Last time the Ohio State baseball team matched up against a Big Ten opponent, it did not end well, as the Buckeyes were swept in three games against Maryland.
In desperate need of a series win to keep their Big Ten hopes alive, OSU (23-12-1, 4-5-0) managed to storm back and grab the series win after dropping the opener to Rutgers (16-19, 3-6).
Friday’s game started off looking like it would be a back-and-forth battle all night long, but seven runs in the first three innings by Rutgers proved to be too mighty of an obstacle for OSU to overcome.
The contest certainly did not start off right for OSU junior left-handed pitcher Tanner Tully, as he surrendered a walk and two hits to load the bases before Rutgers freshman center fielder Jawuan Harris lined a single to center field that scored three runs early.
OSU responded quickly, however, as it matched Rutgers’ three-run first inning with a three-spot of its own. After junior center fielder Troy Montgomery lined out to start the bottom half of the first, four straight hits by the heart of the Buckeyes’ order brought the game back to square one.
The see-saw battle really ceased at that point, as Rutgers knocked another three runs off of Tully as the Scarlet Knights began the top of the second with three straight hits to plate a run. Following a sacrifice bunt, Rutgers redshirt senior first baseman Chris Suseck drilled a double to right field that drove in two more runs. Rutgers would add one more run in the third inning to expand its lead to 7-3.
The Buckeyes would not be held off the scoreboard for much longer, however, as Montgomery would later hit a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth inning to bring the game back within three. Montgomery’s blast turned out to be the last run scored by either side, however, as Rutgers senior left-handed starting pitcher Howie Brey would finish off a complete game, allowing only four runs. In spite of the loss, OSU coach Greg Beals said he saw a lot of promise with the way his team played.
“We hit a lot of balls hard tonight,” Beals said. “I don’t mind how we played today. We just didn’t get a quality start from Tully. For him to give up seven runs in the first three innings is absolutely uncharacteristic; it just wasn’t his good self tonight.”
A day after only managing four runs against the opposing starter, the Buckeyes’ bats came out in full force and ran away with the game.
The first runs of the game came from the Buckeyes in the bottom of the second inning off a bunt from sophomore right fielder Tre’ Gantt that scored senior first baseman Troy Kuhn from third. After a double steal on the basepaths, junior catcher Jalen Washington drove a single into left to make it a 2-0 OSU lead.
Rutgers would come back and tie the game in the top of the third inning, however, as junior left fielder Mike Carter singled to left field to plate a pair of runs. Neither of those runs were charged to OSU senior starting pitcher John Havird, as he would have been out of inning if not for an error on shortstop Craig Nennig that likely would have ended the inning.
From this point on, it was all Buckeyes. OSU senior third baseman Nick Sergakis drilled a two-run home run in the bottom of the third to make give the Buckeyes a 4-2 lead. The fourth inning saw OSU bring 10 batters to the plate en route to scoring four runs on the strength of five hits. The Buckeyes later went on to add a run in the fifth and another in the sixth to make it 10-2.
Following up a start against Maryland in which he went eight innings and gave up no hits, Havird continued his dominant ways, hurling seven innings of two run baseball (with no earned runs) and only three hits and one walk allowed.
Over his last five outings, the lefty has thrown 33 innings with an impressive 1.36 ERA. During those starts, Havird has racked up more strikeouts (20) than hits allowed (19). For Havird, part of this dominant stretch has been the resurgence of his changeup, which has been one of his go-to outpitches.
“My past couple outings, my changeup has really gotten back to what it used to be,” Havird said. “I struggled with it for the first couple games, I was really just going with the fastball, slider, two-seam away and movement and occasional changeup, but it wasn’t really working too well. But now it’s getting back to what I know it is.”
On Zach Farmer Memorial Day, Havird said he did feel some extra incentive to go out there and pitch well for the memory of his teammate and the Farmer family. Farmer died in early August at the age of 21 after a battle with leukemia. Havird said it was important to go out there and get a win in his memory.
“I know he was an unreal person, unreal athlete,” Havird said. “I really felt like I had to go do something for him and throw as good as I can.”
Unlike the first two games of the series which saw a combined 25 runs scored, the rubber match of the series would be exactly as its title suggests: a pitchers’ duel.
Rutgers was the first to draw blood in this one as its sophomore third baseman Milo Freeman hit a solo home run in the third inning to put the Scarlet Knights ahead 1-0.
An inning later, OSU tied things up with an RBI groundout by Sergakis that drove in redshirt junior Jacob Bosiokovic from third.
Both teams were then held off the scoreboard until Montgomery led off the bottom of the sixth inning with a triple. It did not take long for the junior to get off the basepaths, as Bosiokovic lined a single into right field to drive in the run and put the Buckeyes ahead 2-1.
That one-run lead would be all the home team needed, as redshirt sophomore right-hander Adam Niemeyer cruised through the game. In his first start in two weeks after he was sidelined with a hamstring injury, Niemeyer threw six solid innings of one-run, three-hit baseball with seven strikeouts and only one walk allowed. Part of what helped Niemeyer in his outing Sunday was the stellar defense behind him that committed no errors on the day and came up with some clutch plays in clutch situations.
“I’m a pitcher who throws a lot of strikes, I try to work ahead of hitters,” Niemeyer said. “Not really pick too much, just try to attack them, and it’s easy to do that when you’ve got a solid defense behind you. It’s easy to throw strikes, trust the defense and let those guys make the plays.”
OSU’s next contest is set to come on Tuesday at 6:35 p.m. at Bill Davis Stadium against Cincinnati. Freshman right-hander Ryan Feltner is slated to take the mound for the Buckeyes as they look to build off the series victory.