ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.– Buckeye nation is going to be mighty proud of this Ohio State baseball team. Sunday against a St. John’s Red Storm team that has been the talk of this Big East/Big Ten Challenge, Ohio State rallied from six runs down to give Greg Beals and his staff their first win as Buckeye coaches, an 8-7 classic in 11 innings.
Matt Streng scored the winning run from third base with nobody out after St. John’s pitcher Kevin Kilpatrick’s throw to third was off the mark. Ryan Cypret was the batter and was bunting to advance Streng and Josh Dezse, both of whom had led off the 11th inning with singles.
“I am really proud how they continued to compete,” Beals said. “We got down in the game and we flipped it on them the same way Cincinnati did to us. Our guy’s ability to compete and fight to the end shows me they have character.”
How this team, which had seven first-time starters in the games this weekend, got to this point against this team is the story of this game. St. John’s has already defeated the two Big Ten favorites in this tournament: Minnesota by a 14-1 score and Michigan by 13-5. And when the Red Storm sent 10 men to the plate in the third inning to take a 7-1 lead, well things didn’t appear too favorable for the Buckeyes.
OSU freshman starter Greg Greve came back out to pitch a scoreless fourth. Then Beals and pitching coach Mike Stafford went to their sequence of pitchers and every one of their moves was perfect to the tune of seven consecutive scoreless innings by four relievers who shut those Red Storm bats down with only four hits allowed after the third inning. And here’s the stat of the day: just two walks allowed by this group that proved, ultimately, to be a real handful.
“We had a plan from a pitching standpoint,” Beals said. “We ran those guys out in sequences and got a lot out of them. I give coaches Stafford and Newman credit for preparing our pitchers for that success today.”
Greve gave way to sophomore David Fathalikhani, who walked on to the team two years ago as a catcher and played in his first game two years later. Fathalikhani gave up a single, but then got a double-play ground out and a wicked third strike pitch to get out of the inning.
Junior Andrew Armstrong, who missed all of last year rehabbing from an injury, came in and overpowered the first two batters he faced with strikeouts. He ended up going 2.0 innings and allowed just one hit and he hit a batter. He gave up one hard hit ball, but Tyler Engle snared it out of the air and stepped on second for a double play to end the seventh.
Brett McKinney followed Armstrong with two perfect innings, getting two flyouts and four ground-outs less than 24 hours after pitching 1.1 perfect innings in relief vs. Louisville.
And finally Josh Dezse came into the game in the 10th. After a perfect initial inning, he allowed one base runner via walk but he got out of the inning with two fly outs after the runner had been sacrificed to second.
“It as a good team effort,” Beals said. “A the end of the day we put eight scoreless innings up to finish that game off against a team that has done some damage already this year.”
While the pitching staff was doing its job, the Buckeye bats came alive after St. John’s pulled starter Lobban in the fifth. Lobban scattered four hits and allowed just one run before he turned the game over to the relievers.
And that’s when Ohio State pounced. The Buckeyes tied the game in the fifth inning with six runs off seven hits. Contributors were Engle, who singled twice, drove in the tying run and scored; Brad Hallberg, who walked and scored; Brian DeLucia, who singled and scored; Cypret, who singled to drive in a run and scored; Joe Ciamacco, who singled, drove in a run and scored, Greg Solomon, who singled and scored and Dezse, who had a sacrifice fly.
Solomon was robbed of a home run in the second and ended up with a run scoring triple for the team’s first run of the day. He also threw out his third runner trying to steal this year early in the game.
Three Buckeyes had three hits Sunday: Engle, Dezse and Solomon with eight different Buckeyes contributing to the 16-hit attack.
“We kept getting in position and were one hit away a couple of times trying to get that lead run in,” Beals said. “I’m proud the way the hitters are taking to the off philosophy we’ve been talking and teaching. The quality of our at-bats is good. Even our outs are loud. We’re making some hard outs.”
The team performed well defensively against the Red Storm, and for the weekend committed just three errors in 119 chances for a .975 percentage.
“We’ve done a great job defensively and coach Chris Holick has worked hard with our players from a defensive standpoint,” Beals said.
And finally, regarding his first win as Buckeyes coach, Beals expressed relief.
“It is a relief to get that first win,” he said. “But as a team we needed it. There are a lot of guys on this club who are inexperienced and for them to know we can win is big. We’re 1-2 but we played to Top 20 opponents. It is good to compete and prove we can play with a national-caliber opponent.”
The Buckeyes travel to Port Charlotte, Fla., next weekend for a four-game series against Western Michigan.
Notes and Random Thoughts from the Ball Park: