PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – In a game that started slow and ended dramatically, Ohio State defeated Duquesne Saturday at North Charlotte Regional Park, 9-8, in quite possibly the last baseball game ever to be played between the two schools on the diamond.

Matt Streng, from Arlington, stroked a two-out single in the ninth inning to cap a two-run rally in the inning and give the Buckeyes their sixth win of the season against one defeat. Duquesne, playing its final season of baseball, drops to 1-6 on the season.

Streng was one of three Buckeyes with two hits. Zach Hurley’s two hits included a double and an RBI and Brad Hallberg, who scored the winning run, had a single, double and two runs scored. Michael Stephens had his team-leading third home run of the season, a three-run shot, and Drew Rucinski pitched 1.2 innings in relief to pick up his first decision of the year.

The first half of the game was quiet. Duquesne scored an unearned run in the second and added two more in the fifth to build a 3-0 lead against Ohio State freshman starter Brett McKinney, who pitched 5.0 innings and scattered seven hits while allowing just two earned runs with one walk and four strikeouts. McKinney was replaced in the sixth by Jared Strayer, who had a 1-2-3 inning with strikeouts to start and end the sixth. 

Opponents came into the game hitting .346 against the Duquesne pitching staff, but Dukes senior starter Paul Bugajski (0-0) kept the Buckeye bats quiet through the first five innings, surrendering only a leadoff single by Hurley in the first, a double by Dan Burkhart in the first and a double by Ryan Dew in the fourth. 

The contest, which included six errors – three by each team – started to turn from a pitcher’s game to a hitter’s game in the sixth. Cory Kovanda led off the Ohio State sixth with hard single to right center, and when Burkhart walked, Ohio State had its first rally of the game going, not to mention the first time in the game with two runners on base. Stephens then tied the game with one mighty swing of the bat: a crushing home run to left field, his third of the season for his 11th, 12th and 13th runs batted in.

Duquesne added two runs in the seventh to go back on top, 5-3. After Andrew Heck reached on a one-out, bloop double to right that safely fell close to the foul line, Mark Tracy homered to center off Strayer with two out.

Tyler Engle doubled with one man out in the seventh, went to third on a wild pitch and then scored on an E3 pickoff attempt at first to get the Buckeyes to within one, 5-4. 

Rucinski replaced Strayer in the eighth. He gave up a single with a man on but then struck out the next two batters swinging to close the inning.

Back-to-back, one-out doubles to right center by Hallberg and Brian DeLucia tied the score at 5-all and chased Dukes’ reliever Robert Corsi. Streng greeted Michael Pelekanos with an infield single, moving DeLucia to third, and Engle followed with a sacrifice fly to give Ohio State its first lead of the game at 6-5. Hurley then lined a double along the right field line to score Streng, increasing the lead to 7-5.

The Dukes battled back though, scoring three runs in the ninth off four hits and an error to retake the lead at 8-7. A pinch-hit single by Anthony DeFabio scored one run and when the ball got by Hurley, a second run scored to tie the game. DeFabio came around to score on Derek Lefevre’s single, putting the Dukes up by one.

These veteran Buckeyes are good, though. They’ve been through many tough games and tough situations together, and they know how to come back and capitalize. And that’s just what they did.

Burkhart walked to open the ninth. After Sean Clark (0-1) got the next two batters out, Hallberg singled Burkhart to third. Brian DeLucia reached on an error by the shortstop, scoring Burkhart, and Streng lined the second pitch he saw – a high fastball on the outside corner – up the middle that scored the game-winning run.

It was a tough way for the Dukes to lose a game that they battled hard to win, but nothing like what they learned they would lose in January: their sport. Two months ago the Duquesne athletics administration announced it was cutting four sports – baseball, wrestling, men’s golf and men’s swimming and diving – to save $1 million. About 70 student-athletes are affected. Five coaches, including 17-year baseball coach Mike Wilson, will be out of a job in June.

Ohio State resumes action Saturday against the St. Louis University Billikins. The teams will play a double-header at North Charlotte Regional Park starting at 1 p.m. with the second game first pitch scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Alex Wimmers and Dean Wolosiansky will start games one and two, respectively. 

Game Notes & Random Thoughts from the Ball Park:

  • Creeeeeeeak. Squeeeeeeeeak. Errrrrrrch. Stretch. Stretch. Stretch. Crackle. Aaahh…loose! Just getting the rustiness out of fingers that had not keystroked the sport of baseball in a while.
  • There may have been scoring decision rustiness evident this game, too.
  • Michael Stephens has 17 home runs in his 70 games as a Buckeye.
  • This weekend’s action is part of mini-tournament called the Snowbird Classic. Ohio State is the host school and will be the home team for each of its four games.
  • Ohio State is staying about 30 minutes from the ball park, at the Four Points by Sheraton Punta Gorda Harborside.
  • The team hotel is next to a big body of water; a big, blue and beautiful body of water called Charlotte Harbor.
  • The team was greeted upon arrival at the Punta Gorda Airport Thursday by about 40 Buckeye-loving snowbirds waving flags, old media guides and with a giant blow-up Brutus Buckeye, too.
  • The Port Charlotte/Punta Gorda area of Florida seems rather small and somewhat sleepy, but still the Buckeyes received a police escort from the airport to the hotel. Average speed: about 10 MPH.
  • Here’s where Port Charlotte, about the size of Dublin population-wise, is located: 2.5 hours northwest of Miami; 2.5 hours southwest of Orlando; two hours directly south of Tampa/St. Petersburg; and 45 minutes due north of Fort Myers.