Patrick Bailey / Lantern photographer
Despite a lackluster outing from sophomore ace Jaron Long, Ohio State managed to beat Penn State 12-5 in its opening game of the Big Ten tournament Wednesday at Huntington Park.
Long (6-2), the Buckeyes No. 1 starter, allowed five runs on 11 hits in three innings against the Nittany Lions in a no-decision. It was his shortest outing of the season.
“He wasn’t sharp,” OSU coach Greg Beals said. “His cutter was flat, and his fastball was a little flat. Penn State had a great plan against him.”
Named to the All-Big Ten first-team, the sophomore entered the game with the third-best ERA (2.29) in the conference, and ranked second in innings pitched (98.1).
The 11 hits allowed against Penn State, tied for the most hits he has given up in any game this season. Unfortunately, for Long, both instances have occurred in his last two starts. He surrendered 11 hits in his final start of the regular season against Indiana on May 17.
Pitching consistently well throughout the season, Long has allowed 22 hits and 11 earned runs in his last two games combined, pitching only nine innings. In his first 11 starts, the right-hander gave up only 16 earned runs.
After back-to-back sub-par performances, fatigue might be a cause of the OSU pitcher’s recent struggles, Beals said.
“He’s logged a lot of innings this year,” Beals said. “And with the amount of innings that he’s pitched, his ball was just flat today. But part of logging a lot of innings, means he’s pitched awfully well, so it’s a ‘Catch-22.'”
Long, who was not available to the media after the game, left in the fourth inning with a runner on and no outs, giving way to junior right-hander Brett McKinney. The Buckeyes trailed 4-1 at the time.
McKinney allowed a single to the first batter he faced, allowing the runner belonging to Long to score, but that was it. He allowed only one more hit and no earned runs in four and two-thirds innings.
The junior said he did not expect to be in the game so early with Long as the scheduled starter, but he was ready to go when his name was called.
“(Long) has been our ace, Friday-night guy and phenomenal all year,” McKinney said. “Anything can happen though, and when my name got called, I wanted to do everything I could to help the team be successful.”
Although Long has struggled in his last two games, Beals said he would not rule out the possibility of pitching him on short rest if the Buckeyes go deep in the tournament.
“Game three against Indiana (May 19) he said he was ready to go,” Beals said of Long’s ability to pitch on short rest. “If we get deep into this tournament, it will be all hands on deck. We’ll have to see.”
OSU rallied to overcome the Nittany Lions four-run lead with nine runs in the game’s final two innings. Loading the bases with no outs in each stanza, the Buckeyes scored three in the eighth and six more in the ninth.
OSU outfielders, senior David Corna and freshman Patrick Porter, each had four RBI to lead the Buckeyes to victory in the all-important first game of the double-elimination tournament.
“In this kind of tournament you’ve got to win that first game,” Corna said. “If not, you’re way behind and got to win something like seven straight, it’s ridiculous. Getting that first one is huge.”
Had it lost against Penn State, OSU would have had to win six straight games to win the Big Ten title. The Buckeyes play top-seed Purdue in their next game, Thursday at 7:05 p.m.