A big inning dooms the Buckeyes in season-ending regional defeat in Louisville at the hands of the Wright State Raiders.
By Chris Webb for Press Pros Magazine
LOUISVILLE, KY. — A week after winning four games in 30 hours to rally through the loser’s bracket and claim the Big Ten Tournament championship, Ohio State fell short in its quest to climb the mountain once again.
Unable to receive a quality pitching start for a third consecutive game, Ohio State fell into an early and inescapable hole, falling to Wright State, 7-3. Ohio State’s ends with a third-place finish in the Louisville Regional of the NCAA Tournament, concluding a 44-20-1 campaign.
“The season doesn’t end the way anyone wants it to except for the national champion, and that’s certainly the case for us today,” head coach Greg Beals said on the end of his sixth year. “I’m extremely proud of this group of Buckeyes, not only for what they did on the field, but for who they became as a team.”
Taking the field for a fifth postseason elimination game in eight days, a battle-tested Ohio State struck first in an effort to duplicate effort of the weekend prior.
Facing Wright State right-hander Caleb Sampen, who pitched the final two innings in the Ohio State’s Friday walk-off win over the Raiders, third baseman Nick Sergakis stole second after being hit by a pitch, putting a runner in scoring position one batter in. A single from Craig Nennig moved Sergakis to third, the senior co-captain scoring on a single through the right side from left fielder Ronnie Dawson.
After the first three runners reached base, the next three were retired in order to end the threat, Sampen escaping further damage.
“We’re sitting first and third with one in, and nobody out and we can’t punch one through,” Beals said. “Kind of let them off the hook a little bit in the first inning —really the ball game was there in the first inning with us leaving a few opportunities out there offensively and not able to get out of the inning.”
The inning Ohio State could not get out off was a blitzkrieg from the Raiders as Wright State picked up the bats in the home-half of the first.
Two singles around a foul out put Raiders at first and second before WSU center field Ryan Fucci tied the game 1-1 with a single through the left side. The next batter, catcher Sean Murphy sent a double to the left center gap, scoring two runs. Ohio State starter Ryan Feltner struck out the next batter, but was unable to put a cap on the Raider bats, back-to-back singles scoring the fourth and fifth runs of the inning for Wright State.
The six-hit, five-run first inning produced a third consecutive game where the opposition scored at least four runs in an inning. A week after stymying Michigan in a 10-strikeout game, conceding only one earned run in six and one-third innings, Feltner allowed six runs, off nine hits in three innings, striking out two.
And as was the case for Friday starter Tanner Tully and John Havird who took the ball on Saturday, two-strike hits were the doom. The first four Wright State hits were with two strikes.
“In Feltner’s nine hits (allowed) in three innings, they had six hits with two strikes,” Beals said. “We weren’t able to execute and finish hitters off in the first inning.”
Our guys don’t have strikeout stuff. I know we struck out a bunch of guys, (a school-record 495) but it was on execution. We just didn’t execute at the rate he had this season.”
A solo home run to right field by Wright State first baseman Gabe Snyder stretched the Raider advantage to 6-1 in the bottom of the third. Ohio State returned the game to a four-run deficit in their next at-bat, center fielder Troy Montgomery scoring after he lined a double to right field.
The score steady until the eighth, Dawson tied Ohio State’s single-season record with his 25th double of the year down the right field line. Dawson’s two-base hit scored Sergakis, who reached first on a throwing error to start the inning. Down 6-3, with Dawson at third and one out, Wright State reliever Zane Collins retired the next two batters to end the Buckeye threat. The Raiders responded with a run in the bottom of the eighth to make it a 7-3 contest, before Collins pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to end the Ohio State season.
Dawson led Ohio State with a two-for-four showing, concluding a season in which he became Ohio State’s first All-American since 2013. Professional scouts expect the junior to be drafted within the first 75 picks of next week’s MLB Draft, likely making Sunday’s contest his final game as a Buckeye.
“With this group of guys, the work we put in, the chemistry we have is one of a kind,” the first-team All-Big Ten selection said. “At the end of the day it hurts, but we accomplished a lot.”
A fellow Central Ohio native, Sergakis, who scored two of Ohio State’s three runs, served as a Buckeye co-captain, guiding Ohio State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in seven years.
“Growing up in Columbus, seeing Ohio State play when I was young, I wanted to be like them,” the senior from Columbus Academy said. “I can say I was like them. I gave it my all for three years; to make it to this field, this stage, it’s a dream come true.”