Gutty pitching and a flair for the dramatic at the end sent the Buckeyes past previously unbeaten Michigan State in the semi-final round of the Big Ten tournament.
Note: The Ohio State Buckeyes have won the second semi-final game against Michigan State on Sunday morning by a 7-3 score and will now play Iowa at 1:25 pm (central time) for the Big Ten Conference tourney championship. Final Box: Ohio State had 7 runs on 10 hits and had one error. Michigan State had 3 runs on 9 hits and committed three errors. Kyle Michalik got the victory (3-1) for the Buckeyes. Dakota Meckes was the losing pitcher for Michigan State. Complete coverage to follow after the championship game.
Omaha – Ronnie Dawson’s tenth inning home run might have won the game, but it was far from the sum of parts that put the Ohio State Buckeyes in position to beat Michigan State Saturday evening in the semi-final round of the Big Ten tournament.
Whether he admitted it or not, Coach Greg Beals was strapped for starting pitching with Tanner Tully, Ryan Feltner and Adam Niemeyer expended over the first two days of the the tournament.
They say necessity is the mother of invention? And that’s what motivated Beals to turn to Ashland University transfer Daulton Mosbarger to take the mound against Michigan State. Mosbarger, previous to Saturday, had made exactly five starts throughout the season, and none against Big Ten competition.
A lefthander who doesn’t throw hard, but throws with variety, he proved to be just what the doctor ordered against an aggressive Michigan State batting order. He wasn’t particularly sharp, but he was dogged, falling behind in the count, giving up single runs in the second and third innings. And he settled in enough to pitch the Buckeyes into the fifth with a 2-2 tie, Ohio State having scratched out runs in the second and the fourth.
“He battled,” said Beals, using a favorite phrase. “In fact he threw the kitchen sink at them. He didn’t have great command but he threw enough changeups, curves, and had enough fastball to keep them off balance. He gave us exactly what we wanted from him.”
And he benefited from a 5:30 start time that saw twilight set in early, with shadows and alternating sunlight making it virtually impossible for hitters from either team to see.
For their part, the Buckeyes were frivolous in wasting scoring opportunities in three of the first seven innings against Michigan State starter Andrew Gonzalez and reliever Jake Lowery for lack of a timely hit with runners in scoring position.
“It was impossible to see because of the shadows,” said OSU’s Ronnie Dawson. “The first three times up I had no idea what was coming.”
“It was tough,’ said Michigan State coach Jake Boss of the lighting. “But give their pitchers credit for battling the way they did. We missed some opportunities to score, but they pitched tough.”
In the bottom of the fifth Beals went to his bullpen with one out and a runner on first…to righthander Kyle Michalik, a situational righthander whose sidearm submarine delivery is something different. Michalik responded, pitching 2.2 innings of no-hit baseball, striking out a pair and walking one.
Still, Michigan State hit some balls hard, but OSU’s defense, particularly Troy Kuhn and Craig Nennig in the infield, and Troy Montgomery in center field, made every play look routine.
“The sun was awful in center,” said Montgomery. “I was shading my eyes and doing whatever I could to see the ball.”
Righthander Seth Kinker came on in the eighth, one day removed from the disastrous appearance in the ninth inning against Iowa. But on this day he couldn’t have been better, giving up two hits in two innings, striking out a pair without a walk.
In the bottom of the ninth Michigan State got their leadoff hitter aboard, sacrificed him to second, and then ran themselves out of an inning when the ensuing hitter slapped the ball back to Kinker who froze the runner at second, retired him in a rundown, and then wiped out the trailing runner at second base to end the inning. It set the stage for Ronnie Dawson and a fateful top of the tenth.
For a team that hasn’t seen a lot of extra inning games there was an air of expectancy as Dawson led off against Walt Borkovich, the second MSU reliever. Borkovich throws hard with a nasty slider, and with a one-strike count he hung one of those sliders up in Dawson’s wheel house.
Dawson, who had doubled down the right field line earlier in the game, complained of poor vision for the first seven innings because of the twilight. But by the top of the tenth the sun had settled, the stadium lights had taken full effect, and he got an eyeful of Borkovich’s errant breaking ball. Dawson hit one of those towering, majestic shots towards right center field. Right fielder Dan Chmielewski began drifting with it, to the warning track, to the wall, and then ran out of room as the ball landed about 390 feet from home plate.
“It was a slider and with poor location,” said MSU coach Jake Boss. “It was a mistake and he (Dawson) did what good hitters do with a pitch like that.”
Dawson literally danced around the bases.
“I think his feet only touched the ground about three times,” said Beals. “I know that when he got to me I had alligator arms because he was winding and I thought we was going to blow me up.”
It set off an explosion in the Ohio State dugout. The improbable, given the fact of playing their second game of the day (they had won earlier against Michigan), a pitcher making his first Big Ten start, and the stink of having blown a late lead against Iowa on Friday…well, the improbable seemed destined to happen.
“Give them credit,” added Boss in his post-game comments. “It says a lot about the character of that team to come out and win against Michigan and come back to battle like they did.”
But it was far from over. Closer Yianni Pavlopoulos, who had a hand in the Iowa meltdown just twenty four hours before, came on to close things in the bottom of the tenth. He promptly walked the lead off hitter.
But settling down, he retired the next three hitters to preserve the win, the game, and send the Buckeyes into a return engagement with Michigan State at 10 am (eastern time) Sunday morning for the right to play Iowa at 1 pm for the Big Ten tournament title.
“You talk about competing, but we’re at the point of the season when that’s all you can do,” said Beals. “The stat lines are already there and all you can do now is try to win to play one more game tomorrow. I was really happy with how Daulton Mosbarger battled to get us to the fifth.
“And then Kyle to Kinker to Pav, that was the formula we were looking at, and I was really pleased with how Seth and Yianni pitched because they were out there yesterday against Iowa. Relievers have to forget quickly and they came back to pitch well today.”
The win marked the 200th win for Beals as head coach at Ohio State, as he was reminded during his post-game press conference by Troy Montgomery and Ronnie Dawson.
Smiling, he said, “Players win and coaches lose.”
But more importantly, Saturday’s win was a universal triumph. They live to play Sunday for a shot at the Big Ten tourney title, yes. But playing with house money, they’ve already assured themselves of a NCAA regional bid, as well. Saturday’s win over the two teams from Michigan marked their 40th and 41st wins of the season.
Still thin for starting pitching come Sunday morning, Beals was non-committal, adding, “At this point everyone is available. I just don’t want to get anyone hurt with next weekend looming ahead for us.”
Troy Montgomery added that the pressure is on Michigan State. No one expects a team with its back to the wall to battle the way the Buckeyes did on Saturday, winning twice, after Friday’s disaster against Iowa.
And in a way the pressure is off. Owing to the weather, double-headers, and circumstances out of their control, this is a baseball team that’s already won three of four in Omaha against long odds.
And to a man they believe…who would bet against them now?