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EVANSTON, Ill. – Ohio State dropped an 8-2 decision at Northwestern to even the first Big Ten series of the year for both teams at one, Saturday afternoon in Evanston.

Ohio State starter Drew Rucinski picked up his first loss of the season, tossing 5.1 innings, giving up seven hits and four runs, three of which were earned. Dan Burkhart and Michael Stephens each finished with a pair of hits for the Buckeyes.

Northwestern starter Eric Jokisch stymied the Buckeyes after the first inning, pitching eight innings, scattering eight hits and giving up two earned runs.

For the second consecutive game, the Buckeyes jumped out to the early first inning lead. After Zach Hurley grounded out to start the game, Cory Rupert and Dan Burkhart singled the Michael Stephens drove in Rupert with a line drive single back up the middle. Ryan Dew was then hit by a pitch to load the bases and Brian DeLucia drove in Burkhart with a sacrifice fly to left to make it 2-0. The inning could have been worse had it not been for an excellent diving stop down the third baseline by Wildcat third baseman Chris Lashmet, robbing Tyler Engle.

After breezing through the first two innings allowing just one baserunner, Rucinski ran into a bit of trouble in the bottom of the third. The junior allowed a single, induced a fielder’s choice and walked a pair before Northwestern first baseman Paul Snieder singled home Geoff Rowan to cut the Buckeyes lead to 2-1. However, with the bases loaded and one down, Rucinski struck out cleanup hitter Chad Noble and Chris Lashmet hit into a fielder’s choice to end the threat.

Rucinski wiggled out of trouble again in the fourth inning, making a nice play on a ground ball back to him to start a 1-6-3 double play with Wildcats on first and third and one out to end the inning.

While the Buckeyes’ junior starter was able to get out of jams in the third and fourth innings, Jokisch settled down after a rocky first inning to retire 14 of the next 18 Ohio State hitters and allowed just one past first base.

The Wildcats used a pair of singles and an error to chase Rucinski in the sixth with the score knotted up at two. Left-hander Eric Best replaced Rucinski and was greeted with an RBI single by Northwestern center fielder Arby Fields as the Wildcats took their first lead of the series at 3-2. Northwestern followed that with two more singles to push their lead to 5-2 before Noble lined into a double play to end the inning.

The Northwestern lead was extended to 6-2 in the seventh after a two-out RBI double by Chris Kontos scored Colby Everett.

Ohio State was able to load the bases with two out in the eighth but Matt Streng popped out to the catcher as Jokisch got out of the jam.

Northwestern then used the Buckeyes third error of the game to add two more in the bottom of the eighth.

The Buckeyes (15-8, 1-1 Big Ten) and Wildcats will conclude the series with the rubber game Sunday at 2 p.m. EDT.

NOTES

– Ohio State radio broadcaster Bob Spears had quite the struggle with a bug in the press box before Saturday’s game. By the end of the battle, Bob had his shirt off so I’m pretty sure the bug got the best of him.
– Ryan Cypret started his fourth game of the season at second base, replacing co-captain Cory Kovanda who missed the game due to an illness.
– I had my first Village Inn pizza experience Friday night. Even better (and more artery-clogging) than expected.
– The game was delayed one hour and 23 minutes because of rain.
– The Buckeyes are now outscoring their opponents 20-7 in first innings so far in 2010.
– Rucinski walked four Wildcats after giving up just five free passes in 26.2 innings heading into Saturday.