They got the now predictable pitching and defense…and Ronnie Dawson made the orange see blue with a majestic home run late that turned a game into a rout.
Champaign, Il. – The Ohio State Buckeyes evened their three game series with Illinois Saturday afternoon in the manner in which we’ve become accustomed.
They got a dependable starting performance for five-plus innings from John Havird on the mound.
They got great defense from positions all around the diamond.
They got a credible four-inning relief effort from freshman Ryan Feltner; and, they blew up what was a 4-1 advantage in the eighth inning with a titanic home run from Ronnie Dawson that sprung the game wide open. One of the locals actually called it…majestic!
In the order of things, Havird was not the John Havird of recent starts. He wasn’t as sharp, lacked the kind of command he’d had against Maryland and Rutgers, but battled into the sixth inning with a 3-0 lead. The Buckeyes got that lead thanks to the bottom of the batting order, and Jalen Washington, who was two for two on the day, on base three times, and drove in a pair of those early runs.
Havird survived giving up five hits and three bases on balls, the beneficiary of that dependable defense as the Buckeyes turned a pair of double plays behind him…and another for Ryan Feltner, who relieved him in the sixth, on a line drive to first baseman Jacob Bosiokovic. Bosiokovic coolly stepped on first base to double off a runner and end the inning with the score 3-1.
“He wasn’t the Havird we’ve been seeing,’ said Ohio State coach Greg Beals. “It was a workman-like outing for him. But he got us through five innings and I really liked the way Ryan Feltner came in with the bases loaded in the sixth and he gets out of it with giving up just the sacrifice fly ball. Very important ballgame for us and we put a rookie in that situation and he gets it done and goes on to finish out the game.”
But the offense got moving, as well. Illinois starter Doug Hayes, almost a carbon copy of Havird in style of pitching, gave up 9 hits in his six-plus innings, four runs, and got worked over for 104 pitches. It had been a while since Ohio State had built on a lead in a Big Ten game, but that’s exactly what they did.
They immediately came back with a single run to atone for the Illinois mark in the sixth with one in the seventh, and could have had more except Nick Sergakis was called out on a play at the plate…for not touching the plate!
That brought the game to the eighth with Jacob Bosiokovic on base and Ronnie Dawson due up. Illinois coach Dan Hartleb came out of the dugout to summon lefthander Zak Devermann to specifically pitch to Dawson, who on his four previous at bats had a pair of singles and a ringing double to the gap in right center.
Devermann’s second pitch was something up in Dawson’s eyes and he belted it deep to right field, over the top of the Illini’s 50-foot-high scoreboard that stands beyond the 370 foot mark in right field, and about 15 feet above the giant “I” that sits atop it. It was jaw-dropping to the 2, 279 still there to watch, and Dawson’s seventh bomb of the season.
“No,” smiled Dawson. “Slider, up and out over the plate. We knew he was a breaking ball pitcher, and I just sat on it.”
It punctuated a fabulous day for the Buckeyes’ right fielder, who entered the game hitting .299 (1 for 6 in Friday’s 1-0 15-inning loss). He responded by going four for five on Saturday and raising his average by game’s end to .316, second only to Nick Sergakis at .381.
“Just trying to stay relaxed, simplify things and not try to do too much,” said the confident Dawson. “I’m just trying to the let the game come to me. Today was a game we had to win after last night. That was a long night but we knew we had it in us. Now we’ve got a lot of confidence going into tomorrow. We got one win, but we’re not done. We’re looking to win the series.”
Which is exactly what Beals has in mind, basking in the fact of a lot of two-out hits on Saturday, the afore-mentioned pitching and defense, and the steadfast faith that this team can still play with anyone in the Big Ten on any given day.
“Ronnie and Jalen are playing good baseball for us,” said Beals. “They’re a couple of leaders right now who’ve taken it upon themselves and we need them to keep doing that. Jalen’s hitting in the bottom of the order, but it’s important for him to turn the order over for us and get those big bats at the top of the order.
“Our offense is very, very capable. We ran into a buzzsaw last night with the pitching we saw, but the thing we did today was all the two-out hits that we didn’t get last night. And our defense today…a play that Tre Gant makes in right field was a big time play. And Nennig made a play from deep in the hole where he just used his arm to get an out…and Troy Kuhn laid out for a ground ball up the middle early in the game. Not only were we clean today (no errors), but we made some terrific plays.”
9 runs on 15 hits and no errors for the winning Buckeyes, (25-13-1, 5-6 in Big Ten), and big days at the plate for Washington, Dawson, Sergakis (2 for 3, 2 RBIs), Kuhn (2 for 5), Nennig (2 for 4 and two runs scored).
1 run on 7 hits and one error for the losing Illini (19-17, 5-6 in Big Ten).
And to the rubber game of the match on Sunday, where Minster’s Adam Niemeyer goes to the mound to try to win the series and keep the Buckeyes on pace for what Troy Montgomery described last week as a simple path to a goal.
“You want to get in the tournament and to do that we have to win each of the last five series we play…Illinois, Purdue, Michigan, Iowa and Minnesota,” Montgomery said. “If we do that we’ll be fine.”