
His third inning was problematic. With one run in and the bases loaded, Troy Kuhn, a third baseman by trade who makes tough chances around first base look routine, attempted to start a 3-6-3 double play rather than throw home for the force. He threw the ball into left field. That led to two more runs and OSU was in a 3-0 hole. “That ball has to come home,” OSU coach Greg Beals said. The 3-0 lead stood until Montgomery launched his fifth homer of the season.
Havird held the Wildcats there and was particularly strong in the sixth. After allowing three straight singles and loading the bases, the senior lefty struck out Grant Peikert and Watters for the first two outs. He got out of the inning on a slick 6-3 play by shortstop Craig Nennig and Kuhn at first.
Sergakis’s homer in the sixth pulled OSU within one, 3-2. After Northwestern scored a fourth run against Seth Kinker in the eighth, Sergakis answered again with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-3. That set the stage for Bosiokovic, and, once again, the Buckeyes climbed out of a hole to take a ballgame.
“Baseball is a humbling game in victory and defeat,” Beals said. “For a win that’s a humbling as it gets…(Northwestern) put our backs against the wall and, fortunately, we were able to get that one big hit to win the ballgame.”
The pressing question facing Ohio State, now 14-7-1 overall, and 2-1 in conference play, is how to avoid falling behind early in games. Sunday’s game was their seventh come-from-behind win this season.
“We just have to string together better at-bats early in the game,” Beals said. “With the confidence level these guys have, that ‘Hey, we are gonna get these guys the second and third time through the lineup,’ well, that’s nice to have, but we sure would like to score more runs in the first three innings.”
In the three-game series with Northwestern, OSU scored a total of four runs in the first three frames.
“It just seems like we live by the long ball and die by the long ball,” said Sergakis, who is batting .418. “That needs to change. We need to find ways to manufacture runs without doing it all with one swing. We need to go out there and be scrappy. Everybody can be scrappy. It doesn’t take talent. Just go battle and find any way you can to get on.
“We’re a dynamic team. We got guys who can hit the long ball. We got guys up and down the order who can hit a double at any time and guys who can steal bases. So. It’s flabbergasting to me that we are not scoring (early). It drives me a little crazy and I know it drives the coaches crazy. We need to turn that around quickly because it only gets tougher from here.”
On Sunday, they could forget that particular problem for a while, but it’s a problem that must be faced and corrected.
As Beals said, “Every conference series is going to be black-and-blue. Everybody can get after it and one another.”