The Ohio State baseball team continued its push for the postseason this weekend with a road-series win over No. 24 Minnesota in Minneapolis at Siebert Field. Coach Greg Beals had his squad arguably playing its best baseball of the season coming into the weekend, and the Buckeyes needed to build upon their home sweep of Michigan from the previous weekend.
Sitting tied at third in the Big Ten standings with Nebraska heading into Thursday’s action just 2.5 games back of Minnesota for the Big Ten championship, OSU had a grand opportunity for one of the largest season turnarounds in school history.
Tanner Tully toed the rubber for OSU on Thursday versus the Golden Gophers sporting a 6-3 record as OSU’s No. 1 starter. After a 1-2-3 first inning, Tully struggled a bit in the second. Despite junior outfielder Troy Montgomery scoring on a wild pitch to give OSU a 1-0 lead, Minnesota hitters Austin Athman and Micah Coffey singled and doubled, respectively, off the Elkhart, Indiana, native. Athman then scored on a groundout by Minnesota junior Matt Stemper to tie the game at 1.
At times this season, Tully has dealt with command issues which were evident in the 10 hits he allowed on Thursday night. However, the former freshman All-American climbed out of holes several times in his outing only allowing two runs in six innings pitched, striking out four.
The Buckeyes’ offensive fortunes came in the form of wild pitches and passed balls. Scoring on a wild pitch in the second, OSU once again crossed home plate in the seventh on an errant pitch from Golden Gophers’ pitcher Matt Fielder. Sophomore Tre’ Gantt tied the game at two in the seventh for OSU, and senior infielder Troy Kuhn came through in the ninth with a two-out infield base hit to score senior Craig Nennig. Michael Horejsei pitched two hitless innings to cap off a comeback 3-2 victory.
It was the type of hit that needed to happen for the Buckeyes to take a 1-0 lead in the series as they continue to claw and scrape back into the NCAA tournament picture. Kuhn’s game-winning single and Horejsei slamming the door out of the bullpen notched OSU’s seventh consecutive victory.
Picking up from where he left off on Thursday night, Nennig launched a two-run shot over the fence at Siebert Field to put the Buckeyes up 2-0. The relatively quick start was something that Buckeyes had not been able to do in over a week, so the general feeling was that OSU had control of the game with senior John Havird on the mound.
Havird threw five scoreless innings and was working with a 3-0 lead before the Minnesota bats woke up in the sixth.
The Gophers tattooed the lefty for four runs on five hits to pull ahead 4-3. OSU was in command the entire game and was looking like the team would have a shot at at least a share of the Big Ten crown with a win on Saturday. Once Minnesota took the lead in the sixth, the team never looked back.
OSU put a the leadoff man on base in the seventh and eighth innings, but the ball was simply rolling the way of the Maroon and Gold. Double plays ended any possible threat following leadoff hits, and OSU was sent down without a fight.
Minnesota clinched the outright Big Ten championship after defeating the Buckeyes and an Indiana loss on Friday.
In the rubber match of the pivotal Big Ten finale series, OSU sent redshirt sophomore Adam Niemeyer to the hill to do battle with Minnesota’s Toby Anderson. The Buckeyes could no longer win a share of the Big Ten, but another top-25 victory, likely, would impress the selection board for the NCAA tournament.
Since his first season in Scarlet and Gray in 2011, Beals’ teams have been known to be great competitors that can be over-matched with skill but won’t back down from a challenge. On Sunday in the regular season finale, Beals’ most trusted players took center stage.
Down 6-4, Kuhn led off the sixth with a double, and Montgomery soon followed with an RBI single to cut the deficit to one. Then, junior outfielder Ronnie Dawson put a charge into a fastball that he sent out of the confines of Siebert Field to knot the game 5-all. Dawson quickly rounded the bases hoping to get another at-bat.
Relief pitchers Seth Kinker, Horejsei and freshman Ryan Feltner held off the potent Minnesota lineup in the 4.1 innings of work to force extra-innings with a chance to pull-off another comeback victory and steal the final Big Ten series from the conference champs.
Dawson came to the plate in the tenth and delivered once again sending a towering blast over the right-center field fence to put the Buckeyes in front 6-5. Minnesota outfielders could only gaze at the white leather pierced through the win as OSU continued to gash some of college baseball’s best teams.
His two home runs gives him 12 on the season and OSU leads the Big Ten with 53 home runs.
On the final out of the game, Nennig charged from the shortstop position and made a remarkable play to nab the Gophers of sending the go-ahead run to the plate. Bosiokovic triumphantly fist pumped after the final putout, then Kuhn and Nennig soared for a victorious chest bump. It was the type of reaction a team expresses after vanquishing the No. 24 Gophers on their home turf and playing into consideration for a NCAA at-large bid.
Dawson and the Buckeyes put on a textbook display of overcoming adversity. The Buckeyes proved to the conference and the nation that the team is ready for the big stage in Omaha, Nebraska, next week at the Big Ten Tournament.
OSU earned the No. 4 seed in the tournament and will play No. 5 seed Michigan at approximately 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday.