It took them 13 innings. But a run-scoring single in 13th by Winand, after lead-off walk to Conner Pohl, gave the Buckeyes a chance to play another day in the NCAA tournament.
Nashville, TN – Ohio State baseball players sat in folding chairs behind microphones in the interview room having advanced to play for another day in the NCAA Tournament, but their blank expressions looked as if someone had rolled a stun grenade a few feet in front of them.
It was one 4-hour, 33-minute dog day of a Saturday afternoon at Hawkins Field in an elimination game on the campus of Vanderbilt University.
The Buckeyes committed three errors, had two other plays in which the scorekeeper could have charged them with errors, left 15 men on base, threw three wild pitches and hit a batter.
In the end, “The Brotherhood’’ as coach Greg Beals likes to call his team, gutted it out for a 9-8 victory over McNeese on a run-scoring single by senior captain Ridge Winand in the top of the 13th inning.
“Everyday’’ Andrew Magno got the final three batters in the bottom of the inning, two on strikeouts, to get the win.
Actually, it was the save of his life as he worked 7 1/3 innings and threw 93 pitches in giving up five hits, two walks and one run. He struck out 12.
Ohio State (36-26) advanced to face the winner of the Vanderbilt-Indiana State game on Sunday.
“I’m incredibly proud of how hard our guys fought today,’’ coach Greg Beals said. “It wasn’t our cleanest or best baseball game as far as skill, but maybe the best game we’ve played from a culture standpoint. It was the competitive toughness and the brotherhood that we’ve talked about that we were going to rely on when we got into the losers’ bracket. We got an awful lot out of our guys today.’’
Senior left fielder Brady Cherry said the Buckeyes have learned how to throw away bad plays and move on. They had to do it almost every inning against a team that is very much like them in that it has been through must-win situations for weeks.
“That’s what we talk about all the time, having a short-term memory,’’ he said. “It was a lot of grit. We moved forward, and that’s something we’ve gotten better at. Now, it’s eat, hydrate, go to bed and get ready for tomorrow. This is huge for a lot of guys like Ridge on this team. This is it. Having another day to play means everything.’’
With all the miscues, the winning inning was Baseball 101. First baseman Conner Pohl led off the 13th with a four-pitch walk off Peyton McLemore, went to second on a sacrifice bunt by designated hitter Brent Todys and scored on a two-out single by Winand that barely eluded second baseman Nate Fisbeck.
Fisbeck stretched out so violently to keep the ball in the infield that he injured himself.
Winand stepped to the plate having gone 0-for-5 with a sacrifice bunt. He didn’t try to do too much with a 3-and-1 pitch to bring in the winning run.
“I was seeing the ball well all day, but unfortunately I couldn’t get anything to fall early in the game,’’ Winand said. “I had a 3-and-1 count and was looking for a fastball and stayed on it and hit it up the middle. I got lucky and got a base hit. It was a little inside and I was staying up the middle.’’
Beals enjoyed talking about Winand’s selfless play. He’s the No. 8 batter in the lineup and receives scant attention.
On this day, he was ‘money’… like a C-note.
“I’m really happy for Ridge that he got that hit,’’ Beals said. “Ridge had a couple of pretty good at bats in the back half of that game, a couple line drives to center and a line drive to shortstop. Then he gets a four-hopper that makes it up the middle and he gets the game-winning RBI. He is Ohio State baseball through and through.’’
Before the winning run touched the plate, it was up to Magno to hold the fort during five innings of potential walk-off situations.
He came on with one out, two runners on base and one run in during the sixth, and immediately was victimized by a bloop single to right in which he sawed off the batter and a two-run single by Shane Seiman off the label of the bat.
That, though, was it for the Southland Conference tournament champion Cowboys. He retired the final 10 batters he faced, and they had little chance.
The closest McNeese came to winning by walk-off came in the 10th when Carson Maxwell led off with a double to the wall in left-center.
Magno got Julian Gonzales on a fly to left, intentionally walked Dustin Duhon to set up the double play and struck out Reid Bourque. He gave up a single to left by Payton Harden that was hit too hard to score the runner, but the inning ended when Fisbeck grounded out to second baseman Matt Carpenter.
“Andrew Magno is spilling it out there,’’ Beals said. “He was convicted in finishing that ballgame.’’
The double, Magno said, was a curveball that hung in the strike zone.
“I just knew I made a mistake, but we’ve been in situations where there is a man on second with no outs,’’ he said. “You have to grind through it. Carp made that play. The defense was behind me, and I appreciate that. I was able to command the inner half the plate today and challenge hitters. That’s why my strikeouts were up.’’
Someone not familiar with how the Buckeyes got this far would question whether they belonged in the tournament in the first place.
But those who have braved the rain, cold and wind and all those Big Ten doubleheaders would say they weren’t paying attention to a team that charged back from deficits of 4-1, 5-4 and 8-5.
Elimination games in conference and NCAA tournaments often are hard to watch, and this one was no different.
Trailing 4-1, Ohio State got two runs back in the fourth on a leadoff double by Todys and a two-run homer by shortstop Zach Dezenzo.
“Hitting is contagious, and I think that home run got us to 4-3 and got us within striking distance,’’ Beals said. “You get that and you’re back into the game. You’re in a one-run game and all things are in play, and I think our guys sensed they were back in the game at that point.’’
The Cowboys took a 5-4 lead in the fifth, but Dominic Canzone tied it with a two-out, opposite-field homer to left that landed on the roof of Memorial Gymnasium.
McNeese scored three runs in the sixth to lead 8-5, and the Buckeyes answered again with three runs in the eighth on singles by third baseman Nick Erwin and Carpenter and a bases-loaded walk by Cherry.
Beals sensed that his team had weathered something of a tsunami and was back in business.
“It’s always tough to play the night game and then the morning game the next day, and it’s almost like there is some hangover and it takes a couple of innings to get your legs and get your wits about you,’’ he said. “We were not good those first couple of innings. We were not ready out of the gate, but I can’t blame our guys. We got our competitive spirit back. The message to our guys was simple: unhitch the trailer and what’s done is done and to get in the moment and compete.’’
Cherry is what his compatriots would call a “balls out’’ man, and he condensed what happened on the artificial turf in a few words.
“That’s what we talk about all the time, having a short-term memory,’’ he said. “It was a lot of grit. We kind of moved forward, and that’s something we’ve gotten better at.’’
Magno remembered the 2018 season and the pain of losing an extended game. This time, he walked away a winner.
“Last year we came up on the losing side in one of these in this very same situation,’’ he said. “We’re just glad to play another day. We’re going to attack tomorrow because we have to.’’