Daniel Zaas / Lantern photographer
For nearly eight innings, the only noise heard in Huntington Park was the “M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A” cheers of the Minnesota faithful.
After that, it was all “O-H-I-O” from the fans in scarlet and gray.
The Ohio State baseball team scored five runs in the bottom of the eighth to cap a 5-3 comeback victory against Minnesota in the opening game of the Big Ten Baseball Tournament on Wednesday.
OSU (26-25, 14-11) took two of three games against the Golden Gophers (22-23, 13-12) last week in Minnesota.
After three scoreless innings Wednesday, OSU botched a potential double-play ground out in the fourth, when freshman first baseman Josh Dezse stepped off the bag, allowing Minnesota to score a run.
Minnesota right-handed pitcher TJ Oakes silenced OSU hitters for most of the game. Oakes struck out three while giving up three hits during the first seven innings.
Senior pitcher Drew Rucinski, and the defense behind him, kept OSU in the game.
“Drew gave us a great start and kept our ball club (in the game),” coach Greg Beals said. “If we play clean defense and throw enough strikes, we’re going to be tough to beat.”
The Golden Gophers added to their lead in the top of the eighth when OSU junior reliever Andrew Armstrong gave up a two-run double to Minnesota first baseman Nick O’Shea, giving Minnesota a 3-0 lead.
The Buckeyes previously were 1-19 when trailing after seven innings, but fortunes reversed when OSU came to bat.
Sophomore catcher Greg Solomon led off with a bunt to start a Buckeye rally.
“It’s not an accident when Greg lays down a drag bunt,” Beals said. “They weren’t defending it and gave us a chance to get things started.”
“Coach had told me the third baseman was playing pretty deep,” he said. “I knew we needed to try to get something started, so I decided I needed to get a bunt down.”
Minnesota brought in All-Big Ten pitcher Scott Matyas in an attempt to end the Buckeyes’ threat. For the season, Matyas’ opponents were hitting .129 coming into Wednesday’s game.
But that didn’t stop the Buckeyes.
OSU freshman outfielder Tim Wetzel’s RBI single, followed by a Minnesota error on second baseman Ryan Cypret’s grounder, trimmed the lead to 3-2. With two outs, Buckeyes senior third baseman Matt Streng stepped to the plate and singled to right, bringing in the tying run.
Streng said he knew what to expect when facing Matyas.
“I faced him just a couple days ago and I knew he was going to try to bust me in hard,” Streng said. “He left the fastball up in the zone and I was able to drive it through the hole.”
An errant pickoff attempt at third base allowed the Buckeyes to take their first lead of the game. Junior outfielder David Corna hit an RBI double to give OSU an insurance run and a 5-3 lead. Dezse came on to pitch a scoreless ninth.
“We felt if we could get into the bullpen, we’d have a shot,” Streng said. “We strung some hits together, scored the runs we needed and came through.”
Solomon said the team’s belief in itself is all it needs.
“We know that every game we play is going to be close,” he said. “We have confidence in ourselves that we will succeed when we need to.”
OSU will face Illinois in the second game of the Big Ten Tournament at 7:05 p.m.