COLUMBUS, Ohio Regular season champion and No. 1 seed Ohio State was eliminated from the 2009 Big Ten tournament Saturday, 9-6, by No. 2 seed Minnesota in the 30th tournament game between the two teams. The 38-16 Golden Gophers advance to play Indiana at 7:05 p.m. Saturday night in the tournament title game.

Luke Rasmussen pitched 2.2 innings in relief to get the win. Eric Best dropped to 7-4 with the loss and Ohio State, ranked No. 23 in the nation, is now 40-17 on the season.

The Buckeyes weren’t resting on their regular season laurels.

“We came in not relying on the Big Ten championship [to get the team into the NCAA tournament],” Big Ten Player of the Year Dan Burkhart said. “We came into this tournament playing to win.”

“We competed,” Ohio State coach Bob Todd said, “but we only won one ball game. I told the team to take two days off and to reflect on the things that they need to do that will make them a better ball team. We’ve had an emotional two weeks that enabled us to win the championship. Now I want them to rest and be ready to play next week.”

That would be “ready to play next week” in the NCAA tournament, if the team receives a bid. The team will find out Monday. 

Back to today, though. Early on it looked as if this would be a 4-hour-plus elimination game. Like the eruption somewhere and sometime that produced the lava that has since become the warning track in Huntington Park, there was an eruption of hits and runs by both teams in the first inning.
Minnesota scored four runs off six hits and sent nine guys to the plate. Ohio State came right back with five consecutive singles to open its first at-bat to get the team back into contention at 4-3.

The Buckeyes tied the score in the second; Cory Kovanda scoring from second off a single by Michael Stephens.

Minnesota added single runs in the third and fifth innings, respectively, to build the lead back to 6-4, and it could have been more if not for three terrific defensive plays by the Buckeyes:

  • Tyler Engle made a diving stop going to his right and got the force out at second to keep Minnesota from scoring in the second despite having two runners on with one out.
  • Stephens timed, charged and caught the second out of the fourth inning and then crow-hopped a strike to the plate to keep a man on third.
  • Michael Arp slid to make his 11th sliding/diving catch of the season in the sixth.

The Golden Gophers, behind a 17-hit attack led by Eric Decker’s four hits and four RBI and Matt Nohelty’s three hits and two runs, added two more runs in the sixth and another in the seventh to increase the lead to 9-4.

Burkhart hit his 10th home run of the season in the seventh to bring the Buckeyes to within four.

Not ready see their tournament come to an end, the Buckeyes threatened in the eighth with Arp and Engle opening the inning with singles. That signaled the end to Rasmussen’s afternoon.

Scott Matyas relieved and got the next two Buckeyes on strikeouts before Kovanda singled to center to score Arp and make the score 9-6. Matyas followed with his third strikeout of the inning to end it.

Ohio State had 15 hits for the game with Kovanda and Stephens leading with three apiece. Stephens and Burkhart had two RBI and Kovanda scored twice. 

Game Notes and Random Thoughts from a Press Box that Served Warm Apple and Cherry Pie:

  •  While nothing is certain regarding further post-season play for Ohio State, the team will learn Sunday whether it will play host to an NCAA regional.
  • Director of Athletics Gene Smith and the Ohio State athletic department did submit a bid to host a regional. “My hats off to Gene Smith and the administration,” coach Bob Todd said. “They put an attractive bid in and showed the NCAA that we are interested in hosting.”
  • If Ohio State and Bill Davis Stadium are not selected as a 2009 NCAA regional host (announcements will be made at 3:30 p.m.), the team will find out Monday if it has received a bid to the tournament and where it will be playing. The NCAA tournament selection show will be televised at 12:30 p.m. Monday on ESPN.
  • More Coach Todd quotes: “I would be very hurt, very disappointed if Ohio State is left out of the NCAA field, especially after the quality wins we’ve had.”
  • …And the Big Ten championship. 
  • Dan Burkhart’s home run was the first by a Buckeye in the Big Ten tournament since the 2006 tournament, a stretch of 11 games. Jedediah Stephen and Eric Fryer were the last to homer for Ohio State: solo shots in a 2-1 win over Purdue at Ann Arbor.
  • The team has 199 extra base hits. Only five Ohio State teams have hit 200 or more with the 1991 team setting the standard with 243.
  • Jake Hale pitched the final two innings against Minnesota for his 36th consecutive game finished. What a warrior.
  • A Big Ten tournament win, a landmark 40th win, a late win and probably fatigue contributed to Hale’s historical moment being omitted.
  • Hale now holds the single season saves record (16) as well as the career mark, which he and Cory Cox share with 27. Nice work, Jake.
  • Record crowds, record excitement, beautiful park, awesome views of downtown Columbus, plenty of parking, hotels, restaurants, excellent presentation on the Big Ten Network of Huntington Park, Columbus, the teams and most importantly of the Big Ten Conference: that’s the essence of the Big Ten Tournament at the predetermined site of Columbus, Ohio.