While the No. 25 Ohio State baseball team is enjoying its best season in several years, a weekend visit from the No. 7 Illinois Fighting Illini stood as a harsh reminder of who the class of the Big Ten is.
Illinois (40-6-1, 16-1) won its 19th, 20th and 21st consecutive games with a weekend sweep of the Buckeyes (31-13, 12-6) at Bill Davis Stadium.
OSU, looking to salvage the series with a win on Sunday, knocked in a run in each of the first two innings to grab an early 2-0 lead. However, that would be all they would muster off of one of the nation’s top pitching staffs.
The Buckeyes were shut out by the Illini the rest of the way, and Illinois scored one in the third and two in the fourth to grab a 3-2 lead. It would remain that way until the top of the sixth, when Illinois blew it open with a three-run inning.
A throwing error by OSU senior left-hander Ryan Riga put Illinois up by two runs, and a two-run single made it 6-2, which stood as the final score.
Riga, who came into the game second on OSU’s staff in earned-run average, was hit hard to the tune of six runs, nine hits and three walks in six innings. He dropped to 5-3 on the year with the loss.
Saturday’s contest was a back-and-forth affair in which the Buckeyes came up just a little short.
OSU, just as they would the following afternoon, jumped out to a 2-0 lead after two innings, scoring a run in each of the first two frames. The score remained that way until the fifth inning, when Illinois took advantage of two OSU errors to grab a 3-2 lead.
The Buckeyes would answer immediately, as just two batters into the bottom of the frame, the game was tied.
Sophomore outfielder Troy Montgomery scored freshman outfielder Tre’ Gantt from first with a double. Montgomery then came in on a two-out RBI single by sophomore outfielder Ronnie Dawson to put the Buckeyes back ahead.
Just like the Illini lead, however, that would prove to be short-lived.
A three-run top of the sixth put Illinois up 6-4 and chased OSU sophomore right-handed pitcher Travis Lakins from the game.
While the Buckeyes would add a run in the bottom of the seventh to make it a one-run game, they ran into the nearly impenetrable force that is Illinois preseason second-team All-American, junior left-hander Tyler Jay.
Jay, who is second in the nation with a 0.73 ERA, worked 2.1 innings, allowing just one hit for his ninth save of the season to preserve the 6-5 victory.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, the man who is just a tick behind Jay at third in the nation in ERA also resides in Champaign.
Junior left-hander Kevin Duchene actually raised his 0.74 season ERA with an eight-inning, three-hit, one-run domination of OSU in Friday night’s series opener.
The Buckeyes fell behind 4-0 after two innings, as OSU sophomore left-hander Tanner Tully was ineffective against the Illinois bats.
Tully, the 2014 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, surrendered eight earned runs in five innings.
The Illini outhit OSU 13-4 and featured four hitters with multi-hit performances.
OSU’s bullpen was a highlight of the weekend for the home team, as five Buckeye relievers combined for 10.2 shutout innings in the three games, allowing just six hits.
Over 2,000 fans were in attendance at Bill Davis Stadium for each of the three weekend contests, OSU’s three largest home crowds of the season.
The Buckeyes will look to get back on the winning side with a pair of nonconference in-state matchups. They are set to travel to Oxford, Ohio, to take on Miami (Ohio) on Tuesday before heading south to Cincinnati to take on the Bearcats the following night. Both games are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.