Seven days ago, before playing their last regular season series, the Ohio State Buckeyes baseball team did not know if they would qualify for the Big Ten Tournament. Fast forward one week and Penn State wishes they hadn’t. The sixth seeded Buckeyes scored nine runs in the last two innings to cap off a 12-5 comeback win over the No. 3 Nittany Lions.
Playing a “home” contest at the Clippers’ Huntington Park, Ohio State secured at least two more games in the double-elimination tournament. The Buckeyes will play the top seeded Purdue Boilermakers Thursday night while Penn State will fight for their playoff lives against Nebraska that afternoon.
Ohio State is a bit of an anomaly among the teams in this tournament. The Buckeyes obviously have the shortest commute of any tournament team – 3.7 miles separate Bill Davis Stadium and Huntington. However, since the Bucks are the lowest seeded team in the tournament, they will be the visiting club in every game they play, regardless of whom they play. Baseball can be funny like that.
Most of the game’s offensive firepower came from the corner outfielders. Right fielder David Corna played like the senior he is going 3 for 5 with 4 RBI and a run scored. Corna twice delivered with the bases loaded in the eighth and ninth innings, sparking the OSU offense. Freshman left fielder Patrick Porter, who seemingly is a freshman in name only, went 2-3 with 4 RBI and a run. Additionally, Porter uncorked a dazzling outfield assist that saved a run in the second inning. The young man from Chagrin Falls has been playing with a poise that belies his years which Ohio State will need if they want to keep winning in this tournament.
The pitching matchup was a carbon copy of the April 27 game at Penn State which OSU won 4-1. Jaron Long got the start for the Buckeyes while the Lions sent out Joe Kurrash. Fans expecting a pitching duel were disappointed; Long had a world of trouble on the hill and left after allowing five runs in just three innings. Penn State held a 5-1 lead by the fourth inning and as the Buckeyes threw zero after zero up on the scoreboard the lead seemed to feel more onerous.
Ohio State’s offense finally broke through in the sixth. Brad Hallberg socked a one-out single and Mike Carroll reached first thanks to an error on PSU second baseman Luis Montesinos. An RBI single from Corna and a sac fly off Porter’s bat cut the deficit in half and brought the score to 5-3. Momentum was starting to favor the underdog Buckeyes.
One of the biggest reasons the Buckeyes were able to stay in the game was Brett McKinney.
Usually a starter, the right hander was needed in long relief after Jaron Long was chased from the game. McKinney responded by hurling four and two-thirds innings of sensational ball. He allowed only two hits, walked one batter, and struck out five Nittany Lions. He earned the win and deserved it. After the game head coach Greg Beals said, “He was a difference-maker for us today.”
In the top of the eighth, Ohio State had the bases loaded with no one out and a two-run deficit. Despite falling behind in the count 0-2, Corna singled to bring in a run. Patrick Porter was up next and he hit a weak ground ball to the right side. The throw went to second to record the force, but Porter used his speed and a sloppy throw to reach first base. The game was tied. However, Mike Carroll noticed that the ball had been dropped and no one was hustling towards it. He decided to create some offense and came around to score the go-ahead run from third. The partisan crowd hooted, hollered, and rang their bells incredulous that Ohio State had taken a lead.
Not content with a one-run edge, the Buckeyes plated six more in the ninth. By this point the Penn State team had completely collapsed, and often the Lions were their own worst enemy. For example, here is the sequence the Scarlet and Gray used to score their first run in the ninth. Walk, error, hit by pitch, and hit by pitch. The bottom of the ninth went quickly with Penn State only managing a “well, it was fun playing you guys” double before giving up the ghost.
The Buckeyes now prepare for their toughest challenge yet – a Purdue team that is currently ranked #16 in the country and this year won their first Big Ten regular season title since 1909. If Ohio State can manage the upset on Thursday, then they will play in the semi-finals on Friday. If Purdue wins, Ohio State will still be alive (remember, double-elimination) and would then play the winner of tomorrow’s Nebraska-Penn State matchup. So yes, the Buckeyes could conceivably play Penn State again before it’s all said and done. If so, Ohio State would feel right at home as the visiting team.
Photo via www.ohiostatebuckeyes.com.