CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Ohio State pounded 16 hits for the second consecutive game to win the series with Illinois on the strength of a 12-7 victory Sunday at Illinois Field. The Ohio State win, coupled with a Sunday win by Michigan over Minnesota, leaves the Buckeyes and the Illini just one-half game behind Minnesota heading into the final weekend of the Big Ten season. Ohio State is now 36-14 overall and 15-6 in the Big Ten. Illinois is 32-16 and also 15-6.

Just two days after losing a Friday night game that appeared in the bag, the Buckeyes were backed into a corner and one loss away from being eliminated from the Big Ten championship picture and a couple losses away from being a fourth or fifth seed in the upcoming Big Ten tournament at Huntington Park.

But this team didn’t quit. It didn’t give in to the pressure and it quite simply didn’t care about its predicament. Instead, it came out of that corner swinging…in a big way.

The team smacked 16 hits in a 10-7 win Saturday and then this band of ultimate warriors and fighters followed that with another 16-hit game Sunday. Leading the assault was:

  • Justin “The Captain” Miller, who never gets rattled and had three hits and two RBI today. He was personally responsible for eight hits, six RBI and three runs scored this series.
  • Cory “The Instigator” Kovanda, who had four hits, two RBI and two runs Sunday, part of a six-hit weekend.
  • Ryan “Hit Man” Dew, who delivered a crushing blow with a two-run home run in the eighth inning.
  • Tyler “The Beverly Basher” Engle, who hit the ball hard all weekend and had two runs, two RBI and his first career home run Sunday, after which he “Tyler-trotted” around the bases.
  • Dan “The Moeller Bear” Burkhart, who had two hits, two runs and two RBI, including a staggering, two-run double in the eighth.
  • The band of roaming outfielders known as “Triple Threat” Zach Hurley, Michael Stephens and Michael Arp who rocked and rolled today with four hits, four runs and two RBI.
  • Eric “Simply The…” Best, who worked hard and gave the team 5.2 innings before exiting in the sixth with a 7-3 lead. He improved to 7-3 with the win. 
  • The “Guitar Hero,” Jared Strayer, who pitched an inning of no-run ball.
  • And closing things out was the baddest of the Buckeye bad this weekend: Jake “The Finisher” Hale, the Big Ten’s leader in saves and games finished, who pitched the final 2.1 innings to record his 13th save of the season and second this series.

This was a championship game from the start. Illinois had Best on the ropes early, scoring two runs off two hits in the first inning and then getting two men on in the second, but failing to score a run. The Illini also had men on in the third but could not add to their 2-0 lead.

The Buckeyes scored a run in the fourth. Burkhart doubled to center, moved to second on a ground out and with two out, Miller’s seventh hit of the series a single to center scored Burkhart, making the score 2-1.

Arp started the fifth off on a positive note for the Buckeyes, first-pitch swinging and collecting a single to left. Engle then crushed his first home run of the season out of left center field for a 3-2 Ohio State lead. Matt Streng walked and singles by Hurley and Kovanda increased the lead to 4-2 and closed the day on Illinois starter Bryan Johnson (5-3). 

Stephens then greeted reliever Ben Reeser, in his first relief appearance of the year, with a sharp single to left that scored both Hurley and Kovanda for a 6-2 lead.

After Illinois’ Dominic Altobelli countered with his second home run of the series to cut the lead to 6-3, Ohio State retaliated with a single run in the sixth, a single by Kovanda that scored Engle.

Then leading 7-5 heading into the eighth inning, the Buckeyes delivered a series of knockout blows with two out that clinched the win. Burkhart doubled off the center field wall to drive in two. Dew followed with his seventh home run of the season to left center to drive in two more. The very next hitter, Miller, crushed his ninth home run to give the Buckeyes a 12-5 lead.

Hale gave up a home run in the eighth, but that was all and after a 3-up-3-down, ninth, the  Buckeyes celebrated with their sixth series win of the season. 

Game Notes and Random Thoughts from the Press Box:

  • True story: Pete Hauck, longtime friend and supporter of the baseball program, Diamond Club member and someone who has been to literally thousands of baseball games, was hit by foul balls on Saturday and again on Sunday. He said he slept fine Saturday night and, after he got hit Sunday, he waved off any assistance by a trainer.
  • Here’s how much Pete loves baseball: he tells the story that he married his wife, Paula, after learning she could sit through Cincinnati Reds’ doubleheaders. They never missed a Reds doubleheader that first summer they dated.
  • Speaking of getting hit: Michael Stephens was hit by a pitch three times this series, once in each game.
  • More on hits: Ohio State had five two-run home runs in the series and six home runs total.     
  • Happy Mother’s Day, Moms!
  • A super classy effort by the Illinois baseball program: coach Dan Hartleb, staff and the Illinois Dugout Club provided red roses for and included the Ohio State Mothers in attendance in their pregame ceremony honoring all Moms. The Illinois Moms received orange roses.
  • Ohio State Mothers in attendance included Cindy Barrera, Martha Bocock, Carolyn Forsythe, Paula Hale, Kim Hanlin, Patty Hurley, Nancy Poliseno, Debbie Rupert, Robin Strayer, Lisa Streng and Sara Wolosiansky.
  • Moms in their son’s thoughts today: Jill Arp, Donna Burkhart, Kathy Ciamacco, Julie Corna, Sue Cypret, Julie DeLucia, Kim Dew, Brenda Engle, Hadi Fathalikhani, Andreatta Griffin, Julie Hallberg, Linda Kovanda, Sandy Lee, Judy McManus, Debbie Miller, Shelley Oltorik, Brenda Rucinski, Madeline Shinn, Lisa Stephens, Christine Stoufer, Bonnie Summe and Kim Toussant.
  • Here’s the slate of Big Ten series next week: Iowa at Ohio State; Illinois at Purdue; Minnesota at Penn State; Michigan State at Indiana; Michigan at Northwestern. 
  • All the Big Ten series next week are Thursday-Friday-Saturday affairs. Ohio State and Iowa will play at 6:35 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 1:05 p.m. Sunday.
  • It will be a firework Friday night at Bill Davis Stadium this week.