TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Ohio State, bullied around by Georgia Friday night, returned the favor and sent the No. 2 seed Bulldogs home from the NCAA Tallahassee Regional with a come-from-behind 13-6 win Sunday. The 42-18 Buckeyes now advance to the first regional championship game against 44-16 and No. 1 seed Florida State Sunday at 4 p.m.
Michael Stephens had two home runs, including a momentum changing inside-the-parker in the third inning, and four RBI to lead the Buckeyes. Ryan Dew had four hits and two runs scored and Cory Kovanda had a key, two-run single in support of three Ohio State pitchers who shut down the Bulldog bats from the third inning on.
Eric Best started and threw 4.2 innings to get the Buckeyes into the fifth inning where Drew Rucinski took over. Rucinski pitched 1.2 innings and gave up just one run before giving way to Jake Hale. Hale pitched 2.2 innings of dominant baseball, striking out six of the nine batters he faced to record his 18th save of the season. Rucinski improved to 12-2 with the win.
“I think people that saw us play Friday wondered why are we here, but our players did a very good job of maintaining focus today,” Ohio State coach Bob Todd said. “Especially in the middle of the game when it was time to do the little things to put pressure on them and it didn’t seem that they (Georgia) could handle the pressure.
“Our players executed what we asked them to do. I felt this team showed great character and I am extremely proud of their effort against Georgia today.”
Trailing 5-0 early against Georgia, last year’s College World Series runner-up, Ohio State scored three runs off three hits in its half of the second inning to get back into the game at 5-3. Michael Arp and Matt Streng had RBI singles and Zach Hurley beat out a potential double play ball for an RBI fielder’s choice.
Ohio State tied it up in the third. Michael Stephens hit an inside the park home run and despite a botched double steal attempt that took one of two runners off the corners, the Buckeyes still scratched out the tying run in the inning as Miller scored from third when Tyler Engle reached on an error by third baseman Colby May.
“I thought I had a stand-up triple for sure, but coach Pete (Jenkins) was waving me on,” Stephens said of his home run. “All I could think about was Zach Hurley slowing down a couple games ago when he was rounding third in this situation. But when I was rounding third I picked up some extra wind. I definitely think the play changed the momentum of the game. It completely turned around.”
Ohio State took the lead in the fourth, scoring twice off two hits and an error. Hurley led off with a single, moved to second on Kovanda’s sacrifice bunt and eventually scored on Dan Burkhart’s ground out. Stephens, who reached on the second Georgia error, scored on Ryan Dew’s third hit of the day, a single up the middle to make the score 7-5.
Georgia’s Peter Verdin led off the fifth with a single, but Burkhart threw him out at second trying to steal without sliding to help the Bucks out of that inning. Rucinski then relieved starter Eric Best to get the final out of the inning.
Credit Best for hanging in there and giving a courageous effort on the mound with his 4.2 innings of work despite falling in that 5-0 hole after two innings. He scattered five hits, walked three and stuck out one.
Georgia got to within one when Joey Lewis hit a solo home run in the sixth.
The Buckeye coaches went to Hale with one out in the seventh inning, runners on the corners and big bat Rich Poythress 25 home runs, including three Friday vs. OSU, and 86 RBI at the plate. Hale struck him out swinging on a 3-2 pitch. He then got 19-homer hitter Bryce Massanari on a ground out.
Ohio State tacked on six more runs in the seventh to go up 13-6. Kovanda had a two-run single with the bases loaded after Hurley was intentionally walked in front of him and Stephens hit his second home run of the game, a crushing blow that glanced off the left center field light post to drive in three runs and silence the Georgia crowd. The home run was his 14th of the season.
Hale came right back to strike out the side in the eighth inning, getting two called third strikes to send the game into the ninth inning. Hale struck out two and got a ground out around a single to secure the 42nd win of the season for Ohio State and his personal 29th career save.