May 28, 2005
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The Buckeyes were within two outs of celebrating their seventh Big Ten tournament championship, but with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Buckeye closer Rory Meister walked runner and then gave up a two-run walk-off home run to lift Minnesota to a 4-3 victory over Ohio State in the first of what will now be two championship games Saturday at Illinois Field.
Meister, who came in for starter Cory Luebke (Fr., Maria Stein, Ohio/Marion Local) to begin the eighth, walked Tony Leseman on four straight pitches after consecutive ground outs to open the ninth inning. He then worked a full count on Joe Maciej, before the Gopher second baseman turned on the offering and sent it out of the right-field fence to force a one-game, winner-take-all championship game at 1:05 p.m., EDT, on Sunday.
The Buckeyes built a 3-0 lead through the first two innings and held the Gophers off the scoreboard until a pair of home runs put the Gophers on the board in the sixth.
“Our pitching staff did a good job tonight,” Bob Todd, the 18th-year Ohio State coach, said. “We made three bad pitches and that hurt us. We’ll have to come back tomorrow and try and get the job done.”
The Buckeyes are in search of their third Big Ten tournament championship in the last four years and are trying to lock down the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Ohio State has not been in the NCAA tournament since 2003 when it came within two wins of advancing to the College World Series and hosted Southwest Missouri State in an NCAA Super Regional in Columbus at Bill Davis Stadium.
Ohio State was the designated visiting team and wasted little time to pounce on the Golden Gophers. Lead-off man Matt Angle (Fr., Whitehall, Ohio/Whitehall-Yearling) singled to right and then went to third on a single to right-center by Mike Rabin (Sr., West Chester, Ohio/Lakota East). Steve Caravati (Sr., Dover, Ohio/Lakota East) sent a shot to the warning track in right field, but it was caught by Mike Mee yet scored Angle on the sacrifice to put the Buckeyes up 1-0. Two fly outs left Rabin at third base. After Luebke struck out the side in the first, the Buckeyes plated two more runs in the top of the second to take a 3-0 lead. Jedidiah Stephen (Jr., Caldwell, Ohio/Shenandoah) reached on an infield single and went to second on a base hit up the middle by Paul Farinacci (Sr., Westlake Village, Calif./Agoura). Eric Fryer (Fr., Reynoldsburg, Ohio/Reynoldsburg) singled to right to score Stephen for the first run and then after Angle beat out a bunt for base hit down the third-base line, Farinacci scored on a fielder’s choice by Rabin that caught Angle at second.
Luebke gave up his second hit to lead off the second, but he was out on a fielder’s choice, before a ground out and a pop out to get out of the inning. He gave up his third hit of the game in the third, but he was erased on a double play before he fanned Matt Fornasiere for his fourth strikeout of the game. Luebke got a ground out to start the fourth and then fanned the final two batters of the inning for his fifth and sixth strikeouts. He again gave up a hit to Mee to start the fifth, but he was erased on Ohio State’s second double play of the game. Tony Leseman followed with a bunt single and went to third on a ground-rule double over the fence in left-center field by Joe Maciej. Luebke snared a bouncer up the middle to leave a pair of runners in scoring position.
Minnesota finally got on the board in the bottom of the sixth, but did so in a huge way getting solo home runs by Fornasiere and Andy Hunter. The first two long balls allowed by Ohio State pitching in four games at the Big Ten tournament pulled the Gophers within a 3-2 score.
Meister fell to 8-1 with the loss. He pitched 1.2 innings and gave up the two winning runs on two hits. His first hit was a one-out single to right in the eighth, but the Buckeyes turned their third double play of the game to get out of the inning. Luebke allowed only two runs on nine hits, walked one and struck out seven batters, the most of any pitcher in this year’s tournament.
Angle led the Buckeyes in going 3-for-4, while Rabin, Stephen and Fryer each had two hits. Minnesota out-hit Ohio State 12-11 in an error-free game. Maciej led Minnesota in going 3-for-4 and providing the late-inning heroics with a two-run home runs, his only RBI in the game. Andy Hunter was 2-for-4.
One thing is for certain, the winner of this year’s tournament championship will be the lowest seeded winner in the history of the event. From 1981 through 1999, the tournament was limited to four teams, but expanded in 2000 to include six teams. The lowest seed to win in the current format is Illinois, which won the 2000 championship at Minnesota as the No. 4 seed.
The Buckeyes (38-18) and Gophers (33-28) have decided the last three Big Ten tournaments. Ohio State won in 2002 and 2003, while Minnesota won last year’s championship.
The second championship game will be played Sunday at 1:05 p.m. The game will be broadcast on NPR 820 (WOSU-AM) and on the Internet at www.wosu.org. The championship games will be televised on a tape-delayed basis by CSTV. The first championship game will be broadcast Monday at 7 p.m., EDT and the second championship game will be broadcast by the network Monday at 10 p.m., EDT.