ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.– Against the No. 20 team in the nation that is coming off a 52-win season, the young and inexperienced Ohio State Buckeyes competed with poise, with skill and with tenacity…right to the last out. The end result wasn’t in Ohio State’s favor, a 2-0 loss to Louisville in the Big East/Big Ten Challenge, but this team with a first-year coach and a bunch of other first-year things – pitchers, starters, outfielders, trainers, routines, processes etc. – played one heck of a game against a Cardinals team that had scored 62 runs against Ohio State in five wins over the Buckeyes the last three years. 

The game was played at the lovely spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies, and the seasonal home of the Clearwater Threshers of the Florida State League: Bright House Field. And the two teams didn’t disappoint the friends, family and fans who were in attendance and are used to seeing big-time baseball at the park.

Not a runner reached third base until the seventh inning as starting pitchers Dean Wolosiansky from Ohio State and Justin Amlung from Louisville were each razor sharp and right on. Wolosiansky put forth a terrific, terrific effort in his first start of the season, working 6.2 innings and allowing just one run in the seventh inning while scattering five hits. He walked three and struck out one and was on the unfortunate end of the decision side.

“Dean gave us a great outing,” Ohio State coach Greg Beals said. “He took charge and he set the tempo and that was really big-time for us. He held Louisville at bay for six innings.”

Only trouble was Amlung was even better, pitching a career-high 7.2 innings and giving up just four hits and one walk while striking out four.

And when it really mattered – in the ninth inning with Louisville leading 2-0 – the Cardinals turned to Tony Zych, the mid-90s throwing All-American force who was the No. 1 pro prospect in the Cape Cod League this summer.

But an awesome thing happened: the Buckeyes just seemed to think “bring it because we can take it” and for the first time all game the team put runners in scoring position. Matt Streng lined a first-pitch single to center with one out. Josh Dezse followed with a sharp single to center.  Both players moved up on a ground out, but Zych got his second save of the season by striking out Ryan Cypret, who had battled hard to a six-pitch full count despite starting in an 0-2 hole.  

“I’m really pleased with how we played,” Beals said. “I really liked the way we competed and the ninth inning was a great example. Zych has a great arm. He comes right at you throwing 95-96 and our guys went right after him.”

The Buckeyes not only competed, but they made plays, particularly to get through three terribly fantastic innings early in the game, or for the Louisville fans, three fantastically terrible innings. Here’s how they went:

  • The Cardinals first base runner came in the third inning – freshman Kyle Gibson – who was thrown out at third base on a sacrifice bunt after he wondered too far past second. After taking Steel Russell’s throw at first for the putout, Brad Hallberg noticed Gibson off the bag, he fired to a covering Tyler Engle who zipped the ball to Matt Streng at third for the tag.
  • In the fourth inning an absolutely splendid throw by the catcher Russell, starting and playing in his first game, caught Louisville’s fastest player trying to steal – freshman Ryan Engel from Loveland, Ohio – who had led off with a single. The Cards then found themselves out of that inning two batters later when another freshman was easily caught off first base after a fly out to Brian DeLucia in right.
  • And in the sixth inning, Russell was in the middle of another positive situation for the Buckeyes, catching a sac bunt attempt and then firing to first to double up a Louisville runner there.

There were numerous other solid efforts by the Buckeyes this game with Tim Wetzel looking particularly confident and calm patrolling center field. He tracked down seven Cardinal balls for putouts.

The Buckeyes complete play in the Big East/Big Ten Challenge Sunday at 10 a.m. against St. John’s at the Naimoli Complex in Clearwater. (Note: there will be no streaming video or live stats for the St. John’s game. Best way to track the action will be via Twitter: @BuckeyeNotes.)

Notes and Random Thoughts from the Ball Park:

  • Only one way to describe the weather in this part of the country today: merely enviously spectacular. There wasn’t a cloud under Tampa Bay blue skies with high temps at game time settling in around 76 degrees.
  • The Suncoast Alumni Club out of Tampa – Jennifer Quinn-Taylor is the president of the club – provided hot dogs, cheeseburgers, fresh vegetables with restaurant-quality ranch dressing for dipping, and cookies for the team after the contest. Thank you Jennifer, organizer Mike Kelley and the Tampa-area Buckeye boosters!
  • Two more Buckeyes made their first career starts today: Steel Russell at catcher and Joe Ciamacco in left field. A total of six players have made their first Buckeye starts the last two games.
  • Josh Dezse started at DH and then pitched the ninth inning for his first collegiate work on the mound.
  • Brett McKinney pitched 1.1 perfect innings in his first appearance of the season.
  • The game today was the 18th for Louisville at Bright House Field. The annual Big East championship is played here and the Cardinals have won titles here in 2008 and 2009.
  • The Buckeyes sported a different scarlet jersey vs. Louisville than they wore vs. Cincinnati: a button-down version with gray script Buckeyes emblazoned across the chest and over-the-ankle white pants.