The Ohio State baseball team (16-24) went a total of 25 innings either tied with or trailing to UNC Greensboro (24-15) in this series, but in the eighth inning of Sunday’s game, the Buckeyes finally took a lead and managed to hold on despite a late push from the Blue and Gold to win the game 5-4.
This win, though it was not enough to win the series, was a step in the right direction for OSU coach Greg Beals and his club as it remains in the hunt for another championship season.
“We needed that win, and the thing that I’m talking to the team about and I’m welcome to share is we all know we are kind of losing the war right now,” Beals said. “As far as our season’s going and we’re still behind, but all we can do right now is win little battles, win little battles and today was a little battle won.”
Making just his third start with the Buckeyes, junior Reece Calvert found himself in some early trouble. After retiring the first batter, Calvert gave up three-straight hits to load the bases. But the right-hander was able to work his way out of trouble, giving up just a sacrifice fly and escaping the inning down by only a run.
The Buckeyes were quick to respond, however, grabbing a run of their own in the bottom of the first inning. Both senior shortstop Jalen Washington and freshman right fielder Dominic Canzone broke from their respective bases attempting a double steal with two outs in the inning, and on the play, the catcher air-mailed the throw to third to try and catch Washington, who scored on the overthrow to tie the game at one.
Calvert kept UNCG quiet in the top of the second, but two hits, a groundout and a throwing error in the third gave the Spartans a two-run lead.
But as the Spartans went, so too went the Buckeyes. Washington and Canzone were again in the middle of the run-scoring in the third, as Washington drove an RBI double into the left-center field gap, his second double of the day, and stole third to give Canzone a shot with a man 90 feet away. Canzone lifted a sacrifice fly to left field, tying the game at three.
In the top of the fourth inning, Beals turned to his relief ace, junior right-handed pitcher Seth Kinker.
“It kind of gives you an indication on how important it was to win today that we go to Kinker that early in the ball game,” Beals said. “We felt like that fourth inning, that was the time we had to get him in there at that point and he did a great job. I mean he did exactly what we needed out of him. He was just Seth Kinker, really good, didn’t try to do too much, fastball, slider down in the zone.”
A two-out rally in the inning, however, kicked off by a double from senior catcher JoJo Underwood and run-scoring single from senior left fielder Ben Spitznagel got to Kinker early and gave UNCG the 4-3 lead.
The game stayed at 4-3 until the bottom of the seventh inning when junior center fielder Tre’ Gantt singled up the middle, scoring freshman second baseman Conner Pohl from third and tying the game.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, sophomore third baseman Brady Cherry snapped an 0-15 hitless streak with a double to the left-center field gap. After later advancing to third on a groundout, Cherry was able to score the Buckeyes’ fifth run on a wild pitch, giving the team their first lead of the series.
Kinker, who had pitched every inning from the start of the fourth on to the end of the game, came out for the ninth inning to close out the game. A leadoff single, bunt and groundout brought the Spartans’ best hitter, freshman third baseman Caleb Webster to the plate, a batter with a .435 batting average and only four strikeouts all season long.
Kinker won the little battle, striking him out on four pitches, pitching the Buckeyes to a 5-4 victory.
It was almost storybook for the Buckeyes and Kinker that the batter they faced with the game on the line was the Spartans’ top bat who had been giving OSU fits all weekend long.
“It’s funny, we almost doubled his strikeout total this weekend which is hard to believe and it’s only at five now,” Kinker said. “Jalen came up and behind me and said, you know you’ve got that base open over there, just throw your best stuff. So I threw my best stuff, I got ahead quickly 1-2 and then the crowd came up behind me with the claps and it’s hard not to make that pitch inside on the corner with the crowd clapping.”
The Buckeyes counted on Kinker to help them come away with a win, and he provided them with arguably the most dominating outing of his career. He set a new career-high for innings pitched in a single game at six (previous high was four) while allowing just one run on seven hits with no walks and five strikeouts.
“Well (the coaching staff) told me to go down early in the game — I think I ran down to the bullpen at about the second inning — and they said they’re going to try and use me as long as I can go,” Kinker said. “And as the game went on, I feel like I got stronger.”
The Buckeyes have no midweek games and will face off against their next Big Ten opponent on Friday starting at 6:35 p.m. at home against Nebraska.