It looked bleak…it began to look better…and at the end it was absolutely wild! Ohio State comes back from an 8-0 deficit to beat Indiana State, 9-8.
North Port, FL – No one would have blamed them if they’d spent a half hour in their regular post-game huddle in the outfield, celebrating Sunday night’s improbable 9-8 win over Indiana State (2-2).
After all, it had looked pretty bleak for Ohio State (3-0) after falling behind 8-0 by the fourth inning.
But surprisingly, Greg Beals message was pretty short, and on topic.
“I told them don’t ever forget this one,” he said. “We were down 8-0 and nothing looked like it was going the Buckeyes’ way for the first four innings. But tonight showed you the character of this ball club. And it showed you the depth of this club. And I’m proud of that character and depth because that’s what we recruited.”
Once again, for a second straight day against a quality Indiana State team, it turned out…all’s well that ends well. But this time the odds looked insurmountably long, and the game would play out with more twists than a hangman’s noose.
First, Beals and pitching coach Dan DeLucia had to juggle their starting rotation, calling on senior Will Pfennig to step in on short notice. But that’s what Pfennig does. He’s made a career of pitching when called upon, start or relieve. But this was not his day.
A strike thrower by trade, he did throw strikes, but too many strayed up in the strike zone where Indiana State hitters feasted on them. Some were dinks, some were hit hard, and when left fielder Mike Sears ignited a blast in the fourth, it looked like the flare of a Saturn rocket as it left the ballpark. Pfennig gave up eight runs on seven hits in four innings, and ISU was fighting at the bat rack to hit against whoever replaced him in the fifth.
That person happened to be true freshman Jake Johnson, from Medina High School, who took on the challenge, and turned out to be more than ISU had anticipated. He was brilliant, pitching a scoreless, hitless fifth and sixth, striking out two and walking one.
“Jake settled things down for us,” said Beals later, an understatement. Making his first collegiate appearance, he pitched to contact, but made good pitches, and looked like anything but a nervous rookie.
Another settling moment came in Ohio State’s fifth when catcher leadoff hitter Archer Brookman jumped on a fastball from Indiana State starter Landon Johnson and sent it over the left field fence for his first home run of the year. It lit a fire in the Buckeyes batting order, with Marcus Ernst and Zach Dezenzo subsequently scoring after an error, a base hit, a passed ball, and an RBI single from Kade Kern. Suddenly, it was and 8-3 deficit.
Next up out of the Ohio State bullpen was another freshman, Gavin Bruni, who struck out two, but walked a pair and hit a batter before being replaced by redshirt freshman Tim Baird, making his second appearance of the weekend. Baird calmly struck out Indiana State’s Parker Stinson for the final out, and added more fuel to the gathering Buckeye fire.
Marcus Ernst led off the Buckeye seventh with his third hit of the game, Dezenzo got on to an error, and a Kern base hit scored Ernst. They loaded the bases on a walk to Blaine Robinson, but with two outs freshman Trey Lipsey took two fastballs right down the middle, and then swung and missed a third for the final out, leaving the bases loaded and the Buckeyes trailing, 8-4.
Baird was done, and out of the bullpen came closer TJ Brock to pitch the eighth, which after he gave up a leadoff single to the #9 hitter Tyler Nelson, was uneventful, Brock retiring the side on a fielder’s choice, a strikeout, and a fly ball to Lipsey in left.
Indiana State coach Mitch Hannahs wanted this game to go home Sunday night with at least a split for the weekend. He literally emptied his bullpen, changing pitchers so often – left on left and right on right – as to take more time to write about it than you have time to read. It was Rob Manfred’s and major league baseball’s worst nightmare and it went like this.
Archer Brookman walked…Mitch Okuley singled…Ernst reached on a walk to load the bases…Dezenzo hit into a fielder’s choice to score Brookman (8-5)…Kade Kern walked to load the bases again…more pitching changes and a sac fly to center field by pinch-hitter Colton Bauer (8-6)…with Dezenzo and Kern on base Beals took down Blaine Robinson for a pinch-hitter, senior Brent Todys.
Todys had made a career out of big hits and big pinch hits…against Maryland two years ago, against Iowa, and Penn State…and he was about to do it again. Hannahs made one more pitching change to bring in righthander Connor Fenlong to face Todys, and Fenlong threw two made-to-order fastball right past Todys, who missed them both.
“I told myself I was not going to get beat on another fastball,” said Todys later. And down 0-2 Fenlong made a mistake with the third, leaving it more up and out over the plate. Todys belted it into the gap in right center and over the head of the centerfielder. Dezenzo scored, and Kern was right on his heels with the tying run (8-8), and that brought Lipsey to the plate with a chance to redeem his strikeout with the bases loaded in the seventh.
He took the first Fenlong fastball he could swing at and lined it into left field, driving home pinch-runner Josh McAlister with the go-ahead run.
“It felt amazing,” said Lipsey. “I couldn’t get the job done in the seventh, and my team picked me up and put me in a good position to get it done [in the eighth]. I got a fair amount of barrel on it and it felt pretty good.”
The dugout exploded, as well as the big OSU contingent sitting behind the dugout and home plate. Leading 9-8 at that point, TJ Brock came back out for the ninth to try and record a 6-out save.
By his own confession this is not the same TJ Brock that made you hold your breath in the past. Having dedicated himself over the summer to become more pitch efficient, he pounded the strike zone Sunday night with his 98 mph fastball and put pressure squarely on the Sycamore hitters. He calmly retired the side in the ninth on a fly to left, a strikeout, a strikeout and passed ball, and a weak grounder to Drew Reckart at second base. Buckeyes won…9-8!
The bullpen was the story of the game, along with 9 runs on 8 hits, and all after the fourth inning! Jake Johnson, Gavin Bruni, Tim Baird and TJ Brock limited Indiana State to one hit and no runs over the final five innings.
“That’s how this team is, I’m not gonna’ lie,” said an excited Brock, post-game. “There’s not one weak spot. That’s the best part about it. We make the changes when they need to be made, and the culture of this team is a brotherhood. It’s about love and respect and that’s our motto for the year.”
OSU won it on 9 runs, 10 hits, and committed 2 errors.
Indiana State lost with 8 runs, on 8 hits and likewise committed 2 errors.
Tim Baird got the win, his first, and the game took 2 hours and 52 minutes to play.
He could have talked for an hour, detailing the character and depth of his team after three games, but Greg Beals understands how baseball giveth, and baseball can taketh away.
“I’m excited about how we went to our bench tonight and got a sac fly and a good at bat out of Bauer, we got a double out of Todys, our pinch runner (Josh McAlister) scores the winning run, and how Jake Johnson gets his first college experience and puts up zeros to settle things down for us [in the fifth].
“Then our offense took over, and this offense is tough on teams. And TJ Brock was electric. We left some things out there offensively, we had a couple of fly balls that I thought we could have caught defensively, so there’s some things we can continue to get better at.
“But I’m excited about things we saw, things we accomplished as a team today.”
They concluded the four-game series on Monday afternoon at 12:30, with grad transfer Aaron taking the mound against Brigham Young.
But the story of the night…don’t forget this one. “Because we know what we’re capable of now,” said Beals.
Marcus Ernst (3), Kade Kern (2) had multi-hit nights for the Buckeyes.
Archer Brookman hit his first home run, but hit the ball hard two other times right at ISU fielders.
Tim Baird recorded with first collegiate win by recording just one out…the final out in the seventh inning.
“There are some things we can continue to get better at,” said Greg Beals. The Bucks have yet to have an error-free game in three played, committing seven total so far in this four-game series.