MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. No. 18 Ohio State defeated No. 25 Minnesota, 3-2, in a terribly tense, terribly exciting and wonderfully pitched game Saturday afternoon at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Ohio State is now 22-6 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten Conference. Minnesota is 15-9 and 2-2, respectively.
Dean Wolosiansky, Drew Rucinski and Jake Hale combined on a six-hitter and together held the Golden Gophers “oh-fer” in potential RBI situations. Minnesota hitters went 0-for-15 at the plate with runners in a scoring position, a critical stat of the game when one considers the home team had runners in scoring position in every inning but the second.
Wolosiansky picked up his sixth win of the season against one defeat by pitching 5.2 innings of three-hit, one-run ball. Rucinski came into a 2-1 game and held the lead with 2.0 innings of three-hit, one-run baseball. He struck out two and didn’t walk a batter. Hale, pitched the final 1.1 innings to earn his Big Ten-leading sixth save of the season while finishing a game for his 15th consecutive time.
Minnesota got an equally impressive effort from its staff. Starter Tom Buske (4-2) scattered seven hits and allowed just two earned runs while walking four and striking out four in 6.0 innings. Austin Lubinsky allowed just one earned run in 3.0 innings of relief work. The two combined to limit Ohio State’s batters to an 0-for-7 showing in RBI situations.
Fortunately, those stats don’t include opportunities with runners on first or leading off an inning, because those are the two situations where Ohio State scored its runs.
Friday night Justin Miller missed a game-altering, ninth-inning grand slam home run by about 10 feet. Saturday in his first at-bat, he sent a Buske pitch 372-feet into the left field stands to give the Buckeyes a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Also scoring on the play was Michael Stephens, who had previously singled with two out. The home run was the fifth of the season for Miller, the 10th of his career and the 34th this season for the team.
The score remained 2-0 until Minnesota’s Derek McCallum led off the sixth with a double. He eventually scored on a sacrifice fly that chased Wolosiansky. That’s when Rucinski came in. With two down in the sixth, he gave up a single to the first batter he faced Nick O’Shea to put runners on the corners, but he struck out pinch-hitter Sam Ryan looking to end the inning with Ohio State holding on to a 2-1 lead.
The lead grew back to two 3-1 in the seventh as Stephens led off the inning and greeted Lubinsky by hitting his seventh home run of the season, almost exactly where Miller’s home run landed give or take 12 feet.
But just like that, Minnesota countered with a run in its half of the seventh, on a walk, hit-and-run single and grounder to first to close the lead to 3-2.
From that point on the game was as tense as any…this early in the season. Here’s how things played out the rest of the way:
1. Ohio State had a three-up-three-down eighth inning.
2. Minnesota put two men on in the eighth with one out. Rucinski struck out Sam Ryan on three consecutive pitches and then Hale entered the game and struck out Kyle Geason to end the eighth inning.
3. Ohio State had a three-up-three-down ninth with a double-play ball erasing Cory Kovanda’s leadoff single.
4. Minnesota leadoff hitter Matt Nohelty drew a walk to lead off the Minnesota ninth inning and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Hale coaxed a fly-ball out that Zach Hurley caught in left and then he struck out Michael Kvasnicka to end the game.
So the series is tied heading into the final game at 1:15 p.m. Sunday. Ohio State will throw LHP Eric Best against RHP Seth Rosen for the Golden Gophers.
Game Notes and Random Thoughts From Inside the Metrodome: