A day after serving up five runs on 11 hits in Game 1 of the series, the Ohio State baseball team needed to make sure they kept the explosive bats of the Minnesota baseball team quiet in order to salvage the series.
But the Golden Gophers were not to be silenced on Saturday, as the team combined for 21 runs and 30 hits across the two games of the doubleheader and completed the sweep of the Buckeyes in the first conference series of the season.
OSU coach Greg Beals tipped his cap to the bats of the Golden Gophers, saying that they demonstrated a great approach to the plate and take advantage of mistakes up in the zone.
“They have guys with a feel for hitting. So when you’re up in the zone, they’re going to put balls in play,” Beals said. “I think they’ve got a solid two-strike approach where they’ll scrap and fight you.”
The first game of Saturday’s doubleheader saw its fair share of runs being scored, but it was largely one-sided. The Golden Gophers piled on seven runs late to win the game 15-5.
Despite the final score being so lopsided, it was the Buckeyes who jumped on the scoreboard first. A groundout from junior right fielder Noah McGowan with a pair in scoring position scored the runner from third and gave the Buckeyes the early 1-0 lead.
Two innings later, freshman second baseman Noah West later stepped up to the plate with his team still searching for their first hit of the game and launched the fourth pitch he saw over the left field fence for his first career home run, helping OSU jump ahead by two.
For West, that home run wasn’t about trying to do too much, it was just about trying to put a good swing on it and hoping to drive it.
“I was just trying to go out and be aggressive and saw a fastball, and my eyes just lighting up and (I was) able to get it over the fence,” West said. “It was probably the best feeling of my life honestly.”
It did not take long for the Golden Gophers to respond. In the top of the fourth inning, Minnesota had a runner on first base and no one out. Then a wild series of events took place with a bunt single, followed up by a pair of throwing errors that allowed a run to come across and bring the Golden Gophers to within one.
An RBI double from redshirt senior left fielder Jordan Smith immediately followed and tied the game at two.
A walk coming right on the heels of that double to put two runners on base for sophomore catcher Cole McDevitt who crushed Curlis’ 0-1 offering over the fence in straight-away center to give the Golden Gophers the 5-2 lead.
The Buckeyes again channeled the long ball in the bottom half of the fourth inning, as junior left fielder Tyler Cowles crushed a no-doubt home run to left field to bring the score to 5-3.
Minnesota was not done with the power surge. With two runners aboard in the top of the fifth, Jordan Smith connected with the 3-2 pitch and sent it over a leaping attempt at the wall from McGowan for the Golden Gophers’ second home run of the day and his second in the series.
In the bottom of the fifth, sophomore catcher Jacob Barnwell sent a 3-1 fastball over the left-center field wall for his first career home run.
Two scoreless innings came and went, and all was quiet until the top of the eighth. And then the wheels fell off for OSU.
With a run already having scored on a ground out earlier in the inning, junior first baseman Toby Hanson doubled to right field, scoring a pair of runs.
A single and throwing error allowed Hanson to come around to score and give his team the seven-run lead. Redshirt freshman Jordan Kozicky tripled to the right-centerfield gap, scoring two more runs. Kozicky later came around to score on a passed ball to bring the score 15-5.
Beals said this game was not an easy one to get through for the Buckeyes as it seemingly everything went against his team.
“First game just kind of got away from us. I think Curlis went out there, and for three innings looked pretty good and disappeared on us,” Beals said. “Then we went to the bullpen and like I said, it just got away from us.”
Curlis, who had not allowed a run in his previous 11 innings, gave up seven runs (all earned) on nine hits and two walks across four innings while only striking out three.
But the bullpen did not help to pick him up either. The relievers allowed eight runs (seven earned) on eight hits and two walks across five innings of work, adding to their struggles of late.
Junior relief pitcher Seth Kinker said that for the bullpen to start finding success, they need to start to feel more confident in their stuff and trust themselves to pitch well.
“Right now, people are a little rattled when they do go in the game. And they’re lacking a little bit of confidence,” Kinker said. “You’re not going to pitch well if you don’t have confidence. And that’s what I’ve always been told while I’ve been here for three years. If you have the confidence in your stuff, then you’re going to do well.”
For the third-straight game in the series, the Golden Gophers tallied double-digit hit totals and secured the sweep, winning by a final score of 6-5.
The scoring got started in the bottom of the second with a sacrifice fly to right-center field from Tyler Cowles, but the Golden Gophers responded right back in the top of the third with a sacrifice fly of their own to tie the game at one.
In the top of the fourth, the Golden Gophers started to get to sophomore starting pitcher Ryan Feltner. A double and single put runners on the corners for Kozicky who delivered an RBI double down the left field line. The runner on first base was thrown out trying to score, but Minnesota still managed to take the 2-1 lead.
A single up the middle from McDevitt scored Kozicky, expanding the Minnesota lead to 3-1.
The Buckeyes answered quickly though, bringing themselves back within a run when freshman right fielder Dominic Canzone singled to right to score his team’s second run of the game.
Feltner again ran into issues in the fifth as he served up a home run to junior right fielder Alex Boxwell in the top of the fifth to give Minnesota the 4-2 lead. He later walked another batter in the inning and was pulled from the game.
For the second-straight inning, OSU would put a run up on the board. With a runner on second, senior shortstop and co-captain Jalen Washington singled up the middle to cut the Gopher lead to just one.
Just as quickly as OSU put up a run, so too did Minnesota. After a leadoff double in the top of the sixth put a runner in scoring position, a single to left field brought the score back up to 5-3.
Later in the inning, the Golden Gophers had runners on second and third and a wild pitch allowed the second run of the inning to come around and score.
In the bottom half of the sixth inning, Canzone stepped up to the plate with runners on first and second, and for the second time today drilled a base hit through the right side of the infield, scoring the runner from second.
OSU had one of their best scoring opportunities of the game in the bottom of the eighth inning. With the bases loaded and no one out, Canzone stepped up to the plate and delivered a sacrifice fly, bringing the game to 6-5.
An attempted squeeze bunt failed to amount to anything but advancing the runner on first to second. A walk and a strikeout would end the inning and leave the bases loaded.
Beals saw this situation as a golden opportunity for his ball club and he felt that while they were able to put some good swings on the ball, nothing went right for his club.
“In that eighth inning, Canzone drives the ball to right-center field. It’s a really hard hit ball. It’s a sacrifice fly, so it’s quality in that. It’s hard hit. We’ve got to be able to find the gap with that,” Beals said. “There’s a lot of things from a process standpoint, we did really good. But there’s not a lot of moral victories in it. The taste in the mouth doesn’t make it any better.”
For his team to improve, Beals believes there is not any magic answer. He said that his team just needs to stop pressing too much and try to get back to fundamental baseball.
“One more hit. It takes one more hit. There’s no magic answer to it,” Beals said. “I think guys are pressing a little bit and this is the time of the year when you’re struggling and you’re not winning games where that pressing can come into play and we’ve got to fight that. We’ve got to stick to our process, stick to the fundamentals and the core values that we believe in and execute those.”
The Buckeyes will look to get back in the win column when they host Ohio University for the fifth of their nine-consecutive home games on Tuesday. First pitch is scheduled for 6:35 p.m.