In a near identical match to Thursday’s five-set thriller, the Ohio State men’s volleyball team closed out the regular season, and its tenure at St. John Arena, downing Ball State in five sets, 19-25, 25-17, 15-25, 25-23 and 15-9.
The Buckeyes (10-18, 5-9 MIVA) tallied 6.5 blocks and 21 kills to win the final two sets in a comeback victory despite being both out-blocked 10 to 8.5 and out-killed 51 to 50 by the Cardinals (15-13, 6-7 MIVA). In both matches on Thursday and Saturday, Ohio State fell in the first and third sets, setting up a fourth-and-fifth-set comeback.
Head coach Pete Hanson said the Buckeyes’ early struggles have a lot to do with team confidence.
“Once we’ve kind of let the jitters die down or let our anxieties flow away because we’re getting tired, then we settle in,” Hanson said. “We’re trying to do too much too early.”
With Ball State holding a 13-12 lead in the first set, senior middle blocker Parker Swartz struck a kill and two aces, extending the Cardinals’ advantage to four.
Despite an ace by Ohio State senior setter Sanil Thomas and kills by redshirt senior middle blocker Blake Leeson and freshman outside hitter Sean Ryan, Ball State used kills by Swartz and junior outside attacker Matt Szews, as well as Ohio State errors to hold the Buckeyes off in the first set, 25-19.
Swartz finished with a team-high four aces, adding nine kills, two digs and three block assists. Junior outside hitter Blake Reardon led the Cardinals with 14 kills, also contributing an ace, two digs and three block assists.
Down two sets to one, Ohio State stormed back in the fourth set.
After falling behind 9-4 early, the Buckeyes exploded for scoring runs of three and five points, including an ace by freshman middle blocker Ethan Talley, kills by sophomore opposite hitter Jake Hanes and junior outside hitter Reese Devilbiss and two blocks, taking a 15-12 lead.
Despite a late surge by Ball State, Ohio State held the Cardinals’ attack at bay, holding onto a two-point lead en route to a 25-23 fourth set victory, ensuring a fifth and final set.
Devilbiss ended with 14 kills, a dig and four block assists. Hanes led the Buckeyes with 19 kills and two aces, adding three digs and three block assists. His two aces came as part of a five-ace second set, establishing a foundation for the Buckeyes’ comeback victory three sets later.
Ohio State brought its fourth-set momentum into the fifth set, using a five-point run to take a 10-5 lead from three Ball State attack errors and two blocks featuring Devilbiss, Talley and Thomas.
Kills by Reardon and junior middle blocker Lemuel Turner helped the Cardinals cut into Ohio State’s lead, but three kills by Hanes, Leeson and redshirt sophomore outside hitter Tyler Alter snuffed out the comeback attempt, leaving the Buckeyes victorious in the fifth set, 15-9, and the match, 3-2.
Leeson, a senior who played in his final regular season match for the Buckeyes Saturday night, said this was a special win for him.
“I’m just so proud of the guys and to go out and put [St. John Arena] to bed with a win against a team that usually gives us a lot of trouble was a great feeling,” Leeson said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Ohio State will return to action in the MIVA tournament Saturday against No. 10 Loyola Chicago in Chicago.