The road woes persisted for the Ohio State baseball (25-14-1, 5-7-0) this weekend, with the Buckeyes dropping two of their three games versus Big Ten counterpart Illinois (20-17, 6-6).
If fans came out to the game Friday night expecting a quick, high-scoring affair, most of them left disappointed. The game ended up being a pitchers’ duel that lasted 3 hours and 57 minutes, eventually culminating in a 1-0 Illini victory in the 15th inning.
The Fighting Illini received an outstanding effort from their right-handed starter, junior Cody Sedlock, who pitched 10.2 scoreless innings, surrendering five hits and one walk with 14 punchouts. Fortunately for OSU, it had just the guy to match up with the ace.
After a rough outing against Rutgers in which he surrendered six earned runs over six innings against Rutgers, OSU junior left-hander Tanner Tully delivered exactly what the Buckeyes needed.
Tully provided the Scarlet and Gray with nine scoreless innings, striking out six batters and surrendering just seven hits and a walk. To OSU coach Greg Beals, this was exactly the kind of pitching matchup one would expect to see in a battle of aces.
“(Tully) had a better start, he bounced back and pitched great this week,” Beals said. “(Sedlock) was very strong, as well, and typical Friday night heavyweight fight with two very good starting pitchers, and nobody gave anything up.”
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, things would not end their way. With both teams throwing out their aces, runs were hard to come by. The game was held scoreless until the bottom of the 15th inning when OSU redshirt sophomore reliever Kyle Michalik threw a wild pitch past the catcher that allowed the runner from third base to score. As Beals explained, the team needs to start hitting a lot earlier in these types of road games with such high importance.
“Another walk-off loss on the road in-conference, and that’s the third one now,” Beals said. “We’ve got to do more early in the game and create some breaks for ourselves and not put ourselves in that situation where it’s always going to be so close down the road. Our bats have got to be able to produce more, especially early in the ball game.”
After failing to tally a run in the 15-inning series opener, OSU came out the next day with the bats ready to go.
Following his leadoff single in the second inning, senior shortstop Craig Nennig scored the first run of the game off an RBI single to left field off the bat of junior catcher Jalen Washington.
Two innings later, Washington came up to bat once again with a runner on third. And like he did already in the game, Washington drove him in with an RBI single.
The Buckeyes scored again in the fifth inning when senior third baseman Nick Sergakis came up to bat with runners on second and third. Sergakis hit into a fielder’s choice that scored redshirt junior first baseman Jacob Bosiokovic from third base.
Illinois got on board when its designated hitter, freshman Luke Shilling, lifted a sacrifice fly to right field to make it 3-1. However, that ended up being the last time the Fighting Illini put a number on the scoreboard.
In the seventh inning, Sergakis again came up to bat with a runner in scoring position, and he drove the runner in with an RBI double to right field.
From this point on, it was all OSU. In the top of the eighth inning, junior center fielder Troy Montgomery hit a sacrifice fly into left field to score sophomore right fielder Tre’ Gantt from third.
After a walk to Bosiokovic, junior left fielder Ronnie Dawson came up to the box and sent a home run over the right-field fence to make the score 7-1. The Buckeyes scored twice more in the top of the ninth, grabbing the 9-1 win.
Having Dawson swinging the bat so well is critical to OSU’s success, Beals said.
“Ronnie’s a key part in our lineup, sitting in our three hole,” Beals said. “(He) went through a little bit of a slow part there in the middle but is swinging the bat really well and up to his potential.”
After missing some time with a hamstring injury, OSU redshirt sophomore Adam Niemeyer took the hill for his second start. It didn’t go quite to plan, though, as he was was touched up a bit early by the Fighting Illini.
Following a leadoff single in the bottom of the first inning, Illinois put itself on the scoreboard after a triple by freshman center fielder Doran Turchin, who would score on a ground ball by the next batter.
Dawson brought the Buckeyes back within one in the sixth inning, however, with a home run to left field that made the score 2-1.
It was not until the bottom of the seventh inning that Illinois put itself back up on the scoreboard. With the bases loaded, Illinois freshman rightfielder Jack Yalowitz doubled to right field to clear the bases and put the Fighting Illini up 5-1.
OSU cut into the deficit in the eighth inning on an RBI double by Dawson. In the top of the ninth inning, Nennig led off and drilled a home run to left field. That would be the final run the Buckeyes would score, however, as they lost the series finale 5-3. After the game, Beals talked about how disappointing this series was for his squad.
“I’m feeling like we missed an opportunity,” Beals said. “You don’t feel good when you don’t win. … We had an opportunity to do some damage this weekend, and we weren’t able to take advantage of it.”
Without a midweek series on the docket, the Buckeyes are not scheduled to play again until Friday when they begin a three-game series against Purdue (7-30, 2-13). With OSU now in 11th place in the Big Ten, Beals acknowledged that the upcoming series is a crucial one.
“We’ve been reluctant to say ‘must-win’ to this point,” Beals said. “But next weekend will be a must-win series.”