ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Blistered and bruised and with their backs to the wall, the Ohio State Buckeyes reclaimed a share of the Big Ten Conference lead with a pulsating, 3-2, 10-inning victory over Michigan Saturday before 2,263 fans at Ray Fisher Stadium. The win improved Ohio State’s records to 24-14 overall and 8-6 in the Big Ten. Michigan is also 8-6 in the Big Ten (so is Northwestern) and 26-15 overall with a rubber game set for 1 p.m. Sunday.
Pitcher Drew Rucinski was the main hero of the day for the Buckeyes. The junior from just outside of Tulsa, Okla., pitched a career-best 9.0 innings, scattered eight hits, struck out a career-best nine and walked just one batter to improve to 4-2 on the season. All this after he and talented team athletics trainer Mike Sypniak spent the week gluing and coating and soaking and battling a season-long painful blister on the middle finger of his throwing hand.
“I didn’t know if or how it was going to hold up,” Rucinski said. “‘Syp’ [Sypniak] has been so great working with me all week. We’ve put some stuff on it to hold it together and there was so much adrenalin going during the game that I didn’t even feel it after a while. Right now I am just jacked up. The game was awesome. They had their band there and Barry Larkin. It was fun and I just wanted to shut them down.”
There were other heroes as well, including:
This, truly, was a team win and my-oh-my did Ohio State need a team win! After dropping the first game of this series Friday night and losing ace Alex Wimmers for who knows how long, the team came into the game Saturday reeling with losses in five of its last seven games including in four of its last five Big Ten games.
And on top of that, Michigan was circling like an angry shark in scarlet waters, seeking a series win over its arch baseball rival and its 17th win in the last 22 games after opening the season 6-8.
“Everybody picked up the slack today,” coach Bob Todd said. “The people in the game and the people on the bench were into it. The team did exactly what we needed it to do. We competed and that’s what we need to do every day.”
The Wolverines took an early, 1-0, lead with a run off three hits in the second inning. The Buckeyes tied it in the fourth on an RBI single by Dew. Scoring was Kovanda, who had led off the inning with a single.
Other than those meager scoring innings, Rucinski and Michigan starter Alan Oaks had control of the game. Through six completed innings, Oaks had allowed just five hits and had five strikeouts with two walks. Rucinski had allowed four hits with an already-career-high seven strikeouts and no walks.
The Buckeyes chased Oaks in the seventh after he gave up two one-out walks. Tyler Burgoon, who saved the game Friday, came into the game and gave up a first pitch RBI single to Zach Hurley. Brian DeLucia, the first Buckeye to walk in the inning, raced around from second and scored on a head-first slide to give the Buckeyes their first lead of the game at 2-1.
Rucinski gave up a leadoff single in the seventh and a two-out walk for a second runner on base, but he got out of the inning on a pop to short.
Michigan tied it in the eighth, though. A two-out infield single by Anthony Toth started the rally. He stole second and then .500-hitting Ryan LaMarre singled to center to drive him home.
Burgoon struck out the side in the ninth inning, increasing the pressure on Rucinski and the Buckeyes’ defense behind him. Drew and his crew didn’t waver, even after he gave up a two-out single. He simply sent the game into extra innings with a third fly ball out of the inning that ended his outstanding signature game – to date – as a Buckeye.
Kovanda got things going in the Buckeye half of the 10th, as he so often does. Facing Burgoon (6-2 with the loss) with two outs, he stroked a hit to left that he turned into a double from the moment he took off from the batter’s box. After Burkhart narrowly missed a ground rule double down the left field line, he came back to punch a full-count single to center to score Kovanda, who came streaking in from second.
Best fell behind his first batter of the 10th by a 3-1 count, but he punched him out looking to get a huge first out of the inning. From there, he coaxed a ground out and a foul fly and the Buckeyes had their biggest win of the 2010 season.
A Few More Game Notes, Odd Thoughts & a New Cheer…