Dependable pitching by Tanner Tully and a heavy hitting attack throughout the lineup made the Buckeyes a winner heading into Thursday’s second round.
Omaha – The surging Ohio State Buckeyes literally wore out the Michigan Wolverines in Thursday’s final game of opening day of the 2016 Big Ten baseball tournament at TD Ameritrade Park.
The Buckeyes used a thumping 12-hit attack fueled by Nick Sergakis’s ninth and tenth home runs of the year, another three-hit game by Ronnie Dawson…and got the usual dependable starting performance from lefthander Tanner Tully to eventually roll up Michigan, 8-3.
“They (Ohio State) make it tough on you,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich after a three hour, 15 minute game that finished past midnight. “Tully doesn’t walk anyone. He’s in the bottom of the strike zone all night. And they did a good job of getting big hits at big moments in the game. They had the benefit of the one big inning, and we just couldn’t overcome that.”
He (Bakich) looked a bit worn when he left the post-game interview room Wednesday in the early hours of the morning. And what he could have said was…Ohio State played well enough to win despite themselves, some egregious base running that cost the Buckeyes scoring opportunities in at least three innings.
And still, the big bats boomed to bail them out, something that hasn’t happened in past years with the disappointment of either not getting to the tournament…or not playing well when they did.
After a scoreless first two innings Nick Sergakis led off the third with a laser shot down the left field line off Michigan starter Brett Adcock that stayed just fair for his ninth homer of the year and a 1-0 lead.
Michigan came back in the top of the fourth with a Carmen Benedetti double and a Drew Lugbauer homer off Tanner Tully to the opposite field to take a 2-1 lead.
So…cue the big inning!
Ohio State came back in the fifth…Sergakis again, with another laser 50 feet to the right of his first shot, to tie the score. Craig Nennig singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Ronnie Dawson singled to center to advance Nennig to third base. Troy Kuhn ripped a single to left to score Nennig. Then came L Grant Davis to the plate to hit for Troy Montgomery, who had left the game in the third after tweaking his ankle on a routine catch in the outfield.
Davis picked on a 2-2 fastball and ripped a triple up the alley in right center to score Dawson and Kuhn. That was the end of Brett Adcock, but it wasn’t the end of the Buckeyes’ rally. Jacob Bosiokovic ripped another double to right off reliever Mac Lozer to score Davis, then advanced to third on a passed ball. Two pitches later he came in to score on a wild pitch. Six runs scored and it could have been more had Jalen Washington, who walked, hadn’t gotten picked off second base…Ryan Leffel struck out and Tre Gantt grounded out to end the inning.
“We really stayed focused offensively,” Greg Beals said later. “I think that was a key to what we did with the sticks tonight. We stayed locked in and when we got good pitches to hit we hit the ball hard.
“And from a managerial side I loved the pitching and the defense. We continue to play good, clean baseball. We didn’t have any errors and I think we only had one walk. We made Michigan earn everything that they got. When you’re pitching and playing defense like that you’re going to be a tough ballclub.”
An inning later Nick Sergakis singled for his third hit of the night; and Ronnie Dawson continued his three-hit night by crushing a fastball to the power alley in left field for an RBI double, scoring Sergakis.
Michigan would come back to score once in the eight when catcher Harrison Wenson doubled and eventually scored on a ground out to shortstop. But that was it. Demoralizing for the Wolverines, who are now going through the same tough stretch that Ohio State went through at the end of last season, having lost seven of their last nine.
“We have to put it behind us and have short memories,” said Erik Bakich. “We have to come back out here tomorrow and play like we’re playing for our season.”
But there was no remorse on the other side, as Ronnie Dawson and Nick Sergakis credited the hitting explosion to an underrated lineup that’s capable on any given day of playing in their current mode.
“We’re really just trying to put good swings on the ball,” said Sergakis. “The two balls I hit tonight were actually pretty good pitches. Our lineup up and down the order has been hitting with a good approach since the Purdue series. Everyone’s hitting with the same approach, everyone’s bought in, and that’s really what’s turned things around for us offensively.”
“This is a lot of fun right now,” added Dawson. “It’s fun when you win. They went up 2-1 in the fourth but we didn’t stop or get down on ourselves. We could have done that, but we punched back with the six-run inning and that was big. We’re just having fun right now.”
And not to overlook another good Tanner Tully performance against Michigan, his second in three weeks. Maybe not as sharp as he’s been, but except for Lugbauer’s homer in the fourth, he was a model of efficiency, allowing seven hits, three runs, striking out three…and no walks! He threw a total of 93 pitches.
Michael Horejsei relieved in the eight and for the first out of the ninth before giving up the ball to Seth Kinker to face Wenson and Johnny Slater to end the game on called third strikes.
Ohio State moves on to play Iowa on Thursday night with a chance to be in the weekend’s championship round. Iowa beat Minnesota earlier in the day and another win in as many days against the Hawkeyes would all but guarantee the Buckeyes an at-large NCAA bid should they not go on to win the Big Ten Tournament.
Final Line: Ohio State had 8 runs on 12 hits and was error free. Michigan had 3 runs, 7 hits, and committed one error.
Greg Beals well remembers the meltdown of a year ago, prior to and during the tournament, and was more than willing to contrast his present position, as Ronnie Dawson would say…now that baseball is fun.
“We’ve been painfully close to doing this (previously),” said Beals. “Three years ago we were an out away from a regular season championship. Last year we were an out away from winning opening day in the tournament and winning an NCAA berth. So we’ve been painfully close.
“We were good enough, we had the players, but we had to change the culture at Ohio State. The talk, the thought process, the everyday behavior of our guys had to change. We’ve spent a lot of time working on that culture in the off-season. That was the final piece that got us over the hump, the fine line between winning and losing.”
It didn’t look anything like a fine line during their six-run fifth inning Wednesday. It look like an old-fashioned thumping…see the ball, hit the ball. And hit it hard.
Ronnie Dawson called it fun.
Nick Sergakis called it everyone having the same approach.
Greg Beals called it a change of culture.
Call it what you want. They won, and they looked good doing it. If they’re not the hottest team in the tournament, for all the changes you can list…they ARE the talk of the tournament!