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Strong finish gives Buckeyes a Top 3 finish, season-high 354.3 team total

MINNEAPOLIS It was the moment every athlete craves, the time to pull through for the team. Redshirt-freshman Steven Spencer did just that Thursday, leading the Ohio State men’s gymnastics team with a 15.1 on pommel horse to propel the Buckeyes into its first NCAA Championships team finals in three seasons. The Scarlet and Gray ended the evening qualifier in third with a season-high 354.3 team total, topping host Minnesota (351.05) in the final rotation.

“I went up there thinking about how well I know my routine and stayed focused on my technique,” Spencer, a native of Fremont, Calif., said. “I stayed relaxed and swung through it. That was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done it felt like it.”

Oklahoma, the No. 2 seed, took first with a 360.95 while Illinois, the 2009 co-Big Ten Champions, went second with a 359.3. Rounding out the standings of the second qualifying session were UIC in fifth (337.65) and Iowa in sixth (337.35).

“It is awesome to make it back to the Top 6,” Miles Avery, Ohio State head coach said. “We work so hard all season so it feels great now to be peaking at the right time.”

The Buckeyes, Sooners and Illini will battle the NCAA Championships Session I qualifiers, Stanford (361.1), Michigan (358.3) and California (357.55), for the national title at 8 p.m. ET Friday at the University of Minnesota’s Sports Pavilion. The team finals will be aired on tape delay by ESPN2 at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, April 23.

With only one rotation left, Ohio State had a 296.75 total and was up on pommel horse as Minnesota was drawing within range to take third with a 295.4 and had parallel bars remaining. While the Golden Gophers had a solid showing on vault in the sixth rotation, Ohio State sat watching as they observed a bye. The bye was no distraction for Avery’s squad who turned in its best combined performance on pommel horse, earning a 57.55 to better its previous program high by more than a point.

The pommel horse specialist powered the effort in the final rotation. Behind Spencer’s third-place 15.1, classmate Ty Echard posted a 14.7 for sixth and senior Andy Saurber showed that he delivers his best in the postseason, scoring a 14.3 to tie his season high set at the Big Ten Team Championships April 3.

In all, Ohio State collected seven individual career-high marks as it recorded two team event highs en route to a 354.3 team total. Senior co-captain Jake Bateman, who was honored Wednesday evening as a 2009 Nissen-Emery Award finalist, placed third in the all-around with an 88.8 while sophomore Brandon Wynn followed in fourth with an 87.9. Both tallies were season-high all-around scores for the gymnasts.

The Buckeyes started the night on their best event, rings, in championship fashion, scoring a program and competition-high (both sessions) 61.35. Like they have done in four previous meets, Ohio State gymnasts went 1-2-3 on the event. Wynn, who is ranked fourth in the nation on rings, took first with a 15.75. In 2009, Wynn owns the best NCAA mark on rings after tallying a 16.1 on the event vs. Michigan March 21. Bateman kicked off his all-around campaign with a career-best 15.45 for second while freshman Philip Onorato, the 2009 Big Ten Rookie of the Year, placed third with a 15.2.

In the next rotation, Ohio State moved to vault and tallied a 63.25, just one-tenth of a point shy of tying its season-best score. The top of the Buckeye lineup produced for the squad with junior Justin Myers and freshman Mike Behles hitting career highs with some pretty nice landings. Myers tied his career-record with a 15.8 for ninth (tied) while Behles notched a career-best 15.7. Onorato, who earned first-team All-Big Ten honors (April 3), led the squad as he scored a 16.0 for the fourth time in freshman campaign to take fourth. Rounding out the scoring were senior captains Pejman Ebrahimi and Bateman with a 15.75 and 15.65, respectively.

Spencer supplied some more good stuff for the Buckeyes, hitting personal-high 14.1 on parallel bars. Bateman and Tal, both of whom have led the squad on parallel bars throughout the season, turned in Ohio State’s top scores, earning a 14.3 for sixth and 14.2 for eighth (tied), respectively. Wynn, a native of Voorhees, N.J., contributed a 14.0 as the Scarlet and Gray recorded a 56.6 team total on the event.

Continuing in Olympic order, high bar was up next for Avery’s squad. After a couple early misses, Ohio State received the routines it needed from Wynn and Bateman to stay on target for a Top 6 finish. Wynn produced a 14.45 for eighth while Bateman scored a 14.7 for fifth, his second-best mark of the season. The squad would finish the fourth rotation with a 55.9 on high bar. 

Bateman continued his stellar night, hitting his second career-high of the night with a fifth-place 15.4 on floor to help Ohio State to a 59.65 floor total, just five hundredths of a point shy of the squad’s season-best mark (59.7). Myers, who has been awarded the team’s most improved honor for two year running, added a 14.85 while Tal and Wynn contributed a pair of 14.7s. In addition, senior Eddie Hay had a 14.65.

Of note:
– As a team, Ohio State recorded two event highs, including a program-high 57.55 on pommel horse and 61.35 on rings. The Buckeyes were just slightly off from tying career highs on floor (59.65) and vault (61.25). En route to those figures, the Scarlet and Gray posted seven individual career marks.
– Happy Birthday! Assistant coach Doug Stibel celebrated his birthday, watching his team qualify for the NCAA team championships. Stibel, a Buckeye from 1996-99, was a freshman when Ohio State won its second of three NCAA team titles in 1996.
– Ohio State was well represented on the championships floor in terms of coaching. Former Buckeyes inDoug Stibel (Ohio State assistant), Blaine Wilson (Ohio State volunteer assistant), Kip Simons (Air Force head coach) and Noah Riskin (MIT head coach) were all on the floor at the 2009 NCAA Championships.
– Who said gymnasts were short? Four gymnasts competing at the NCAA championships measured six-feet or taller and a handful more were listed at 5-11.