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Baseball: Seventh-seeded Ohio State wins Big Ten title

Ohio State redshirt freshman pitcher Seth Lonsway (11) throws a pitch in the Buckeyes’ game against Hawaii on March 23. Ohio State won 7-5. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo Editor

Ahead 2-1 in the Big Ten championship game’s seventh inning, Ohio State was in a jam.

Nebraska runners clung to second and third base with one out;, the arms in the bullpen were wearing thin, and it looked like a possible breaking point.

Sophomore pitcher Andrew Magno, making his fourth appearance in five days, struck out Nebraska freshman designated hitter Cam Chick. Ohio State freshman third baseman Nick Erwin retired the next batter on an off-balance throw.

Magno rode out two more shutout innings to deliver Ohio State its first Big Ten title since 2009, after entering the eight-team tournament as its seventh seed.

Ohio State’s unlikely run to the Big Ten title started before the tournament’s first pitch was thrown. Only the top eight from the Big Ten’s 13 college baseball teams qualify for the showdown in Omaha, Nebraska.

Entering the final weekend of conference play, the Buckeyes held a 9-12 conference record, ranking tenth in the Big Ten. They needed to pass Northwestern (10-11 entering the final weekend) and Rutgers (9-11) to punch their ticket.

Sweeping Purdue in three games allowed them to do exactly that. The team even passed Iowa, who was swept in its own weekend series. It left them at No. 7 entering the tournament.

The Buckeyes rode the arms of redshirt freshman Seth Lonsway (1-0, 10.1 innings, two earned runs and 12 strikeouts), sophomore Griffan Smith (2-0, 12.2 innings, two earned runs and 16 strikeouts) and Magno (four saves in 9.2 shutout innings) once they made it to Omaha.

The Big Ten baseball tournament is in a double-elimination format, but any bracket isn’t designed to favor the lowest seeds. Ohio State opened with a showdown against second-seeded Michigan, who led the Big Ten in team ERA, runs scored and batting average.

Lonsway took the mound and delivered 5.1 innings, surrendering one run against the conference leaders in that category.

Magno and freshman Will Pfenning combined for 3.2 shutout frames in relief. The Buckeyes edged out a 2-1 win.

Maryland, fresh off its own upset of third-seeded Illinois, entered the proverbial arena next.

Again, the hurlers delivered. Smith tossed seven innings of two-run ball, followed by two more shutout frames by Magno. After a 3-2 victory, Ohio State advanced to the semi-finals.

That’s where the pitching started to run out of gas.

Defending champion Minnesota piled nine runs on the Buckeyes, giving the team its first loss, and setting up an elimination game between the two teams.

Lonsway returned to the hill.

His offense was behind him. Seven Buckeye batters knocked home eight combined RBI, most notably a two-run home run by senior left fielder Brady Cherry that put the Buckeyes ahead 2-0 early on. After six innings, Ohio State led 8-1.

Minnesota refused to exit that easily. Lonsway left, and the Golden Gophers mounted a five-run seventh-inning rally.

Magno calmed the storm once again. He threw 2.1 shutout innings and saved his third game of the tournament. An 8-6 win advanced Ohio State to the championship game.

The conference title makes 16 in Ohio State history, its first since 2009. It will play in the NCAA tournament this weekend.

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