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Baseball: Ohio State splits four games to open season; Ratcliff and Washington lead offense

OSU then-junior catcher Jalen Washington (2) swings at a ball during a game against Bethune-Cookman at Bill Davis Stadium on April 1, 2016. Lantern file photo

Entering the 2017 season, the biggest question surrounding the Ohio State baseball team was how coach Greg Beals would replace seven everyday starters.

The Buckeyes seemed to answer that question emphatically, combining for 21 runs on 18 hits during the first two games at the Sunshine State Classic Series. But, their offense slumped across the final two contests, posting only four runs on 11 hits.

The offense found over the weekend came largely from the bats of redshirt senior designated hitter Zach Ratcliff and senior shortstop and co-captain Jalen Washington. Ratcliff hit .438 with seven hits, two home runs, six RBIs and five runs scored. Washington finished the weekend with a .385 batting average, one stolen base, three runs scored and was hit by four pitches.

OSU opened its season with a 2-2 start.

Game 1 versus Kansas State

A dominant outing from redshirt junior starting pitcher and co-captain Adam Niemeyer on Opening Day helped led the Buckeyes to a 6-3 victory over the Wildcats.

The scoring began in the top half of the third for OSU. After Kansas State redshirt sophomore starting pitcher Bryce Ward set the first two down in order, OSU junior center fielder Tre’ Gantt tripled down the right field line. Washington followed that up with a grounder to the second baseman who couldn’t handle it, allowing Washington to reach first and Gantt to score the first Buckeye run of the season.

A double and a walk loaded the bases for junior first baseman Bo Coolen who doubled down the left field line, driving in two runs and bringing the OSU lead to 3-0.

The next inning, the Buckeyes would again put up a crooked number. After the first two batters of the inning reached base and a sac bunt put them both in scoring position, a wild pitch was thrown by freshman reliever Tyler McKay, allowing sophomore third baseman Brady Cherry to score from third.

A walk to Gantt brought Washington to the plate who lined a base hit down the left field line, scoring another run and expanding the Buckeye lead to 5-0. A bases-loaded walk later in the inning added to the OSU lead, putting them ahead 6-0.

The only run Niemeyer surrendered came in the bottom half of the sixth inning after the first two runners he faced reached base on a single and an error. A single by redshirt senior outfielder Steve Serratore drove in the run, drawing the Wildcats closer, 6-1.

The Wildcats plated two unearned runs off junior reliever Seth Kinker in the bottom of the ninth inning, but the Buckeyes held on for the 6-3 victory. Niemeyer finished the game having allowed only one unearned run on six hits, no walks and one strikeout.

Game 2 versus Delaware

In a high-scoring affair driven by three grand slams, OSU beat Delaware 15-10 thanks to Ratcliff’s monster day.

The fifth-year designated hitter delivered the game’s first runs with a two-run home run to left field in the bottom of the second, giving OSU the early 2-0 lead.

But Delaware responded in a big way in the top of the third. A grand slam from redshirt senior outfielder Jordan Glover led the Blue Hens’ offensive charge as they jumped out to an early 6-2 lead. An inning later, Delaware added another run to bring the score to 7-2.

In the bottom-half of the fourth inning, Ratcliff came up to bat and for the second time, deposited a two-run home run over the left field fence to draw the Buckeyes within five. The Blue Hens responded, adding two more of their own in the top of the fifth.

Down 9-4, the OSU offense exploded in the bottom of the seventh inning. Junior second baseman Noah McGowan stepped up to the plate with a bases-loaded opportunity and cashed in with a grand slam, drawing the Scarlet and Gray to within one.

The next two batters reached base for Ratcliff who again delivered, this time with a two-RBI double to the right-center field gap. Ratliff would later score, expanding the Buckeye lead to 11-9.

The next inning, OSU got right back where they left off. Now with the score tied, Cherry stepped up to the dish with the bases juiced and delivered his second career grand slam to left-center field, jumping the OSU offense out to a commanding 15-9 lead.

The Blue Hens added another run in the top of the ninth, but their comeback attempt fell short as OSU won the first game of their Saturday double-header 15-10. Ratcliff finished the day 4-4 with a pair of homers, a walk, four runs scored and six RBIs.

Game 3 versus Pittsburgh

The Buckeye offense came rolling into this game, but they were completely silenced by senior right-hander Josh Falk in a 7-2 loss against Pittsburgh.

The Buckeyes drew first blood. Gantt led off the top of the second inning with a ground-rule double and scored on a sacrifice fly from McGowan, giving OSU the early 1-0 lead.

Pitt quickly took back the game with two runs scored in the bottom of the second on a two-run double from freshman right fielder Nico Popa. Another run in the bottom of the third expanded their lead to 3-1.

The Panthers put up another run in the fourth, one in the seventh and two in the eighth to give them a 7-1 lead.

As soon as Falk left the game in the ninth inning, the Buckeye offense started showing some life. The first two batters of the inning went down, but a pair of singles, a hit-by-pitch and an RBI walk from redshirt senior left fielder Shea Murray brought the score to 7-2. The OSU comeback ended there, however, as the pinch-hitter lined out to shortstop to end their comeback.

Falk finished the game with eight innings of one-run, three-hit ball. He walked three and struck out seven.

Game 4 versus Kansas State

Coming off a game where the offense looked stagnant, OSU once again came out of the gate slow, and fell to Kansas State 3-2 in their second meeting with the Wildcats.

Down 2-0 in the bottom half of the fifth inning, OSU found some life in their offense. After a triple and a walk put runners on the corners, Gantt singled to right center to put the Scarlet and Gray on the scoreboard. Washington followed that up with a double to left, tying the game at two.

The game remained tied until the top of the eighth inning. Redshirt senior shortstop Jake Wodtke led off the frame with a single up the middle and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. Senior first baseman Jake Scudder followed the sacrifice with a single to center, driving in the Wildcats’ third run of the game and bringing the score to 3-2.

In his first game since Tommy John surgery, OSU redshirt senior starting pitcher Jake Post looked solid, delivering six innings with only two runs allowed on five hits while striking out three. Washington and Ratcliff were the only two Buckeye hitters with multi-hit games.

The Buckeyes will travel to Surprise, Arizona, on Thursday to begin the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge. They open against Utah on at 8 p.m. and will split four games over the weekend between the Utes and the No. 8 Oregon State Beavers.

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