It poured before the game, and then it rained base hits from Indiana. The Buckeyes battled, but came up short as the Hoosiers evened the series.
Columbus – After a one hour delay for heavy rains Friday night they brought out the media buffet in the Bill Davis Stadium pressbox, featuring ‘Sloppy Joes’. Someone cracked, “Leftovers. It’s the end of the season.”
The ‘Sloppy Joes’ turned out to be an omen. The game began, and with not much left in their own baseball kitchen, the Buckeyes fell to Indiana in the second game of their weekend series, 8-4.
Indeed, the Buckeyes did some things they hadn’t done previously this season. They took a first inning lead, for instance, when shortstop Jalen Washington doubled, moved to third base on a short single to right by Dominic Canzone…and then son of a gun, he stole home!
Starter Jake Post made that thin lead stand up for two innings, but the hammerin’ Hoosiers flipped the switch come their second time through the order for another ‘downpour’ in the third. They sent eleven men to the plate in the top of the third, stroked seven hits, scored seven runs, and chased Post in his final collegiate appearance as a Buckeye.
In a baseball sense it just turned sloppy for the Chesterton, Indiana native, who has had more than his share of competitive hardships in his five years on campus. You root for guy like Jake Post, a popular teammate who left the field for the final time to hugs and handshakes from the brotherhood.
Minster’s Adam Niemeyer took over for Post and was the immediate beneficiary of a three-run third from his own batting order, the Buckeyes scoring on a single by Washington, a single by Canzone, a double by Brady Cherry that scored both, and then a single by Conner Pohl that scored Cherry. It cut the deficit, temporarily to 7-4, but not for long.
Indiana came back in the top of the fourth score one against Niemeyer, while Indiana starter ‘jumbo’ Pauly Milto scattered six hits before leaving with eight strikeouts at the end of the sixth.
Reliever Tim Herron came on to retire the Buckeyes in the seventh, while Niemeyer settled into a scoreless rhythm through the eighth.
Kyle Michalik came on to pitch a scoreless ninth.
But the Buckeyes, after their outburst in the third, could not muster anything against Herron in the eighth and ninth…and over the final six innings. With two out in the bottom of the ninth they loaded the bases – Noah West and Washington both singled, and Canzone walked. But Brady Cherry lined out to left to end the game!
Appropriately, perhaps, with one game left in the season the Buckeyes have simply run out of ways to lose baseball games. Normally, when you get seven hits from your top three hitters in the order, and score four runs against a pitching staff the quality of Indiana’s, you win.
But one bad inning Friday night, the third inning, spelled doom for the Buckeyes, 2017, for the 33rd time.
“It was the difference in the ballgame,” said Greg Beals. “The top of the third was the difference. Jake comes out and shuts them down for the first two innings and then it becomes a tough situation for a coach. He (Post) left last week’s game with forearm soreness – he rebabs all week and wanted the ball tonight on senior weekend. We knew he wasn’t going to be 100% for a possible seven innings, but it just got away from him in the third. Every ball they hit was on the nose, in a hole, or in a gap. We wanted to give him a chance to work out of it, but we just couldn’t get him out of the inning. Tough situation , but I have no qualms about giving him the ball. He’s been here with us for five years and he wanted to go to the ‘post’ for his last start.”
Adam Niemeyer’s 6-plus innings, however, was a parting image on which to build – five hits, one run, and four strikeouts.
“Yeah, it was a positive sign for Adam because he had a rough weekend last week in Iowa,” added Beals. “With him it’s a matter of command after being out for so long. Last weekend he didn’t have command, and tonight he did. That’s a good sign that he’s healthy and he’s getting the feel back for pitching.”
With time running down now to a final nine innings there’s not much left to say about 2017. But Dominic Canzone (.350), Conner Pohl (.335), and the play of Noah West, Brady Cherry, and Jacob Barnwell continue to portend a bright prospect come fall practice…and next February.
Canzone had another pair of hits Friday. Pohl had another two-hit game, his fourth multiple-hit game in a row. Noah West had a hit and made hard contact twice in his four at bats; and Brady Cherry had a double, two RBIs and lined out hard in another at bat.
“Guys like them just have a knack for hitting. They’ve got good hand speed and accurate hands, and that makes for a good hitter,” smiled Beals. “In a season like this it’s hard to say that you’re excited about the future, but when you consider their talents and future it’s easy to say there’s a lot to like. We started three freshman tonight and two sophomores. There’s a good nucleus that’s coming back and we’ll be stronger next year for it. They’re getting great experience, but the best part is they’re performing while they get it.”
It was a long night Friday, like so many others in the 2017 season. An emotional night and weekend, Beals and the Buckeyes say goodbye to their seniors Saturday as those seniors savor their last moment as baseball players. Jake Post stood at the mound for the national anthem and supported his brother Zach, a special needs individual confined to a wheel chair. Zach has seen nearly every outing, and every inning, supporting his brother’s five years as a Buckeye.
And Saturday’s noon finale will signal an even longer down period for Beals and the program – of contemplation, retooling, and mental rehab to prepare for 2018 and a return to relevance in the Big Ten race.
“Well, it hurts that we’re not playing for a championship, because that’s the expectation here with any sport,” said Beals. “We know that this is not where we want to be, and everyone in that clubhouse knows that; we know we have work to do and that work never stops.”
But he’ll have to wait, through one more game, and a longer-than-normal summer and off-season before finding out if there really has been a silver lining in the cloud that has defined their season.
In the meantime, one more long night, and one more short straw for the Buckeyes.