The Ohio State baseball team had beaten Minnesota three times out of four in the past eight days.
But it failed in its final matchup of the year.
The No. 4 Buckeyes (26-27, 13-11 Big Ten) fell to the No. 5 Gophers (24-23, 13-11 Big Ten) in a Big Ten Tournament elimination game Friday at Huntington Park.
The Buckeyes’ 26-27 record will not get them into the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s not about numbers today,” coach Greg Beals said. “Obviously, the day didn’t go the way we wanted it to go. We wanted to stay in the tournament longer than we did, but on days like today you look back at the body of work we had this year.”
The game was shaping up to be a pitchers’ duel after four innings, with an unearned run standing as the only score of the day.
Two innings and 10 runs later, Minnesota led, 7-4.
The Buckeyes took the lead in the bottom of the fifth after sophomore catcher Greg Solomon and senior infielder Tyler Engle put up consecutive singles with two outs. Senior outfielder Brian DeLucia followed with an RBI double down the third-base line, and freshman outfielder Tim Wetzel knocked in a two-run single to put OSU up, 3-1.
But the wheels fell off for the Buckeyes and freshman starter Greg Greve the following inning. Greve gave up a two-RBI single and then a two-out, two-run home run. Greve left the game after giving up a triple, but senior reliever Theron Minium gave up another two-run home run before getting out of the inning.
“That’s an offense that we’ve held at bay for four games,” Beals said. “That sixth inning, I think, was four games of offense they threw at us all in one inning.”
Minnesota added two runs in the eighth to increase its lead to 9-4, and OSU went quietly in the ninth.
“That’s baseball,” Solomon said. “We played our best today and it wasn’t enough to get the win. But that’s baseball: having a 3-1 lead and then having the other team score runs.”
OSU had little time to recover from its 5-4 loss Thursday night to Illinois. After finishing the game past 11 p.m., the Buckeyes had to start their next game at 12:05 p.m. Friday.
Solomon said they only got about six hours of sleep but that it’s a grind and what they needed to deal with.
Beals said he was concerned with how “alive” his players’ bodies would be after last night but that it was not an excuse.
“It’s the way tournaments are set up,” he said. “Illinois would have been in the same situation had we closed out the game last night, so that’s tournament baseball.”
Season in review
This was Beals’ first season as coach of OSU. He replaced Hall of Fame coach Bob Todd. Despite the team finishing with a record one game below .500, it finished the Big Ten regular season with a record of 13-11 and reappeared in the Big Ten Tournament after missing the cut last season.
Wetzel said the team had a lot of guys fitting into new roles and that they all matured over the year.
“We all found our roles pretty early in the season, and then we all really stuck to that,” he said. “I think, in a game like this, that’s going to take us a long way.”
Beals said he was proud of how far the team came during his first year at OSU.
“I’ll remember these kids for the fight they had,” he said. “Whether they were as good or better or not as good, they just fought and they fought and they fought.”
The Buckeyes will lose sevens seniors, including three everyday starters. They will also lose two starting and two relief pitchers, one of whom is Drew Rucinski, a second-team All-Big Ten selection.
Beals said the program has eight incoming players signed to national letter of intents and seven verbal commitments.
“Playing baseball the right way and maximizing the game of baseball is what me and my coaching staff are going to push every day in this program,” Beals said. “It was something that was an absolute necessity for this season, and it’s something that I think for great baseball, where we want this program to go, it’s going to be a necessity in the future.”