COLUMBUS, Ohio Regular season champion and No. 1 seed Ohio State was eliminated from the 2009 Big Ten tournament Saturday, 9-6, by No. 2 seed Minnesota in the 30th tournament game between the two teams. The 38-16 Golden Gophers advance to play Indiana at 7:05 p.m. Saturday night in the tournament title game.
Luke Rasmussen pitched 2.2 innings in relief to get the win. Eric Best dropped to 7-4 with the loss and Ohio State, ranked No. 23 in the nation, is now 40-17 on the season.
The Buckeyes weren’t resting on their regular season laurels.
“We came in not relying on the Big Ten championship [to get the team into the NCAA tournament],” Big Ten Player of the Year Dan Burkhart said. “We came into this tournament playing to win.”
“We competed,” Ohio State coach Bob Todd said, “but we only won one ball game. I told the team to take two days off and to reflect on the things that they need to do that will make them a better ball team. We’ve had an emotional two weeks that enabled us to win the championship. Now I want them to rest and be ready to play next week.”
That would be “ready to play next week” in the NCAA tournament, if the team receives a bid. The team will find out Monday.
Back to today, though. Early on it looked as if this would be a 4-hour-plus elimination game. Like the eruption somewhere and sometime that produced the lava that has since become the warning track in Huntington Park, there was an eruption of hits and runs by both teams in the first inning.
Minnesota scored four runs off six hits and sent nine guys to the plate. Ohio State came right back with five consecutive singles to open its first at-bat to get the team back into contention at 4-3.
The Buckeyes tied the score in the second; Cory Kovanda scoring from second off a single by Michael Stephens.
Minnesota added single runs in the third and fifth innings, respectively, to build the lead back to 6-4, and it could have been more if not for three terrific defensive plays by the Buckeyes:
The Golden Gophers, behind a 17-hit attack led by Eric Decker’s four hits and four RBI and Matt Nohelty’s three hits and two runs, added two more runs in the sixth and another in the seventh to increase the lead to 9-4.
Burkhart hit his 10th home run of the season in the seventh to bring the Buckeyes to within four.
Not ready see their tournament come to an end, the Buckeyes threatened in the eighth with Arp and Engle opening the inning with singles. That signaled the end to Rasmussen’s afternoon.
Scott Matyas relieved and got the next two Buckeyes on strikeouts before Kovanda singled to center to score Arp and make the score 9-6. Matyas followed with his third strikeout of the inning to end it.
Ohio State had 15 hits for the game with Kovanda and Stephens leading with three apiece. Stephens and Burkhart had two RBI and Kovanda scored twice.
Game Notes and Random Thoughts from a Press Box that Served Warm Apple and Cherry Pie: