The losing streak is over, and the Buckeye offense warmed things up, complementing Garrett Burhenn’s third win with a 14-run outburst to beat Lipscomb in the home opener.
Columbus – The wind whipped at more than 25 miles per hour in making the temperature feel like 30 degrees when Ohio State played its home opener Friday night.
There were 452 hardy souls watching at 5,000-seat Bill Davis Stadium, and that was counting ticket holders who didn’t show up.
The words of the day were warm weather gear and, above all, keep moving.
To a man, though, not a single Buckeye was doing a flashback to two weekends ago when they were playing in 82-degree weather in Daytona Beach, Florida.
In having lost all four games in the First Pitch Invitational in Greenville, South Carolina, last weekend and on a five-game dive overall, it sure was good to be back home.
And, boy, did it show.
Right-hander Garrett Burhenn didn’t give up a hit the first 4 2/3 innings and allowed two hits and struck out five in six innings and Conner Pohl, Nate Romans and Zach Dezenzo each drove in three runs in Ohio State’s 14-3 victory over Lipscomb on Friday night.
Dezenzo, a freshman third baseman, hit a solo home run in the second and a two-run shot in the fifth.
The Buckeyes (8-9) scored the most runs for a home opener since they got 18 against Toledo 12 years ago. They had 18 hits and seven players had at least two hits.
They wouldn’t trade in their tanned skin, but this is the first time after 16 games they are not hopping jets and hanging out at a hotel hundreds of miles from home.
“Our guys were excited to be home,’’ coach Greg Beals said. “We’ve had a tough little stretch. I’ll be honest, with those four-game weekends maybe it was too much, and that’s on me with the scheduling. We didn’t play bad, but we just didn’t win games. We found ways for a game to get away from us.’’
The bus was pulling away from the ballpark on Tuesday for the trip home when Beals reminded the players that the next nine games were at home sweet home.
“I told the guys when we left South Carolina we’re going home, so let’s flip the switch,’’ he said. “I told them right after this game, ‘There we are. That’s us. That’s what we’re capable of doing.’’’
There were a lot of smiles, and who could blame them?
“I think we’re really confident with this home stretch here and we can get things turned around the right way,’’ Dezenzo said.
Burhenn said, “Just hit the refresh button. We’re at home and we’ve had some rest from all the flying. We can just get comfortable the next two weeks.’’
The record suggests Ohio State is a mess, but two losses in Greenville were by two runs and one was by one run in 10 innings.
The team might be sitting on 11 victories had the bullpen been clean since the start of the season.
That’s one of the reasons Beals and pitching coach Mike Stafford had left fielder Brady Cherry work the ninth. He reached 94 miles per hour on the radar gun in striking out two.
But the story of the night was Burhenn (3-1), a freshman, showing the poise and maturity of someone much older and those booming bats booming.
Burhenn gave up two hits, the first a two-out homer to left by Brian Moore in the fifth, and struck out five and walked two. He threw 90 pitches.
“It wasn’t awful,’’ he said of the conditions. “I was just excited to be back home and I felt some adrenaline going. I just kept the hands and body warm in the dugout. The run support was great and I tried to get ahead, make them hit my pitches and get some ground balls.’’
Ohio State manufactured a run in the first when Noah West led off by walking on a full count, stole second and scored on a two-out single by Pohl.
In the second, Dezenzo hit a two-out solo homer to the opposite field in right.
The inning that might have brought the Buckeyes’ confidence back was the third when Romans had a 10-pitch at bat in delivering a two-run single to right-center to make it 4-0.
Things turned into a full-fledged rout when Ohio State scored seven runs on six hits in the fifth to take a 13-1 lead.
Dezenzo will have at least one of the home run balls for a souvenir. His father tracked it down in the Jack Nicklaus Museum parking lot.
How did his teammates treat him in the dugout after rounding the bases?
“The second time around they gave me the silent treatment,’’ he said. “I’m used to that as a freshman.’’
He’s a right-handed batter, but used the jet stream blowing to right to his advantage.
“Both those pitches were up and out and I just tried to put a good swing on them,’’ Dezenzo said. “I always have been a middle backside hitter and knew it was blowing hard out to right.’’
Whereas Dezenzo made everybody take notice playing long ball, Romans actually might have gotten people bored with his long at bat.
For a purist, it was a thing of beauty with him fouling off pitches and making starter Chris Kachmar (3-1) work. Kachmar was holding teams to a .188 batting average.
“I was just doing everything I could because he was throwing good pitches,’’ Romans said. “I was just trying to fight because I was down two strikes. I was happy because our game plan was to get to the bullpen early. That got him out of the game quicker. That was a 2-0 ballgame and he was throwing well.’’
Romans said the players wouldn’t forget some of the lessons they learned on the road, but that it’s time to dwell on the present.
“We’re definitely not making any excuses,’’ he said. “We’re happy to be back home no matter what the weather is. We fought hard and we learned a lot about ourselves the first four weekends. We want to go with a new season mentality.’’
Lastly, let’s talk about Cherry. Could he be like Michael Lorenzen of the Cincinnati Reds, who is being tried as an outfielder in addition to relieving?
There’s no question the Buckeyes are having Seth Kinker withdrawal. He arguably was the best reliever for one season in team history.
“That was Brady’s first outing on the mound,’’ Beals said. “We wanted to get him an outing where it was comfortable. That was pretty special how he pitched that ninth inning. He reached 94 miles per hour and we might see more of that. He’s a talented young man and we have to utilize his talents as much as we can.’’
Beals said the bullpen has to have some answers.
“We have three or four one-run losses,’’ he said. “We have to figure out some things in the bullpen. We have to find some roles in the bullpen.’’