It seemed predetermined. The Buckeyes had Michigan on their heels and threw the knockout punch in the fifth inning, and head into the final week of the season winners of five straight and six of their last seven. “We got it going,” Ronnie Dawson said.
COLUMBUS — Certain games have a distinctive air, an inescapable impression that one team is in control and the outcome is simply a matter of course. It was that way here Sunday afternoon, Ohio State gunning for a three-game sweep over 19th ranked Michigan.
It didn’t matter that Michigan took a 1-0 lead in the first, an inning that required 29 pitches by starter Adam Niemeyer, and it didn’t matter that the Wolverines were due; that an element of pride was on the line. After all, Michigan had not been swept the entire season and had only lost two straight on three occasions: to Oklahoma State, Minnesota and Michigan State.
Didn’t matter that it was a 1-1 game until the fifth. It was done, predetermined—fait accompli.
At day’s end, it was OSU 8, Michigan 2. It was Ohio State’s first three-game sweep over Michigan since 2011 and the second under Coach Greg Beals.
It was a performance that vaulted the Buckeyes (13-8) a full game ahead of Michigan (12-8) in the Big Ten standings and assured them of a spot in the tournament May 25-29 at Omaha, Nebraska.
It was an outcome that was basically predicted by Seth Kinker, who pitched a scoreless ninth in Sunday’s game, a week ago after Ohio State took 2-of-3 from Iowa. The sophomore right-hander didn’t predict a sweep, but he did say OSU would win the Michigan series.
“The scores weren’t necessarily showing it, but we were playing well,” Kinker said. “If you look at our season, we’ve had a couple of bad games. That’s it. The only games I can think of where we absolutely got flat-out beat was Duke (8-1, in the fourth game of the season), Vegas (20-3, March 12th) and Iowa (12-0, last Saturday).
“But, overall, we played well against Iowa, pitched well,” he continued. “We started hitting and we beat a very good (17th ranked) FAU team, 10-2. We had a ton of momentum coming into this series. That’s why I said those things. We were coming together as a team and it definitely showed. Now, we got this sweep. We couldn’t have more momentum going into this week, Eastern Michigan and then Minnesota.”
All day long it was like waiting for Muhammed Ali to drop the knockout punch, and oddly enough that feeling seemed widespread.
Before the game catcher Jalen Washington met with pitching coach Mike Stafford. “I said, ‘Staff, if we can get out of the first, we’ll be good.”
Sure enough, Michigan took that a 1-0 lead in the first on a pair of walks and a single to right by Drew Lugbauer. It could have been worse, but Craig Nennig’s relay throw from Tre’ Gantt to third was strong enough and accurate strong enough that when Carmen Benedetti’s slide took him off third, he was tagged by Nick Sergakis for the second out of the inning. A seemingly small play turned out to be significant, when the next two hitters singled. Niemeyer got out of the inning, striking out Jon “Jenga” Englemann.
A big Michigan inning was averted. More important, Niemeyer settled in.
“I wasn’t executing my pitches in the first,” said Niemeyer, who picked-up his fourth win of the season. “But then it came together. I knocked the rust off.”
Niemeyer missed one start because of a strained hamstring and was stopped short in another. Given that, the bullpen was ready to go.
“I was worried about Adam’s leg, but I knew he would compete,” Beals said. “I knew he wanted the ball.”
As it turned out, there was no need for concern of any kind. Niemeyer retired eight straight and 13 of 14 entering the sixth, and by that time the Buckeyes had opened-up the game.
They tied it, 1-1, in the first on a leadoff double by Sergakis and Nennig’s single to center.
“I could feel it rolling,” Niemeyer said. “That’s always good.”
The roll increased in the fifth. Jacob Bosiokovic started things drawing a walk against starter Evan Hill. Jalen Washington followed with his second home run in successive days and his third of the season
Ryan Leffel followed with a double to left. Sergakis drew a walk and with two down, Ronnie Dawson lashed a double to left, scoring two. It was 5-1, Ohio State.
“That was a big hit by Ronnie,” Beals said. “Jalen’s home run was one thing, but to go from 3-1—when it’s still a tight ballgame to 5-1—that’s a big, big hit.”
Michigan started a little something in the sixth. Ako Thomas opened the inning with a single, and one out later, Niemeyer walked Lugbauer. At that point, Beals went to right-hander Ryan Feltner and the freshman went to work. He got the second out of the inning on a ground out, and then struckout Engelmann.
“I really liked Feltner striking out that guy to end the sixth,” Beals said. “That ball had some hair on it, 92 miles-an-hour and the bottom fell out of it, too.”
Feltner did yield a leadoff homer in the seventh to Harrison Wenson, but at that point Michigan was tilting at windmills. OSU had a 6-2 lead on the strength of a two-out RBI single by Leffel.
“I knew we were in a good place,” Beals said. “When you are competing, you know when to step on the gas and give it to ’em. You got it rolling. Keep it rolling.”
Michigan was slowly tapping out.
“It actually started last night against John Havird,” Washington said. “Their guys were coming to the dish confused and leaving confused. They were frustrated and it carried over to today. They were kinda searching for answers and they weren’t finding any…I could hear them in the dugout, throwing things around—what they were saying. We had them on their heels”
The confusion continued against Mike Horejsei, who closed the eighth, and Kinker in the ninth.
OSU picked up two more runs in the eighth without benefit of a hit: two walks, a sac bunt, a stolen base, an error and a passed ball.
“I wanted to keep the pressure on,” Beals said.
“Now, when we get late in a game, we know how to bear down,” Kinker said. “Early in the season we didn’t.”
So, it was done—and emphatically. It was a statement series, and they knew it. They will play four more games before the tournament: Tuesday night against Eastern Michigan and three at first-place Minnesota next weekend.
For a good long time Sunday afternoon they rocked the walls of the locker room. It sounded like a party. It was a party.
“That,” Beals said, turning an ear to the ruckus, “puts a smile on my face.”
He wasn’t alone. Ronnie Dawson was beaming.
“This, right here, is really good,” he said. “I’m ready to go play Minnesota right now. Right now. Let’s play Eastern Michigan on the way. We got it going.”