COLUMBUS, Ohio– Ohio State opened the 2011 Big Ten Conference campaign with a 7-2 victory over Northwestern Friday night before 765 fans on a nippy but tolerable early April evening at Bill Davis Stadium. The win was Ohio State’s third consecutive and upped its records to 9-10 and 1-0 in the Big Ten. Northwestern falls to 7-15 overall and 0-1.
Freshman Josh Desze and sophomore Greg Solomon paced Ohio State’s 10-hit attack with three hits apiece including a double for each player. Solomon also drove in a pair of runs while Brad Hallberg scored a pair for the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes got on the board with an unearned run in the bottom of the second to take the 1-0 lead. Dezse singled to lead off the inning and advanced to second on a wild pitch. After a strikeout of Matt Streng, Hallberg reached on a throwing error by Northwestern shortstop Kyle Ruchim but Dezse was thrown out at third on the play. Hallberg then stole second and Solomon drilled a two-out single up the middle to drive him in and give the Buckeyes the lead after two frames.
Ohio State almost added to its lead in the fourth when Dezse double to right and advanced to third with two down but Northwestern third baseman Chris Lashmet made a diving stop on a groundball in the hole by Hallberg and threw the Buckeye first baseman out to end the threat.
In the meantime, Drew Rucinski was putting zeroes on the board for the Buckeyes, scattering five hits over the first six scoreless innings. The Wildcats were able to get to the Ohio State starter in the top of the seventh. Jack Livingston drilled a triple off the wall in center field to lead off the inning then was driven in when Geoff Rowan grounded a single through the left side of a drawn-in Buckeye infield to tie the game and chase Rucinski in favor of Jared Strayer.
After a groundout by Jake Straub and a passed ball advanced Rowan to third with one out, Northwestern took the 2-1 lead on an infield single by Patrick Miller. Leadoff man Trevor Stevens then reached on an error but Strayer was able to bear down and roll a 5-4-3 double play to get the Buckeyes out of the jam.
The Buckeyes bounced right back with four runs to take a 5-2 lead in the bottom of the frame. Dezse led off the inning with a single and advanced to second when he beat out a throw by Northwestern pitcher Luke Farrell on Streng’s sacrifice bunt attempt. Hallberg then advanced Dezse and Streng with a sacrifice bunt of his own and, after Solomon was intentionally walked to load the bases, David Corna was hit by a pitch and Dezse scored to tie the game. Streng then scored on a wild pitch to take the lead, Brian DeLucia drove in Solomon with an infield single and Corna scored on a passed ball to push the Ohio State lead to 5-2.
The Wildcats threatened again in the eighth, using an error, a walk and a hit batter to load the bases with two down but Buckeye reliever David Fathalikhani was able to get Straub to loft a pop up behind second base. Ryan Cypret drifted back and made a diving catch with his back to home plate to end the inning and keep the Ohio State lead at three.
“Ryan is a scrapper and I’m glad he’s on our team,” Ohio State coach Greg Beals said. “He’s a really tough competitor. He gets his hits and makes his plays. I trust where his head is at on game days. His mind has him prepared to make plays.”
The Buckeyes added two more in the eighth to extend the lead to 7-2 and cap the scoring. Cypret singled to lead off the inning, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on a single by Hallberg. Solomon then doubled down the left field line past a diving Lashmet and Hallberg slid in to beat the throw and score all the way from first.
Rucinski didn’t get the decision but he pitched extremely well for the first time in three weeks. He gave up two runs (one earned) on seven hits while striking out five over six innings. Strayer picked up the win in relief to even his record at 1-1. Farrell suffered his first loss of the season, giving up seven runs (five earned) on 10 hits while striking out eight over 7.2 innings.
“We felt really good about Drew’s start,” Beals said. “We did what we thought was right during spring break to get him back 100 percent. He looked that way tonight. He didn’t get the win but we are happy with his performance.”
The Buckeyes and Wildcats play the middle game of the three-game set at 3:05 p.m. Saturday at Bill Davis Stadium. The game will be streamed live for free on OhioStateBuckeyes.com.
Game Notes & Random Thoughts from the Press Box: